Back in the late 90’s, when the Kenora Bass International tournament was really at it’s peak, with over 200 boat fields and anglers coming from all over North America to compete on Lake of the Woods, the first Aqua-Vu underwater camera made an appearance in bass tournament competition.
Minnesota anglers Jim Lindner and Ted Capra won the KBI tournament in 1997 and following the tournament they let the cat out of the bag that they found the winning fish – smallmouths within five miles of Kenora – with the help of an Aqua-Vu underwater camera. Aqua-Vu was a new company at that time and most people had never even heard of them before. The company was formed in Minnesota and both anglers had ties to the company so for them it was a great opportunity to promote the new brand. The reality is, they would have likely won the tournament with or without the camera in the boat but they probably did gain some knowledge of where the fish were sitting on the ends of the points and reefs that they were fishing, which would have been helpful.
In the years that followed, there was an uproar from local anglers who felt that the camera presented an unfair advantage because not everybody had one and anglers felt it made fishing “to easy”. My tournament partner Chris Savage and I purchased an early model together and used it quite a bit. What we quickly learned was that you could drop the camera around almost any point or piece of structure on the lake and see smallmouths or any number of other species but that by no means meant that you were going to catch them. A lot of the fish that you would see might not be catchable at all.
The year following Lindner and Capra’s win, underwater cameras were banned from use in tournament competition across northwest Ontario. They could be used for prefishing but not in the actual tournament. They are still banned today in what is probably the most archaic, unnecessary rule that we have for our events. The fact is, you can’t really fish and use the camera at the same time so it’s not like they present any real added benefit to using them during the actual tournament. They are a great prefishing tool in that you can look at the bottom cover to see why fish might be congregating in a specific location and you can see how many bass, walleye or other species are actually beneath your boat. They are also great for ice fishing, where you can watch your bait all day as you fish, especially if you fish in a shelter.
The reason you can’t fish and use the camera at the same time is it takes two hands to run the camera, as you are constantly moving it up and down in the water column, keeping it just above the bottom in most situations. They really shine in clear water where you can see farther than you can in stained water. I have one mounted on the console of my boat and use it often when I’m prefishing and fun fishing. They really do teach me a lot about why fish might be hanging out in one location or another.
Aqua-Vu cameras have come a long way since they first appeared on the scene over 20 years ago. We now have colour monitors, bigger screens, better quality cameras and technology built into the cameras, showing the water temperature at whatever depth the camera is at, the direction that the camera is pointing and even black lights for use in deeper water. They really are fun to use and on more than one occasion when I have been out with my friends or on a guide trip where there are kids onboard and they are starting to lose interest in fishing, you can drop the camera down for them and they will be occupied for a couple of hours while they watch for fish and other interesting things on the bottom. If you’re interested in using some of the technology available to anglers today, check out an Aqua-Vu underwater camera, they are a great tool for learning more about the waters that you fish.