Can Someone Get Me a Roll of Paper!

Hummingbird introduces the first LCR graph at the 1984 AFTMA Show. January 1985 Hummingbird Ad.

Around the 1975 time frame a number of the electronic companies were bringing their chart recorders, or paper graphs as they were also called, to the market. These pieces of equipment created a huge uproar, primarily with a particular Minnesota Rep, and there was actually a Ban the Graph campaign in that state.

Well, suffice it to say, the paper graph wasn’t banned. You see, once people realized there was more to catching fish than finding them on a chart recorder and casting any lure, all the hubbub associated with the “non-sportsman-like” electronics died off.

Hummingbird ad 1985.

But, nearly 10 years later the paper graph would again be on the chopping block – not because of some crazed politician, though. What was about to kill the thermal paper chart recorder was technology – of the liquid crystal type.

At the 1984 AFTMA show, Techsonic-Manns (now Hummingbird Electronics) debuted the first Liquid Crystal Recorders to the public. For those of you not old enough to remember AFTMA, it stood for the American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association or what is known today as the American Sportfishing Association and the show is now ICAST.

December 1985 Lowrance X-3 LCG ad.

Prior to this time, an angler would use a paper graph to pinpoint structure and then use their flasher to stay on a spot. The reason for this was two-fold. One, the cost of thermal paper was kind of spendy and two, you always seemed to run out of paper at the most inopportune time. What the LCR promised was uninterrupted use of a graph-like recorder without the hassle of paper.

While that may seem all fine and dandy, the fact was the resolution of the liquid crystal technology left a lot to be desired. That’s putting it nicely. A paper graph had infinite resolution because the signal was burned into the paper throughout the entire stroke of the stylus on the paper. Trying to transpose this information into a series of small squares (pixels) would be a lot more difficult. You see, resolution is dependant on the number of pixels per square inch placed on the screen. The more pixels per square inch, the better the resolution. The answer isn’t to make the screen bigger either. What’s the difference between a small crappy picture and a larger, just-as-crappy picture? More crap.

Within a year, Lowrance Electronics had answered Hummingbird’s call and came out with their Lowrance and Eagle LCGs – the X-3 and Z-6000 respectively. Their claim to fame was a more detailed picture due to 45 percent more pixels. Which, reverts back to my rhetorical question above – how big were the pixels compared to the other company’s product? Still, the resolution was beyond awful by paper graph standards.

Koden ad Jan 1986.

At the same time, the ocean electronic moguls like Furuno and Koden were trying to break into the freshwater electronic markets with their high-resolution color charts. They touted, “no more expensive paper or poor resolution from LCD recorders.” The resolution of these units was as good as any recorder today but there was a major problem.

Furuno ad Dec 1985.

What these companies didn’t tell the bass fishing public was their units were CRT displays – or, just like your grandma and granpa’s TV. They were heavy and took up a ton of space. The analogy would be to compare a 24-inch television set of the ‘80s to one of today. There was no room on your console in which to place one of these behemoths.

In these early years anglers weren’t too worried about the LCR/G craze, the companies were still making paper graphs. But about three or four years later, when LEI and Hummingbird let the public know that they were going to stop making paper graphs, bass anglers, especially in the West, started buying up any and all paper graphs and paper they could find. I know of a number of western pros who had their “sponsored” LCRs or LCGs mounted on their consoles, but below the console, next to their feet, was their trusty old paper graph mounted to the deck.

Lowrance ad 1989.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the paper graph that was the first to be phased out of the market by the new-fangled technology. The flasher was the first casualty – and an unfortunate one at that. There’s nothing like a flasher on the bow to give you real-time data about what’s below you – there never will be. Even today’s high-falutin’ technological wonders can’t transfer information from transducer to your eyeball as fast as a flasher. There’s too much data for the processor to translate.

Hummingbird ad 1989.

Thankfully after a number of years, technology finally caught up with the industry need and today we have units that rival the resolution of the old paper graph. Not only that, they tell us where we are via GPS and plot where we want to go. They tell us how fast we’re going, tell us whether we can make our destination with our remaining fuel and some of them can even tie a Bimini Twist. That period of time, between the late 80s and the turn of the millennium, is just a bad memory in the minds of the offshore angler – unless they’d stashed enough paper recorders and thermal paper.

  • Jeff Hahn

    You might be an old timer (like Terry and me) if you still have a flasher on the front deck!

    • Oh, that hurts Jeff. 🙂

  • Awesome Article! Humminbird 4ID was my first sonar unit…man things sure have evolved alot since then to todays Humminbirds with SIde Imaging, HD Screens and now 360 Imaging …. wonder where we wil go from here?

    • Doug, yes things have come a long way. Man I hated those first LCRs. One pixel could be one or two feet of depth on certain settings. LOL.

  • Brian

    At the time, I refused to buy and use any of the early LCR units simply because they couldn’t begin to compare to the resolution of paper graphs and flashers. My first paper graph was the Humminbird CH30-II. Kind of scary, but a Google image search for that unit doesn’t turn up any pictures! That’s just 1 step away from extinction 🙂

    All my early “used” boats had flashers in the console, along with flashers on the bow. When I bought my first “brand new from the factory” bass boat (1989), I had them outfit it the same way with the flashers, and added an Eagle Mach I paper graph to complete the deal. Fortunately, you could still buy paper for a good while, though it did get a little tougher to find. One of the best places was Cabela’s, which sold their own brand of paper, but it was always an available option if you couldn’t find Lowrance paper. You can still get it at times on eBay.

    A couple new boats later, and I finally was forced to make the move to a liquid crystal graph in the early 2000’s when I purchased a Stratos. At the time, their consoles were completely rounded, so there was no good area to securely mount the graph, and very little space to try and RAM mount it, though I would later do that when I moved to Triton.

    I purchased a Lowrance X-70, which at the time was the non-GPS version of the 350A, the favorite unit of all the local walleye pros, and considered state-of-the-art at the time. At zoomed in modes, it would just match the resolution of the Eagle Mach 1 units, though it would be a number of years later before a unit came out that would finally match the resolution of the Lowrance X16 paper graphs, the pinnacle unit of freshwater paper graphs (IMHO).

    It wasn’t until 2008 when I sold my last Triton that I finally made the move away from flashers and paper graphs completely, and went to all modern electronics (still running 3 units though – LOL). Only well after SI came out did I ever feel that “waiting” instead of “jumping on” in regards to the newest in electronics turned out to be the wrong move. I used to make fun of the guys who posted the early SI pics, referring to them as the, “Look, I found a tree!” crowd 🙂 There still is a lot of that to this day as more guys buy them, but there is no questioning their capabilities to the guy who knows how to use one.