More Failed Gizmos – The Oxygen Meter

Sentry oxygen meter ad circa 1973.

Sentry oxygen meter ad circa 1973.

As we have presented here on the Bass Fishing Archives time and time again, there have been a number of electronic gadgets designed, manufactured and sold to the bass fishing public – probably shortly after Benjamin Franklin shocked himself flying a key-laden kite in a thunderstorm (kids, don’t try this at home). There’s been the Color-C-Lector, the Depth Talker, the BassTronics Pro-Guide and numerous other Popeil-esque catastrophes over the years.

Well folks, here’s another one.

Although oxygen is a necessity of life and low oxygen levels will definitely make fish die, the advent of the portable oxygen meter for bass fishing use never really got off the ground. It wasn’t that the science wasn’t there – it was – it was due to a couple of problems the scientists peddling the thing didn’t consider.

First of all, and the most scientific reason why it failed was due to the fact that meters of this type need to be regularly calibrated or they lose their accuracy and effectiveness. I’ve worked around and with O2 meters for my job going on 25 years now. The ones I’ve used require daily calibration or they begin to give erroneous results. We’ve tried to use the “needs-no-calibration” models – they still pop up in the catalogs on occasion – but they never give accurate results over a period of more than a week. And this is in a pristine laboratory environment.

So, lets look at the environment that an angler would have the contraption in. Let’s see, a boat on rough water banging around in a compartment that might have an anchor, can of oil and don’t forget the Vienna sausages. Not that easy to figure out what’s going to lose that battle, huh?

Another Sentry oxygen meter ad circa 1973.

Another Sentry oxygen meter ad circa 1973.

The second problem with the O2 meter, and this has more to do with human psychology than physics, is the average angler doesn’t want to take the time to unravel the cord, drop the detector down 20 feet, wait for the reading to stabilize, note the oxygen level, wind the cord back up, put the thing away and then start fishing. It’s the same reason the Color-C-Lector went the way of the Dodo. Yeah, I know, the Color-C-Lector is still made – but who uses it?

Anyway, it’s not that bass anglers are lazy, it’s just that they don’t like wasting their time doing anything but casting, hoping to get a tug on the other end of the line. Most of them can figure out in a decent matter of time when the fish are eating in a certain area.

What got me thinking of this whole subject was an article written in the November/December 1973 issue of Bassmaster Magazine. In that article the author talked about the importance of fishing in areas that had ample oxygen (between 8 and 13 ppm – parts per million) and to fish an oxygen structure pattern. The way you’d do this was as follows and is paraphrased. Go to a bunch of different areas of the lake, monitor the oxygen levels, note the areas that have the highest maximum oxygen and then go back and fish those areas. It was said the survey should only take 20 to 30 minutes. Seems like 20 or 30 minutes I could have been casting or paying attention to what was happening on the surface. What if you were fishing a 4-hour coffee-jar tournament one night? 30 minutes is a lot of time wasted to run around and take readings. And while you’re taking those readings, your competition is filling the box with bass.

1973 O2 Meter Article 2The other problem I had with this takes us back to the meter itself. What if the meter is badly out of calibration and won’t register a reading above 8 ppm? Do you believe the unit, pack up your tackle and go home?

Another concept talked about in the article was that baitfish only go were the oxygen is. Makes sense to me. So why not use your depthfinder (chart) and look for what depth the baitfish are at? Why not look for active birds on the surface or bank?

One of the best comments I’ve ever heard about the oxygen meter was from former Bassmaster Tournament Director Harold Sharp. He told me once regarding a trip he made with an O2-sensor lemming, “I told the guy by the time he lowered that thing I could have made three casts with a white spinnerbait on the point and determined if there was a fish there.” Sounded right to me.

How much you wanna bet that someone comes out with another one in the future, though?


  • Brian

    My favorite in this realm was when YSI, who makes some pretty nice O2 meters, combined up with Roland Martin to market one of their economical oxygen meters to anglers. For a little while, the kit could actually be bought online through Bass Pro Shops, but I’m guessing the average angler couldn’t fathom dropping $500+ for an honest O2 meter. The instructional .PDF is still available – and I’ve almost pulled the trigger numerous times on one of their meters.

  • Tom Shockley

    Oh the memories!!! If only I can recall the his name, Russell I think. When I get back to the US from Abu Dhabi, UAE I’ll contact Raymond Due in Lufkin, TX as he is one other person that would recall the development to the “Oxygen Meter” and the main man/force behind it.
    It was summer 1971 and working a guides on Toledo Bend out of Fin & Feather Marina when Raymond Due, B.J. Woods and I first met this young biologist from the University of Texas and heard him speak about his research regarding oxygen content and its relationship to bass and bass fishing.
    The late spring or early summer of ’72 he returned with a prototype “Oxygen Monitor” and was looking for investors, which didn’t include any of us :-). Plus, in the summers of 1970-72 if you owned a spinning reel and could hit the water with an 1/8 “Bass Buster” Marabou Jig” you couldn’t keep for catch a bass; if only Virgil Ward as still around to testify.
    The last time I remember seeing the young biologist was on a summer afternoon in 1972 after he had be rescued from running his new bass boat up on a stump and flipping it over in boat road E/W-9. In 1974 gave up guiding full time, sold my tackle and boat livery business and went to work for ZEBCO in Tulsa. That same year in Chicago at the AFTMA show I saw the prototype “Oxygen Monitor”.
    Tom Shockley