We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn More ›
Electronics are a hot button topic in fishing lately. Over the last few years, the advent of technology like side-scan, down-scan, and forward-looking sonar has a lot of folks asking if the sport is getting ruined because we’re giving fish no place to hide. The answer, naturally, depends upon who you ask. Bass pros, as an example, would tell you this technology is a blessing that helps them do things they couldn’t easily before, like target a small group of fish suspended in deep water with pinpoint accuracy. Many of the naysayers, of course, are the anglers who don’t have the money for these new-school fish finder systems and are noticing it’s getting harder to catch fish because of the fishing pressure.
The discussion could easily lead someone to believe that fishing electronics are a new thing, but that’s far from true. People have been looking for secret weapon gadgetry for decades. Even Nintendo tried to get in on the action.
Game Boy Goes Fishing
Along with all the modern sonar capabilities for big boats, portable sonar has come a long way. Take the Deeper Pro. It’s a castable orb that transmits data via wifi, turning your cell phone into a high definition fishfinder. Humminbird’s SmartCast was the first version I remember being heavily marketed years ago. It did the same thing as the Deeper Pro, except it broadcast to a wristwatch, and given that wireless transmission wasn’t up to the snuff in the late 90s, you basically watched Tetris-like pixels that sort of looked like fish on the tiny screen. I remember being very excited to get one for Christmas, and then very disappointed when I finally got to use it that spring.
I thought that Humminbird was the first to bring portable sonar to market, but it turns out I was wrong. Buckle up, kids of the 90s, because this will blow your minds.
According to an article recently published on Apple News, an accessory compatible with Nintendo’s classic Game Boy provided better portable sonar than many early versions like the SmartCast. That’s right, the old-school Game Boys that helped us ignore our parents for hours on end, could have been used for fishing. So, why didn’t it take off in the U.S.? Unfortunately, it was never released here.
Pocket Full of Hope
The Gyogin Tanchiki, which translates to “Pocket Sonar,” was developed in 1998 in Japan by a company called Bandai. The story even claims that the Guinness World Records recognized it as the “first sonar enabled peripheral for a gaming console.” The base of the Pocket Sonar plugged into the Game Boy’s game port. Attached to that was a long wire lead that ran to a floating transmitter which was very similar to the wireless transmitters we see now. All you had to do was stick your Game Boy in the included waterproof case, head to the lake, and toss out the transmitter. Shockingly, unlike early versions of portable sonar released in the U.S., the Pocket Sonar had pretty impressive functionality.
You could change the appearance of the fish icons. You could set the scroll speed. You could zoom, turn the view of the bottom off and on, and you could ask the system to focus on a specific range within the water column. Though I’ve only ever seen the Pocket Sonar perform in video, it looked surprisingly functional and accurate. Even video reviews of the retro product suggest it worked quite well.
To sweeten the pot, the Pocket Sonar also featured a built-in fishing encyclopedia (though it was all in Japanese), as well as a fishing game. Some vintage gaming nerd might tell me I’m wrong, but I don’t recall there being a version of the Black Bass for the original Game Boy because I would have owned it. There was one for the later Game Boy Color, but clearly Bandai was ahead of the fishing video game curve.
The Future of Fishing Tech
We’ve always been looking for technology to make us better anglers. That’s nothing new. But here’s what scares me—everything that’s hot right now will eventually be obsolete.
Looking back at the Pocket Sonar and Humminbird SmartCast, we can laugh and realize they offered very minimal advantage in the first place. Even now, while products like the Deeper Pro are cool, I don’t personally know anyone who still uses one. Portable personal sonar has not exactly become standard issue for all anglers. But forward-looking and side-scan sonar is getting there.
READ NEXT: Best Portable Fish Finders
Already, people who buy brand new boats get this technology upon delivery. Within the next 10 years, I suspect you won’t be able to buy a sonar unit without these features. We’re already seeing how revolutionary and more potent it is compared to fishfinding technology from just 20 years ago. So, what’s next, because if there’s one constant with technology it’s that no matter how good it is now, no matter how much you think it can’t possibly get any better or smarter, it will. Just ask that vintage Game Boy still jammed in the back of your junk drawer.