I endured all four high school years immersed in solid course curriculums.
Math, algebra-geometry-trigonometry; physics, chemistry, three years of Latin; Literature, history, etc. Graduated a lethargically solid 268th in a class of 693.
The son and grandson of dentists, I did letter in golf (no mean feat in San Diego), but still didn’t feel the need to spend a career tolerating bad breath.
My reward for mediocrity?
An epic crash and de-matriculation from a prestigious private university, seven years in the Western Pacific courtesy of the university of the Navy and, finally, a degree in journalism from Oregon State after balking at taking organic chemistry to prepare for fish biology.
(Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”)
Never-ever did I dream any of those hard-learned early lessons would be of much use, although I can often understand a little of languages with a Latin base and frequently use physics in hunting, rough carpentry and fly casting.
Fate finally smiled in 1981 and I became a salaried outdoor writer in one of the nation’s top outdoor states.
And two-foot-itised my way through several boats, collecting dozens of rods and reels while watching technology cope with anglers’ major conundrums: How deep are the fish and how deep am I fishing?
(Before we get any farther; none of the following apply to professional fishing guides. Their education is hands-on and far from mediocre. They possess Phds in angling knowledge and those two answers come to them as naturally as breathing. This lesson is for the rest of us schmucks who have to tough it out on our own.)
On the troll before line counters and sophisticated sonar, we more or less winged depth questions.
I built “Killer,” my go-to salmon rod, with the first guide 24 inches from the reel so I could always judge how much line I had out by how many pulls I made from the reel to the guide.
Lots of anglers still do this and while everyone’s “pull” can be a different length, the number of pulls is still a common answer to “how deep are you.”
We had no idea though, of where the fish were until we were rewarded with an unusual answer from someone who just landed a fish, or, more often, watched and counted how many pulls they used when they resumed fishing.
Enter fish finders.
The first crude devices used a circular screen with a blip at the top from the transducer then blips around the circle if the sonar beam hit a fish (or snag, bottom, etc.).
Then came black and white screens, followed by color.
I recall my first exposure to a color screen on Joe Gierga’s bottomfishing charter, Siggi-G out of Garibaldi.
I was in the cockpit watching it with him when he throttled back to neutral over a school of fish and told the clients to free-spool until he said stop. I watched in amazement as the jigs showed up on the screen, plunging downward until they were into the school.
“Stop!” Joe shouted and almost immediately just about everyone was hooked up.
Today’s electronics have morphed into side-scan, down-scan and fish-scan, with enough accuracy to sometimes tell what kind of fish, where it is and even watch the rig in the boat’s bow as its flasher twirls. One friend said he’s actually seen salmon bite on his screen.
But the key question remained: How deep was I fishing?
Before line counters eased the burden of counting pulls, I fell back on my mathematical mediocrity.
I doubt few readers here will be strangers to geometry and trigonometry.
My first mental calculations were the toughest and most time-consuming.
Fortunately (usually unfortunately) I had lots of time between bites to work on my Pythagorean theorem: In a right triangle, the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the two sides.
Since the two sides of a right triangle are equal when the angles are 45 degrees, all I needed to do was count my pulls, double them for feet, multiply it by itself, figure out the square root of the result and divide it by two.
Gives me a headache just trying to remember how I did it.
I’m not quite certain when it dawned on me there was/is a much easier way – trigonometry. (A column I wrote about this in 2014 suggests it happened when fishing got good enough I didn’t have time between bites to work on square roots.)
I only need to know two sine values for a right triangle. One is the sine, the relationship between one angle and number two, the hypotenuse. Find the length of the opposite side and you have the depth of your bait/lure.
In other words, simply make an estimated angle of 30 or 45 degrees and apply the sine, in this case either .5 or .7.
I know the hypotenuse, which is the length of the line (measured from the water, not the rod tip), even more accurately with line-counter reels.
Here’s my mediocre attempt to explain it graphically:
Geometry: The square of the hypotenuse is equal the sum of the
squares of the two sides.
In a 45-degree right triangle, the lengths of the two
sides are equal.
Trigonometry: Sine is a constant numerical relationship between an angle
in a right triangle and the hypotenuse.
Sine of a 30-degree angle is .5; for a 45-degree angle,
it’s .7(rounded off).
I’m to the point where I can roughly estimate different angles according to those two basics and come up with a rough calculation for the opposite side.
…And without a single headache.
Enter Ray Rychnovsky, a fellow outdoor writer in California with a masters degree in engineering mechanics and career experience with aerodynamics.
Had I graduated at the top of my class(es) as he did, I might have saved myself a lot of headaches by beating him to the patent of a simple, hand-held, “Ray’s Trolling Depth Gauge.”
Rychnovsky used some of the same calculations, but expanded them well-beyond mediocrity to include the bend in the line (it adds a little depth, but I bailed from math well before parabolic vertexes engulfed me) and virtually every angle.
He’s tested and confirmed its accuracy by having a friend in a boat behind him record the depths and seeing they matched what his device shows.
He sent me one and I’ll try it this spring.
They only cost $15 on his Web site and come with relatively simple instructions, easy enough to understand between bites at a trout farm.
He’s about to begin marketing them to retail stores.
I’m not sure yet whether I’ll use it often though.
Seems a shame this late in life to waste even a mediocre education.