- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 18, 2006

I finally can say I’ve seen everything. Go ahead and shoot me because I now have used a touchless water thermometer.

Imagine not having to touch water to find out its temperature. And as any angler knows, proper water temperature is crucially important to successful fishing trips.

I grew up fishing, using whatever common sense God gave me to find likely spots where a trout might hang out. Without help from modern technology, I often went home empty-handed. (Incidentally, trout were the love of my youth — trout and the comely Anna Maria, who lived down the road from us.)

Along came self-styled fishing scientists, participants in a new style of bass fishing: professional tournaments. Fellows like Roland Martin, Bill Dance, Stan Sloan and Al Lindner were early heroes of the sport. These guys had electronic depth sounders — primitive as they were in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s — but they showed the water’s depth, telling the fishermen whether they were wasting their time or were in a fishy hangout.

During certain times of the year, a largemouth bass, for one, stays in fairly predictable depths. If it’s February, it’s not likely it will cruise about in 2-foot-deep shallows, and if it’s July the fish isn’t going to lay still on the bottom of a 40-foot lake or river depression.

A new army of tournament pros quickly learned this and unselfishly passed along newfound truths about their quarry. Pretty soon everybody who owned even a johnboat also had a Humminbird “Bird Box,” a portable rotary flasher unit that accurately depicted water depth and bottom terrain for anyone who can make sense of skinny and fat bars, blips and burps on the screen.

That went out the window when every electronics company in the United States came out with paper graph depth sounders that actually drew a picture (of sorts) of the water column. It also displayed occasional sharp arcs that were supposed to represent fish. But a depth finder can show only where the best bottom structure is. It can’t make the fish bite or reveal which species lurks beneath the boat.

Since those days, we’ve come to accept and love liquid crystal display (LCD) depth finders that are super accurate. We even have gone into hock to purchase the latest Global Positioning System (GPS) that showed us the way home on foggy days and nights or took us back to a spot where we had enjoyed success weeks earlier.

Some boats had surface water temperature gauges that helped find productive fishing holes, especially in winter. If a stretch of the tidal Potomac showed winter water to be 34 degrees but we suddenly stumbled into a mixed depth watery stretch that read 41 degrees, we were onto something. Perch, crappies and bass might call such “warmer” places home.

But not all of us could afford water temperature gauges, especially not the johnboaters or certain shoreline anglers, some of whom resort to lowering household thermometers tied to a string and lead sinker into the water to see what the temperature is.

That now has been cast into the dustbin of obsolescence with something called the ThermoHAWK touchless thermometer.

The ThermoHAWK is a fountain pen-sized instrument that can be clipped to a jacket’s zipper or hung around the neck with a lanyard. It is an infrared, battery-powered thermometer that is pointed at the water’s surface. Touch the activator button and the surface water temperature shows up digitally in a small display window.

It works. While fishing with a friend last week, I asked him to tell me what his expensive depth sounder unit’s surface water temperature reading was (it is delivered via a probe that is part of the unit’s transducer that touches the water).

“It says 39 degrees,” he said as we drifted along in the Mattawoman Creek. I took the ThermoHAWK 200, pulled the protective cap from the front, pointed it at the creek’s surface and pushed the button. The display window instantly read 38.5 degrees. The ThermoHAWK unit’s literature agreed there might be an accuracy discrepancy of several degrees, so I didn’t complain. It was, as they say, close enough.

The unit I tested, the 200 model, costs $59.95; more expensive models run from $79.95 to $99.95. So for less than $60 anyone pretty much can know what the big boys in their $40,000 bass boats know: how warm or cold the water is.

Need more information? Check out Q3 Innovations. Its Web site, www.q3i.com, will provide more details and show where the units are sold.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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