Almost exactly 50 years ago - on July 21, 1969 to be precise – one of the greatest moments in American history occurred.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I remember it well. I also recollect something else about that moment.

It occurred to me, as I sat there with my maternal grandma watching it on her little black-and-white television that, since she was born in 1898, she would have been 5 years old when Wilbur and Orville Wright made their historic airplane flight on North Carolina’s outer banks. I asked her if she remembered that event.

She thought for a moment, nodded “yes” and explained that, although there was no TV or radio back then, she heard grown-ups talking about it at the country store down the road and around the dinner table.

I was aghast. Granny remembered when man made his very first airplane flight and then watched him step off a space craft and walk on the moon!

Since then I have often thought about how other aspects of our lives have changed dramatically in a relatively short span of time. While browsing in a large outdoor store recently, I began reflecting on how the gear we use in one of our favorite outdoor sports – fishing – has evolved since Armstrong left his footprints on the moon. Some aspects of angling have not changed a bit. Others are remarkably different.

Electronics: Fifty years ago, if a fisherman wanted to know how deep the water under his boat was, he stuck his paddle down to see if he could touch bottom, dropped a line with a weight on it overboard, or just guessed. Today, he pushes a button on his Garmin or Humminbird “fish finder” and a screen lights up, showing him depth, bottom features, water temperature and even little icons that represent actual fish. Developed in the 1940s for military use, sonar-based devices were refined, made much smaller and adapted for recreational fishermen. Nowadays some anglers wouldn’t dream of leaving the dock without one.

Trolling motors: Around the time I was a high school student, there were no trolling motors around, at least where I fished. Anglers on Holt’s Lake and other local water bodies “sculled” small wooden skiffs with short paddles while flipping crickets toward likely spots with cane poles. If they were fishing for bass on larger water, like the Alligator River, they usually hired a local fellow to pole their boat while they cast with a fly rod or baitcaster. Today, electric trolling motors are standard gear on most small-to-midsize fishing craft. There are both stern and bow-mount models, some that are foot-controlled and others manipulated remotely.

(And, unlike some of those fellows that poled boats in the old days, you don’t have to worry about a trolling motor not showing up in the morning because it got drunk the night before.)

Power anchors: Another thing we could not have even dreamed of fifty years ago is power anchors. These devices attach to the stern of a boat and, with the push of a button, pivot downward and extend hydraulically eight feet or more. It’s the modern equivalent of pushing a long wooden pole into the bottom where it’s soft enough to allow such and then tying it to a cleat on the boat. That’s exactly what we used to do back “in the day.” Or, we used a homemade anchor of some sort – often a coffee can filed with cement that had an eye bolt sticking out the top.

Nets: Landing nets used to be made of braided cotton, and then later, nylon.

They worked but, over time, folks learned that they could be harmful to fish - abrasive, possibly damaging protective skin coatings, fins and scales. Most nets now are made of rubber or some silicon-based material that is much easier on the fish, an important factor if they are going to be released. Of course some anglers, especially those targeting bass, still go old school and “lip” fish.

That works with bass, but just try it with bluefish or Spanish mackerel and see what happens Artificial lures: Worms, crickets, minnows, shrimp and the like are still the piece de resistance when angling for many fresh and saltwater fish. And they look and work just like they did when us old geezers were kids. Artificial lures, however, have evolved dramatically. Hard, plastic baits in every color scheme imaginable have replaced wooden Bass Orenos, River Runts, Nippy Didees and other lures that were all most folks had 50 years ago. Plastic worms were the newest thing around for bass anglers back then and were so effective that some people thought they should be outlawed. Today, scent-infused plastics like GULP! and Z-Man lures are standard fare, especially among inshore, saltwater fishermen.

And there are hard, plastic crank baits that do everything but drive the boat and can be fished from the surface to forty feet deep or more.

There are a lot of other things, more than can be elaborated on here, that have revolutionized recreational angling. Fluorocarbon and braided fishing lines; reels with drags that adjust automatically while a fish is on; life preservers that inflate on contact with water; clothing that keeps anglers safe from UV rays; digital fish-weighing scales; navigation systems that use satellite signals. Those and scores of other gadgets, gimmicks and gear have changed angling dramatically. Maybe it’s the natural order of things – evolution as applied to fishing. Charles Darwin meets Andy of Mayberry.

Whether or not it’s made things better depends on the viewpoint of those who are out there on the water. And, the most significant factor may be whether or not they’re catching fish. At least it is for me.

Ed Wall can be reached at edwall@embarqmail.com or 252-671-3207. His web site is www.edwalloutdoors.com