Don’t Worry, Fish Happy
Let your electronics solve problems and simplify the real puzzle—finding the fish—just as these three pro skippers do.
You’re a busy guy and you may not have the time to spend fishing—and catching—quite as much as you’d like. But you’ve got pretty good instincts about finding the fish and what tactics to employ when you’re at it.
Anyone who’s ever set the autopilot so he could tie some rigs while running to the fishing grounds understands how technology can give anglers a hand. But specifically employing all the capabilities of your electronics, beyond the fishfinder and bird-targeting radar, can put more fish in the boat simply by creating more time and space for your angling abilities to come to the fore. Here’s how the pros do it:
Finders Keepers: Detailed Waypoint Logging
Take Capt. Quinton Dieterle of Cutting Edge, a 45-foot Hatteras he runs out of Key Biscayne, Florida (www.miamicharterfishing.com). He fishes charters and tournaments, and also skippers the Get Lit fishing team. The guy just has a head for fish, and he uses the steady flow of information from his electronics to hone his tactics on any given day. “If you don’t have fishing instincts, you’re basically a robot fisherman: You just go by what everyone tells you and what you’ve read,” Dieterle says. “But over time you’ll be able to learn trends and gain some instincts. And if you get a GPS with good charts that show your bottom structure and contours, you’ll be able to learn what effects the currents have over a certain area, which brings up the bait.” Getting good at the technique won’t happen right away, according to Dieterle, but if you note where your successes come it will help you to dial in your plan.
“If you’re going down the edge and you’re thinking, Well I’m fishing this one area, let’s say 25°45' off Government Cut,” he says. “But if you have a good GPS with good charts and good detailed contour lines, you can say, Why would I fish25°45' when I could fish 25°45.60'? It’s less than three-quarters of a mile up, and I can fish a real nice ledge where there’s going to be some activity caused by the current?” Based on past experience, use the detail available in today’s cartography to skip the scouting and head right for the epicenter of the action. As good a place as any to start.
“If you’re kite fishing or live-baiting and you’re watching your chart you’ll see how the next wreck is a half mile up and it’s in my same depth,” Dieterle says. “Motor up to that area. So instead of fishing where it looks sorta good, now there’s also a wreck holding bait and creating a different kind of upwelling and good-looking water.” And don’t only benefit from it that one day. Dieterle swears by waypoints, and his Raymarine unit allows him to mark and label his spots to repeat the experience when similar conditions arise. “A lot of people make the same mistake,” he says. “They forget to label their waypoints. That’s extremely important because some of the areas you locate may be small and you have to fish on an exact point. If you have marked a spot that is not exact you might miss the action you had at that spot before. If it just happens to be an outgoing tide basically at the same time as when I was here two weeks ago and I had really good luck. Around here, every couple of weeks everything repeats itself. So you want to be in that same spot. The fishing charts from Navionics show you the contour lines, so you have ledges that are much more defined and you can find pockets along the edge where you have plateaus and ridges.”
Once Dieterle finds the spot on the chart, then he takes a closer look. “If I’m in deeper water I have a CHIRP sounder like the Raymarine CP570 that marks fish with dual frequencies,” he says. “I can split that screen up, take my chart out for a minute and set the sounders to low and high frequency. I can see what’s going on because a lot of times if I’m using a low-frequency at say 200 feet and I’m over a wreck and it’ll basically blend the wreck and the bait together.” Finding the hot spots is what the low-frequency setting is all about. Seeing what’s going on there, that’s when CHIRP really shines. “On the other side of the split screen I’ll have a higher frequency like a 160 or 200 and it separates the bait from the bottom so if you want to get really tuned in on what you’re doing and understand your sonar then you can have a high-frequency and a low-frequency at the same time.” Figuring out where the bait sits on the structure in what conditions, and noting it, will let you save time on your next outing.
Staying Focused in All Conditions
Capt. Jim Kelly runs the FLIR Fishing Team and fishes on Seas The Day, an Intrepid 400 center console recently repowered with triple 400-horsepower Mercury Racing outboards (www.flirfishingteam.com). He also holds a commercial fishing license so he spends a lot of time on the water, sometimes in less-than-ideal conditions on the west coast of Florida. But whether Kelly is chasing kingfish for a tournament win or deep-dropping for grouper, he’s got his helm setup dialed in for optimum efficiency on the water. And that sometimes means simplifying safe operation of the boat.
“I use thermal imaging—I swear by it,” Kelly says. “On the west coast of Florida, whether we’re commercial fishing or tournament fishing, either way we go off early in the morning, I’ll be on the boat at 4 a.m. for a 6 a.m. start, and I’m running anywhere from 15 to 20 to 25 miles in the Gulf and it’s absolutely black, total darkness. I did it for a number of years before we had the equipment and that’s why I like the equipment. I think radar is terrific and I wouldn’t recommend anybody go out there without radar, but it’s not the same, especially for small, up-close objects. The Gulf is not a lake and it bounces us around pretty good at times.” If Kelly is worried about the safety of his crew and his boat, it can distract from his focus on the fishing. With his gyro-stabilized FLIR M-Series thermal imager, he can minimize risk while making the most of his fast boat.
“It’s just amazing the clarity that you get when running at speed,” he says. “I can see everything in front of me with it stabilized, even a crab trap buoy, every little ball that’s been sitting on the water for a week you would think that would have the same temperature of the water and be impossible to discriminate, but that’s not the case. It’s a safety issue, and it’s a convenience to help with navigation. A couple of weeks ago, we had a tournament, and I would never have made the entrance to a canal. It was pitch black out and they had moved some buoys around because the sand had shifted. That’s not something my radar would’ve picked up but I can clearly see the buoys on the screen.”
The Big Three: Bait, Fuel, and Time
“I’m in Savannah, Georgia, and my electronics help me identify what bottoms are around: Is it rock? Is it mud?” says Sean Gill a fishing guide and pro angler for Furuno, Yellowfin, and Yamaha. “I fish a lot for trout and redfish and, depending upon the time of year, tarpon. We also have a good tripletail fishery as well as a very good cobia fishery.”
“Catching bait is paramount,” Gill says. “Around here you don’t catch tarpon without bait. Our water quality is more like a chocolate latte than it is actual water. We’ve got the Savannah River here, which dumps a ton of fresh water in, and it’s very muddy. We rely heavily on menhaden or pogies here and depending on the weather, I’ve got to rely on my electronics to find bait when times get tough and they’re not up and popping.” Gill dials in his fishfinder to hunt up the bait rather than the target species.
“Maybe I’m just a lazy person for not wanting to throw the castnet more, but you’re only as good as your efficiency while fishing,” Gill says. “The faster you can load up on bait, the more time you’re gonna have to fish. Plenty of guys don’t use their electronics to mark the baitballs, instead they’re waiting for the pogies to show on the surface. It’s so much easier to use electronics. Obviously that adds to our success because now I’ve got more time obviously to be fishing.” Gill uses his Furuno sounder to spot bait and make targeted tosses of the castnet: Throw less, catch more.
Numerous factors add together to make bait a precious resource in Gill’s fishery. “Here our pogies don’t last very long in the livewell,” he says. “There are times in the day we have to go catch bait two or three times, depending on how long we’re fishing or how good the fishing is. The bycatch for tarpon in our area is the ‘gray tarpon’ (sharks) and the ‘flat tarpon’ (massive stingrays). Our bycatch-to-tarpon ratio is pretty high, and we chum so we really go through the bait in a day, but it keeps the rods bent and everybody entertained. But why take an hour to catch bait if it can take 20 minutes?”
Just as Gill’s bait efficiency is key for optimizing the day’s catch, so is the Yamaha CommandLink system on his 24-foot Yellowfin bay boat. “Fuel efficiency through electronics, that’s nothing new—you pick your waypoint and go straight to it instead of driving in big circles,” Gill says. “You get there quicker, you burn less fuel, and you have the confidence to know you’re going straight to it. Fuel management through the Yamaha Commandlink Plus is simple so I know how much I have burned, which is deadly accurate. I push a couple buttons and it tells me I have 26 gallons left so I know it’s 26 gallons. It takes your mind off worrying about the fuel. I used to waste a lot of time and a lot of stress and worry about that. Now I focus on catching fish.”
Let the electronics do the work and free up your brainpower for employing those fishing instincts. You’ll see results and have more fun getting them.
This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.