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October 01, 2007

Get the Picture

Study ocean conditions before leaving the dock to increase your offshore odds.

Chlorophyll Spells Clarity

Warm Gulf Stream waters are displayed in red on SST charts from Hot Spots LLC
Of course, fish-attracting frontal boundaries aren't generated solely by colliding masses of differing water temperatures. They also form when different areas of water clarity (indicated by chlorophyll levels) converge.
Water containing higher concentrations of plankton and plant material has a higher level of chlorophyll and often appears green. Conversely, blue water is devoid of this plant life and chlorophyll poor.
"Many of the top guys will go with chlorophyll charts over other indicators as long as temperatures are acceptable," says Jeff Gammon, owner of Terrafin Software. "If you can find where clean, blue water meets a higher concentration of plankton, you're likely to have more baitfish."
Capt. Billy Maxwell (252-473-1097,, a ROFFS proponent who runs the Tuna Fever out of Oregon Inlet Fishing Center in Manteo, North Carolina, agrees. "Good-looking water according to the SST satellite shot could turn out to be green as antifreeze when you get there," he says. "Using chlorophyll charts can weed out poor water that may otherwise look good."
Two frontal boundaries overlapping each other provide the best of all conditions. Lackey says the top fishing for bluefin and albies in his waters occurs at the "combination of a temperature break and water color going from powdery blue to pristine blue."
Maxwell searches for similar patterns, and notes that "the next generation will involve learning more about chlorophyll and the blend and condition of the water itself."

Economics 101
Not only will a greater understanding of sea-surface temperature and chlorophyll levels help put more fish in your boat, but it will save you money at the fuel pump. 
Maxwell says he has seen the Gulf Stream shift as far as 8 miles in just four hours while pursuing dolphin in the mid-Atlantic. Temperature and color boundaries follow this restless water, which can create havoc - and headaches - for roving anglers who've just spent $3 per gallon filling the tanks only to fruitlessly chase fish.
"That's big-time money," says Dwyer, who points out that the eastern edge of the Gulf Stream in his region can range from 65 miles to more than 100 miles offshore. "Anglers in smaller boats don't have that kind of range. They've got to study temperature charts, if for no other reason than to see the fuel they're going to save instead of going out there blind."
Even anglers who keep diligent tabs on NOAA satellite images (such as those offered through the popular, free sites associated with Rutgers and John Hopkins universities) sometimes suffer from days ruined by seemingly harmless clouds.
Providers who charge for satellite imaging and interpretation services help subscribers avoid such problems.
"We've heard from people who thought they saw a hot spot and ran out 80 or 90 miles, only to discover it was an artifact from a cloud," Roffer says. "For that one trip alone, which may have cost $800 in fuel and wasted time, our services would be paid for the entire season. To me, that's the telltale."
Says Gammon: "You get what you pay for, and sometimes that means warts and all. You have to have a pretty good eye to understand what's real and what's not. After all, you don't want to go chasing windmills all day."

Websites Mentioned

HotSpots Charts LLC
Savannah, Georgia

John Hopkins University
Applied Physics Laboratory
Laurel, Maryland

Roffer's Ocean Fishing Forecasting Services (ROFFS)
Miami, Florida

Rutgers University
Coastal Ocean Observation Lab
New Brunswick, New Jersey

Terrafin Software
Vista, California