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April 09, 2010

Using an Onboard Weather Service

Stay safe and find fish with onboard weather

When The Weather Channel launched in 1982, mainstream America might have yawned, but anglers began a love affair with the station that thrives today. Weather simply makes or breaks us.

Cable weather led to online weather, which meant larger vessels equipped with laptops could sample local meteorology. But it wasn't until 2004 that live weather began to work with onboard electronics.

Today, the two companies offering that service - XM (www.xmwxweather.com) and Sirius (www.sirius.com/marineweather) - have merged but still operate under their separate banners. They clearly provide invaluable safety and angling information, especially to tournament fishermen, on virtually every brand of electronics hardware currently made.

Hot or Cold
"Sea-surface temperature is the key element I use," says Capt. Mark Maus of Sarasota, Florida, who fishes a 36 Yellowfin, outfitted with a pair of Simrad NSE12 multifunction displays, in the Southern Kingfish Association pro tour. "That changes so much, especially on the Eastern Seaboard, because the current is so close to the coast. Sea-surface temperature (SST) could change 6 to 8 degrees overnight, and the fish will move along with the eddies. When that happens, Sirius gives me an edge; it truly does."

When Capt. Ed Dwyer runs his charter vessel out of Port Canaveral, Florida (www.ticketfishing.com), to the east side of the Gulf Stream hunting tuna, the Sirius weather service on his Furuno NavNet 3D helps him locate cooler water where the fish congregate. "You can look on the Internet in the morning, but the fish move during the day, and you can find cooler water" with the sea-surface temperature screen, he says.

Indeed, XM and Sirius update SST information to anglers every three hours, approximately, allowing them to see dynamic changes in offshore waters. (Cloud cover can postpone updated readings.) Temperatures rise and fall in 1-degree increments; Maus says that works for him, though he'd ultimately prefer half-degree changes.

But Maus says he doesn't depend solely on temperature numbers. He also studies wind direction and speed, using the Sirius data, to gain a clearer picture of what's happening in the ocean. On Florida's east coast, for instance, west winds may push surface water farther offshore and pull colder water up from the depths to lie beneath the warm layer.

Dwyer frequently fishes near a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) weather buoy well east of Canaveral. Before running more than 100 miles into the ocean, he can quickly click the buoy on his Furuno/Sirius display screen and check winds and seas, without having to listen to a full NOAA weather-radio cycle on his VHF.

Storm Warnings
Sirius says that live weather radar also ranks high on an angler's list of needs. Though Maus and Dwyer both use regular marine radar aboard their vessels, they agree that the continuous weather feed works well in concert with radar and really can save the day or prevent disaster.

Dwyer tweaks his marine radar to find birds flying well offshore; to do that, he must change a variety of settings that limit the unit's ability to see rain. But his Sirius weather feed continues to show him complete storms, alerting him to whether a rain front measures 2 or 20 miles wide and where lightning may be concentrated.

"The weather radar has saved me from running through so much stuff," Maus says. "We can have a wall of rain 200 yards from the boat, and I can see it on the weather radar and just run around the squalls. I can see a front coming down and can track it; I can watch a low-pressure system as it pushes off the coast."

In fact, Maus can call up barometric pressure figures for the entire United States, and while that complete range might not be necessary for any given tournament, SKA anglers have been known to run enormous distances - several hundred miles - to find fish.

"Last year, we introduced weather into our system to use religiously, and we ended up third in the country," he says. "We went into the national championships and ended up sixth out of 390 boats. It's a big part of the tools we use."

In Addition
Exactly what an angler sees on any particular display depends on how the hardware manufacturer accommodates the Sirius/XM data feed. Maus says he worked with Simrad during the development of its new NSE models to provide optimal weather information for anglers: "There's everything there that makes my world go 'round," he says.

The only data not currently available with the service is water-color information, Maus says. Knowing whether water of a certain temperature is blue, blue-green or green helps better target certain fish species. Marlin and wahoo, for instance, prefer cobalt-blue water.

The online subscription weather service - Hilton's Offshore (www.realtime-navigator.com), available for laptops and iPhones - does offer that data. Roffer's Ocean Fishing Forecasting Service (www.roffs.com) also uses water-color data to compile its in-depth analyses. But so far, anglers can't see water-color pictures on their onboard electronics.

"My provider is offering all the data available now," Maus says. "Anglers are truly missing the point if they don't have weather."