Finding Fish with Smartphones Impresses Tred Barta

A cellphone network leads Tred Barta and company to the best fishing.

Tred Barta Learns to Find Fish via Cellphone

Tred Barta Learns to Find Fish via Cellphone

Tred Barta encounters a style of electronic run-and-gun fishing that he has experienced before.Illustration by Dan Vasconcellos

Recently, while fishing out of Islamorada, Florida, on the 33-foot Sweetwater with Capt. Geoffrey Campbell and mate Charlie Tindall, I encountered a fishing style that blew me out of my wheelchair ­— a style so ­seemingly reckless and foreign to me that for a good portion of the day I considered it a joke, right up to the point we ­started catching fish.

Upon arriving at the transom of the Sweetwater, I gazed at more than 35 rods rigged for various disciplines, including for spinning, light trolling, deep-dropping, Sabikis, daytime swordfish dropping with electric reels, and three blue marlin rods with bent butts.

I split the charter with two brothers, Andrew and Larry Baxter from New Jersey. As we pulled out, both crew appeared to have a brace of cellphones apiece, and both were talking on them while maneuvering out of Sportsman Marina. We then stopped three times on the way to catch bait so both could review text messages, voice mail and something called tweets. At this point, I was getting pissed.

Just as we put the chum bag out to attract bait, the crew again checked their messages, texts and tweets. Then suddenly, the chum bag came out of the water, and we were off to another location.

When we arrived, two boats were bailing the bait, and we moved in extremely close to one of Campbell’s ­buddies. In less than 10 minutes using cast nets, the crew filled three huge baitwells with pilchards, cigar ­minnows, ­ballyhoo, small jacks and pinfish.

We then headed off in pursuit of blackfin tuna, but changed direction four times while the text messages seemed to be burn up the cellphones. Once we arrived, I couldn't stand it anymore and yelled at the captain, "Who in the hell are you talking to on those cellphones, and when are we gonna fish?"

Just as I said that, Tindall cast a ballyhoo and passed me the rod. Then he cast a second bait, and a sailfish ­engulfed it. I hooked a second fish, and it put on a magnificent show before shaking the hook.

We were in a great spot, and the sailfish were biting full speed.

But as we landed a sailfish, out come the cellphones. The captains told us to reel in — we were leaving. I couldn’t believe it. We were leaving fish to find fish.

Balls to the wall, we ran another six miles north. There we found showering bait everywhere we looked. ­Campbell’s buddy in the center-console had caught and released five sails, and had two hanging. Another buddy’s boat had released six.

Campbell looked at me again with one cellphone to his ear (while texting on another) and said: “The tide is changing on the Islamorada Hump. It’s an 18-mile run. You want to catch sailfish here or blackfin there?” I ­conferenced with Andrew and Larry, and we agreed to go for blackfin.

As we charged farther offshore, the boat changed course by 30 degrees three times. The four phones were ­blowing up with texts. We finally reached the Hump. The captain pulled up-current of the spot, Tindall threw out some live bait to chum, and the blackfin erupted. Over the next two hours, we landed 30 tuna until the sharks put an end to the show.

This style of electronic run-and-gun fishing is incredibly foreign to me. I'm not quite sure I like it. But the ­Sweetwater crew is expert at it. They use the buddy system to put them in the right place at the right time. They are ultraprofessional, and are prepared with live bait, chum, lunch, ice, any kind of rod and reel you might need, and the knowledge to put it together for a successful day of fishing.

Still, whatever happened to finding a frigate bird, throwing five ballyhoo underneath it, and working the area for seven hours? Come to think of it, the Sweetwater's style of fishing probably works better. God, that hurts.

Till next tide,

Capt. Tred Barta

For all things Tred, go to tredbarta.com.