The more I write about marine electronics, the more often I hear the question: Isn’t all that technology unfair to the fish? But I think that paints too simple a picture of recreational angling.
Not only must we know where to find fish, we also must predict when and what they will bite. And we must prepare our gear and ourselves properly for battle.
All things considered, I’d say anglers remain disadvantaged. But that’s not for lack of trying, particularly when it comes to online oceanographic services that provide sophisticated satellite data beyond sea-surface-temperature maps.
“If time is important, and with fuel getting more expensive, anglers are more or less realizing they need help,” says Mitch Roffer, a biological oceanographer who started his Roffer’s Ocean Fishing Forecasting Service (www.roffs.com) 25 years ago.
ROFFS and other companies provide a wide range of online and offline information for a variety of prices. Choosing the service that’s right for you depends on timing, need and experience.
Public and Private
In the late 1990s, when Jeff Gammon started Terrafin (www.terrafin.com) and when Geoeye’s predecessor began the SeaStar service for commercial fishermen, government sources produced primarily sea-surface-temperature data, Gammon says. But as commercial satellites — such as Geoeye’s Orbview-2 — launched, the oceans came alive for anglers. Today’s services also offer chlorophyll (plankton) data, water color and current maps, and altimetry (sea-surface height) readings.
“Altimetry is used more in the Gulf and Southeast,” Gammon says. “The satellite is able to measure the difference in centimeters in different bodies of water. What it represents is areas of upwelling and downwelling.”
This spring, Geoeye unveiled its new SeaStar Sport service (www.seastarsport.com) for the recreational market. “We’ve taken the tools that we feel separate us from the pack and delivered those up to recreational fishermen on the Web,” says Matt Galston, senior sales representative for Geoeye, which is also a defense contractor.
When you review the various fishing-service websites — whether those mentioned above or others such as Hilton’s (www.hiltonsoffshore.com), SeaView Fishing (www.seaviewfishing.com), HotSpots Charts (www.sstcharts.com) or FishTrack (www.fishtrack.com) — several common themes emerge. That’s because much of the basic data is available from the federal government. In some cases, that data can also be found completely free of charge online.
However, the additional locations and data (purchased or procured from private companies or other countries), data presentation and timeliness, the algorithms that make it more accurate, and the availability and degree of analysis set each company apart.
One main issue all the companies battle is the presence of clouds. Satellite infrared cameras and sensors don’t see through clouds. To combat that, users can opt to review composite imagery made from multiple satellite passes.
For sea-surface-temperature readings, that means numerous passes per day by several different satellites. But for chlorophyll data, that means combining once-daily passes from a period of several days. “There’s only one usable satellite that gives chlorophyll data,” Gammon says. “That’s usually more-dicey information.”
Satellites use radar to read sea-surface height, so altimetry data remains unaffected by overcast skies. Current speed and direction, thermoclines and subsurface-temperature information are calculated based on models from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Galston says.
In most cases, subscribers have access to accumulated oceanographic information packaged with various tools for planning a day on the water. Some companies sell access by region; others request a blanket fee. Terrafin and SeaStar Sport, for instance, offer a basic package for $99 a year. For $399 a year, Geoeye’s SeaStar Sport provides advanced customization.
Anglers learn to use the tools themselves with help from online instruction and FAQ, though some companies offer verbal or video tutorials. On the other hand, ROFFS provides in-depth analysis, drawing on years of comparative data and a broad range of information collected over time. Galston says Geoeye plans to deliver custom analyses starting this month.
“We’re looking at a variety of oceanographic data over [a period of] hours to days,” Roffer says. “We’re the only ones looking at history and how the current conditions formed.”
Roffer agrees that captains can learn to use the data, but “captains usually look at one small area. They can’t integrate what’s beyond their vision or beyond their radio,” he says.
ROFFS analysts also speak with a network of captains every day, and work with NASA and NOAA on significant research projects. A single ROFFS analysis costs $65; if you prepay for a package, the per-analysis fee drops to as low as $36.
ROFFS customers “run the full gamut, including charter captains,” Roffer says. “The typical client is chasing dolphin, tuna or billfish, but some people use it very successfully for king mackerel (in the South) and sharks (in the Northeast).”
In most cases, satellite-image resolution averages 1 kilometer per pixel, which, as Galston points out, doesn’t sound very high considering your television’s resolution. But consider that many satellites view the entire globe, and 1 kilometer makes sense. Yet it doesn’t allow users to drill down to minute GPS measurements between water-temperature breaks, color changes or altimetry edges.
Galston says Geoeye is exploring the technology to portray 6-meter-per-pixel resolution for ocean color. That’s tight enough to pick up weed lines. “At a certain point, you can get too much of a good thing, and all you get is sun glint — [the tighter resolution] doesn’t give you the big picture,” he says. “As you go up in resolution, you go down in the area each pass covers.”
Gammon says Terrafin expects to roll out a mobile app soon for phones and tablets; ROFFS and Hilton’s currently offer smart-device interfaces. Simrad Yachting confirmed that with its next software upgrade, ROFFS reports will be readable on Simrad NSS multifunction displays, using the PDF viewer.
I say, “Bring on that technology!”