Billson on Billfish
Game Boat Sounders
I picked up the PA mike and called Hoggy up to the tower, and as always he amazed me on how quick he was by my side. Hoggy or Steve Haygarth was my no 1 crew for many years, back then our bodies were very similar, lean strong and agile, yes I know its hard to believe looking at me these days, but a lot can happen in 12 years, just ask my stomach.
Have not marked one for some time hoggy, I think there moved on, might have to go looking. We had a good little run though, six fish in two and a quarter days, and a couple of nice ones, the water clarity was starting to change and go a little milky, and my faithful JRC 90 sounder had not sounded its fish alarm in some time. We headed north to a ground known as the marks. Mark Stevenson, or Statue to his mates my other gun crewmen, fired out a pattern of our favorite lures, and I picked up the pace to suit. Mark joined me in the tower after getting set up, to chew the fat and keep a close eye on the lures as we headed up the track.
Bit of traffic up ahead staty, might be a good Idea to do a run through the pack with the lures, have a look with the sounder and see who is home, before we settle down with the baits. Mark left the tower to give Steve a hand with some special big baits he was working on for the afternoon session, and I started paying very close attention to the sounder. On my second pass over the bottom end of the marks, the fish alarm started sounding. I turned around to observe a huge mark on the screen. Real big fish I said to myself, looked at the depth of water I was in, and the depth the fish was holding at, and tried to squeeze a land mark out of the hazy day, ( No G.P.S back then ). The lures had not done the job, so I pulled the revs back. The boys new it was time for the baits, and quickly made the transition. I Spun around for another pass on where I thought the fish would be, again the alarm sounded, and on the screen the huge mark appeared again, this time I had to let the secret out, pressed in the . Mic and blurted , you should see the size of this mark. I guess it must have been the tone in my voice, as it was enough for hoggy to break any existing record that stood for climbing a tower. He had his head in the screen before I could finish the sentence. I looked back at the baits, just in time to see the big black shape that was about to eat my deep swimming scad. The call was made, no need for PA this time, On the Right. Every crewmen on the reef started looking at their right bait, Hoggy repeated his previous record on the way down, and Tom Pfleger did a beautiful eight second free spool, and the 555 Big Cam Cummins leapt to life to set the 16/0 hook. Tom pulled the big 130 LB outfit from the covering board still on 45lbs of drag, jumped in the chair clipped himself up just in time to see the beautiful big fish leave the water, I broke my own personal record down to the bridge and we were set.
I have been fortunate in my life and seen some great fish caught, but this fish still takes the cake, the big fish put on a remarkable display, I lost count of the jumps. This fish was going to win the major prize in the tournament and we all were pumped, no sharks were going to get this one. Tom who I rate as one of the best HT anglers in the world, put the pressure on early, with some outstanding crew work the fish was on the deck in half an hour. Tom has released his share of big fish and until this day has never elected to keep a fish, and up to today has never keep another. At 1177lb its what we call a nice one, and certainly bought to life that mark on the screen of that old JRC 90 sounder.
Every trade has its special tools, and sport fishing is no exception. G.P.S, plotters, Radar, Binoculars, water temperature gauges, computers with software, radios , and my favorite a good quality echo sounder. Back in my hay day club fishing out of Broken Bay and Port Stephen's, the echo sounder was it, if I saw the letters G.P.S I would have assumed it was some new type of sexual decease. The readings on that sounder told us a lot of approximate information, and the depth that was showing gave us the indications on how far out we were, of cause when you could not read the bottom you were about to drop off the edge of the Planet. My first introduction to a decent sounder back then, was running a 35FT Bertram called Splashdown. She was fitted with a big paper graph sounder. With the use of this tool and a hand-bearing compass we ventured to the far reaches of the sea galaxy, fishing in places no man has gone before, the now popular canyons of the N.S.W coast. I did not have Mr. Spock along then, but some other strangely named crew Hoggy, Statue, and of course the famous Wombat.
As a young crewmen on the Cairns boats, I was often impressed by the Captain letting us know when we were about to get a bite. I would be sitting on the bridge thinking that he has seen a fish behind the baits, but no matter how hard I tried their was no fish to be seen, for quite some time I believed that my captain was the marlin guroo. He keep his secrete for quite some time, until one day he called me up to the bridge. He pointed to a black blob on the graph paper, that's a nice one Billy I have marked her about four times in the last hour she does not want to come up, maybe later this arvo ! Later that day I was getting my arms stretched on a fish well over a grand.
Times and technology have changed a lot since back then, and as you would be aware keeping up with it can sometimes be a bit of a battle. Sounders that once had a on off switch, a gain control, depth control, and if you spent the big bucks a white line, have been changed by complex computers, with menu options, windows and split screens. I don't know what me response would have been back in those early years, if I was told that I would be looking at sounders with a menu. But the first thing that comes to mind is being able to order my lunch from a selection on my echo sounder in the tower. What a great idea, who thought of that?, opps their I go thinking of my stomach again. But seriously it takes time these days to learn to use the modern equipment successfully but the principles are all the same.
I am often astounded at the amount of money spent on gorgeous sport fishing boats, only to have them fitted with what I call a toy sounder. Or on the other hand the poor installation of some quality sounders. The most important aspect of any sounder in my opinion is its power output. The second is its installation. The average boat is fitted with a 1 kW sounder, anything below this for bluewater sport fishing is useless. Personally I prefer a minimum of 3 kW, the more power the less gain required, the less gain required the less interference, the less interference the greater the ability to differentiate between the marks on the screen. It is those marks big or small, tightly packed, or spread out, boomerang, blob or line, and these days colour, that with experience will give us valuable information to assist in the decision on where to be and why to stay or leave their.
The installation is also important, it is no use spending your children's education money on a good sounder, if it is not installed correctly, the problems that arise are normally involving the installation of the transducer. The transducer is the antenna of a sounder, it sends and receives the signal that are sent. With this in mind would you install a radio aerial in the bilge of you boat, I think not, yet how many builders take the cheap and simple way out and install the transducer inside the boat. Expecting it to work correctly pushing the signal through the thickness of the hull.
To achieve the maximum result from any sounder, it is imperative that substance or air not interrupt the signal. It is designed that an interruption in the signal appears on the screen, this is how it interrupts the bottom, a school of fish or a single fish in the water column, as well as isotherms and surface current.
So were I am going here, is to make you aware that possibly the most valuable tool on your boat is not up to speed. Speaking of speed, it seems that we are still trying to catch up with the yanks when it comes to boat speed, it is human nature that we won't to blow away the other guy at the start of a tournament, or on the way to and from the grounds. The problem is with bigger and more powerful sounders, come much larger and obtrusive transducers. Having a transducer the size of a large car battery, hanging from the bottom of your high speed planing hull, so as to achieve optimum sounder performance, creates another problem called appendage drag. For those of you not unaware of this high tech term, it basically means, all the junk hanging out the bottom of your boat that slows you down.
There are a couple of ways of installing large transducers in your boat without this problem accuring, but I am not going to get involved with this one, lets get back to fishing, this boat building stuff getting a little boring.
My sounder on Viking 11 has 2 frequencies 200 KHz. and 28KHz. I run it on duel most of the time. The reason for this is that one frequency will pick up information that the other won't. Because the beam width on the high frequency transducer is narrow, the captain has the advantage of higher resolution. It is a better choice for being precise, but due to its transmit angle can miss certain signals, it is also used most commonly by bottom bashers in shallow water. I find it useful for marking surface eddies and shallow thermoclines. Surface eddies are great holding areas for bait, more often when you find surface eddies, the bait is not far away. They mark under the zero line on your sounder, as jagged pinnacles pointing downwards. To see how they look, pass behind a bulk carrier traveling the coast. Keep a mile or 2 behind, but pass through the ship's track. Once you pick up the marks, follow in the opposite direction to the ship, you will be amazed at how your sounder reads the current eddies left by the ship well after there is no visible signs on the surface. Now don't start scanning the horizon for bulk carriers thinking that they are the Holy Grail to catch sport fish, it doesn't quite work like that. On the minus side, 200 does not have the ability to read as deep as 28 or even 50, and due to its narrow beam width transducer can overlook catchable fish at the sides of the boat. But is very useful for shallow and mid water definition. 28 is the one for the deep water program. If you are buying a more powerful sounder this is a must, I find it great for marking single fish such as Marlin, as well as all types of bait fish, isotherms and deeper thermoclines. In a earlier article I mentioned my fondness for a good quality digital water temp gauge set in Fahrenheit. No its not because my hair is going gray that I like Fahrenheit, it gives greater sensitivity due to it's scale. While I am talking about thermoclines and current eddies, I get very excited when I see my temp gauge going up and down with the Tenths readout continually changing.
As you can see, the best way to become familiar with your sounder is to experiment, and gain experience on how it reads different information. The same applies when searching for bait or pelagic fish. They all appear on the screen. It is just a matter of experience to be able to determine what you are looking at. A good dismersal species fishermen, has the ability of calling the species he has marked, before anyone has put a line in the water. By consistently seeing how certain species mark, and then seeing that species being pulled over the side, he develops a relationship between the Two. That same relationship can be made with bait schools and all pelagic fish.
Bait that is holding mid water may not attract bird life,or can be difficult for the birds to find, but this does not mean that the area will not be productive. I often have clients letting me know that they see bird life off in the distance, when I am already working a tuna school that is marking on the sounder. Obviously you cannot be everywhere at once, and the clients sometimes become concerned that I don't respond to the direction they are pointing. Concerned that is until the short corner gets nailed by a 500lb blue marlin.
Being able to read deep structure, such as a seamount or a set of canyons, with your sounder is important. It lets you know that you are in the general area on were their could be bait, and with that bait bigger fish such as marlin and tuna. But the real productive areas may be some distance away from the structure. Current strength and direction play a vital roll in were the bait may be holding, bait will normally hold up current of structure, and the stronger the current the further the bait will be from the structure. Upwellings created by canyons bring closer to the surface the microorganisms that are at the bottom of the food chains. Your echo sounder and temperature gauge, are the tools to use to establish were these productive areas are. Mentioned earlier these areas may be some distance away from the highlights of the bottom especially in deep water. We are fortunate now to have those other amazing tools, Global positioning systems, (G.P.S.). What I like to do is to mark the bottom highlights with event marks on my G.P.S. and then go searching using my sounder with both frequencies only set on 100 meters, so as to zoom in on potential readings, looking for bait schools, isotherms, and of cause billfish marks. Once a likely spot is found, again the G.P.S. can be used to mark the spot you would like to concentrate your efforts.
I am often asked, what do marlin looks like on an echo sounder.? The answer is not always simple as different brands and models mark them differently, that J.R.C. 90, that I gave a plug earlier was a classic for marking them, so much so that many captains were reluctant to upgrade, with some guy's still using them today. The boomerang, the blob, the line, with motley color in the middle is what to look for, the large air bladder in marlin can create a characteristic a little different from other fish marks. Next time you mark something suspect on the screen, and moments later the super plunger gets nailed, store that mark in the gray matter between your ears. If you see it again sometime in the future it may be worth spending some time there.
What you should be able to achieve, with a good and well set up sounder, after experience is a whole New World of sportfishing. I know many top Captains, who scan the ocean with binoculars searching for signs of life. I have to confess that I rarely use them. I guess it is because of not spending enough time in calm water, I find looking through a pair of bino's when it's a little rough quite awkward, but I certainly take nothing away from the guys that have great success with them. Sometimes it may be possible that you are running over productive areas to get to another productive area. Keep a close eye on that sounder screen, not all bait and billfish give themselves away with bird life.
One last little trick I picked up off a tuna long liner. If your rig is equipped with a decent radar, try using it with the sea clutter turned right down to pick up bird life out of site, works for me.