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July 01, 2010

AIS For Your Boat

Think AIS has no place on a fishing boat? Think again.

On the Move
AIS is also helpful dynamically, such as when you're dealing with the Gulf Stream, Mitchell explains. "I'll look at the freighter icons with the arrow pointing in their direction of travel," he says. "If they are southbound and in tight to the reef line to save fuel, I know before I even get there that I'll find a lot of current and a blue-water edge. If they are in the middle heading south, I know there is not a lot of current today, and I can fine-tune my fishing or travel plan."

Speaking with those vessels, Mitchell says, yields information about current, set and drift, valuable when crossing the Stream. And sometimes there's more, "One day I talked to a guy coming out of Great Isaac, in the Bahamas, told him where I was headed, and he happened to mention, 'You should see the boats off Walker's Cay; there are weeds and porpoises, and everybody is catching tuna.'"

Thick of It
In the Gulf of Mexico, constant activity in and around the oil fields yields plenty of actionable information. "I check with the tenders that travel to the platforms," says Mitchell. "They will tell you where they are going and where they will anchor, which gives you a good idea of the current around the platform."

This, in combination with an ocean-reporting or sea surface-temperature overlay, begins to paint a telling picture of offshore conditions.

Mitchell says tenders can provide information about obstructions or dive operations in the area, which would preclude fishing around those platforms. Conversing with the tenders and the platforms allows him to find out what's going on and exercise courtesy that often elicits even more information.

"I may explain we are planning on flying a kite and ask them to let us know if they have incoming helicopters so we don't interfere with those, which they appreciate," he says. In return, maybe they offer additional information, such as the movement of a drilling ship, which acts like a giant fish haven. Often the crew boats explain they are just making a delivery, which is also good news.

"Once they arrive and push 'Stay' on their GPS and autopilot, which holds them in position to unload, the white water starts to flow around the tender and the platform, and that reshuffles the deck," Mitchell says. "The white water blows the bait off the platform, the 'cudas go wild on the bait, the wahoo go wild on the 'cuda, and the blue marlin eat the wahoo. It's like an alarm clock going off if there are fish there."

The crew that lives on the water gathers information that anglers cannot get without spending day and night at sea themselves. Tapping into that information can be like opening a library dedicated to your fishing. Properly and courteously used, AIS can be your library card.