An offshore angler is part meteorologist, oceanographer, marine biologist and fortune teller. Whether you're fishing inshore or offshore, knowing how to find fish means knowing how to read the weather and water conditions,
Luckily, saltwater anglers have a wealth of resources to monitor a variety of conditions. But how do you make heads or tails of apps and websites?
Wind And Fish
Captain Rom Whitaker fishes the wild water off Hatteras Island, North Carolina. In the spring, Whitaker chases blue marlin in the rushing currents and eddies of the Gulf Stream. Before he leaves the dock, his biggest concern is the weather. "I like it calm," Whitaker chuckles.
While the old captain enjoys a smooth ride, his preference for light winds and gentle seas is more about improving the lure's action. "If it's rough the lures jerk around and don't swim correctly," he says.
For Whitaker, calm conditions also indicate lighter current. Off Hatteras, the Gulf Stream narrows and turns east, rushing past the island like a raging river. At times, Whitaker can the water running up to six knots. "All you can do is get out there and fish in the current," he says, adding, "blue marlin will be in the area they just don't feed as well in strong current."
Current maps, as found in www.FishTrack.com provide readings of the current velocity and direction. Fish will often use a current edge as a natural barrier to corral bait. And, fishing one direction in the current then crossing the break and running back to the beginning of the pattern, will save time.
Another valuable resource available on www.FishTrack.com is the chlorophyll chart. Maps indicating chlorophyll content in the water lead anglers to clearer, bluer water.
"I look at chlorophyll charts every day," Whitaker says. Not only do chlorophyll data indicate water color, but the captain can use the information to predict water temperature when he can't get a clear satellite image.
Best Water Temperature
Fishing in calm conditions isn't always possible. Sometimes you have to go when it's rough. Or, you may get caught in bad weather. Further up the coast, Captain James Richardella fishes his 38-foot Topaz, Side Job, out of Brielle, New Jersey. From early summer through fall, Richardella targets yellowfin and bluefin tuna every way possible. He laughs and says, "We troll, chunk and jig."
While Richardella appreciates a nice calm ride to the fishing grounds, he admits that a stiff breeze and a little current can improve the tuna bite. Richardella may have to travel up to 100 miles to find fish, so the weather conditions at the dock can be different from the conditions on the fishing grounds. "If the wind is on his stern on the ride out," he winces and shakes his head, "I pray it drops out for the ride back in."
Divine intervention has an unarguable effect on the weather, but Richardella relies on weather sites like www.buoyweather.com to predict the winds. "I don't mind getting my ass kicked one-way, but not both ways," he jokes.
This year, Richardella found tuna closer to home. While fishing the offshore canyons is always a good bet, he prefers to fish shallow water. "It's all about the bait," he explains. When he sees whales and birds and indications of sand eels, Richardella knows he's on the fish.
To find the bait, Richardella looks for the best water color. "Chlorophyll charts point to the bluest water, where I'm most likely to find life." While bottom structure plays a role in his strategy, water conditions are most important. He looks for blue to blue-green blended water to find the tuna.
Using a satellite water and chlorophyll image with water depth and bathymetry overlay will show where the best water crosses underwater hills, valleys and cliffs. On FishTrack.com's charts, users can center the cursor over the meeting of water and structure to get accurate coordinates of the best conditions.
Another good sign of fish is an abrupt change in temperature or color. For example, Richardella says they often get a puddle of water breaking off the Gulf Stream that is five to six degrees warmer. "The bait and life will be there, I can feel the energy," states Richardella.
Richardella finds a change using satellite water temperature or chlorophyll images but finding the fish can be more difficult. "Sometimes we have to fish from point A to point B and C," he says.
He gets serious about the value of forecasting the weather for safety. Richardella may run as much as 100 miles to the fishing grounds, and he often fishes 24 hours or more, forecasting the weather and tracking the water will put him in the right spot. "We may leave at midnight and it's calm, I can check the wind at the fishing grounds and see the wind is blowing 15, then I look at the forecast to predict if the wind will drop out for the ride home," he says.
Long Range Weather Predictions
In Miami Florida, Captain Abie Raymond doesn't have to run far for sailfish. In fact, he rarely leaves the sight of land. But the weather can be precocious, and sailfish are likely to turn on with the direction of the wind, so Raymond carefully monitors cold fronts to predict when sailfishing will be best.
A long-range forecast, like BuoyWeather's Seven Day Forecast can predict wind and weather conditions but also sea and wave height. A big swell with light winds can be fishable, while a choppy, wind-driven sea may be too rough to fish.
Using long-range weather forecasts, Raymond can watch a front approach southern Florida. "The wind will go north west then north and finally northeast," he explains. "When the sky clears and the big puffy clouds roll in, the sailfish bite will be best."
Raymond also factors in current to predict the conditions and the fishing. "We get a north current running against a north wind and the seas will be rough," he says. While a bumpy ride may not be ideal, the conditions encourage the sailfish to surf the waves. "I can see sails tailing on the surface," he says.
While those conditions might be good for spotting fish, it makes them harder to catch. Instead, Raymond prefers calmer conditions with the wind and current moving in the same direction. "We get a northeast wind and the sailfish stop migrating and start feeding," he says.
To narrow his search, Raymond combines wind direction with water color, much of which can be evinced when utilizing all the Fishtrack and Buoyweather tools. "I'm looking for cobalt blue or powdery blue water," he says. An easterly wind and positive conditions will push the water within a few miles of the beach. "Other times we may have to run to the edge of the Gulf Stream," he says. Reading water temperature images and combing with wind and current reports allows Raymond to triangulate the location of sailfish.
While these pros are checking the weather and water conditions every day to predict conditions on their next trip, they also use these resources to track long-term trends and changes in the conditions and fishing. In Florida, Raymond has noticed a shorter season with the sailfish spending more time north of Miami. "Our season is down to four months, and we often have to run north to find the fish," he says. In New Jersey, Richardello says tuna fishing is better than ever. "We've seen more tuna inshore as shallow as 20 fathoms," he marvels. And, over Whitaker's decades at the helm, he's seen blue marlin fishing improve and decline from year to year. Whether these pros are predicting the forecast for the next day's fishing or monitor long term trends in weather, water and fishing conditions, they rely on the same weather resources available to every angler.