Science is Being Used as a Tool for Catching Billfish

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Science is Being Used as a Tool for Catching Billfish

Oceanographers said that billfish have preferred habitats, and if you can understand them scientifically, then you catch more.

Catching billfish — sailfish, marlin, swordfish and spearfish — in South Florida or anywhere else in the world has much more to do with science than luck.

That was the gist of a talk by two prominent local oceanographers at the daylong 2011 Billfish Expo last month in Dania Beach.

“We’ve learned that fish like preferred habitat,” Mitch Roffer, president of Roffer’s Ocean Fishing Forecasting Service Inc., said. “They like to grow fast so they can spawn. They need a certain water temperature, water color, clarity, dissolved oxygen and salinity. This habitat expands and compresses. If you can understand where this habitat is, you’ll understand where you can catch fish in certain areas.”

Roffer has built a career selling real-time fishing forecasts to anglers, using satellite data on sea surface temperature, ocean currents and color to predict where the heaviest concentrations of fish will show up. At the expo, he and University of Miami professor Art Mariano explained how and why those factors are important to fishing success.

Mariano explained that distribution of oxygen in the water can drive fish to the surface or send them deep. Ocean turbulence, he said, determines distribution of plankton, the beginning of the food chain. Areas where ripples and smooth water converge — which appear as “slicks” on the surface — are actually differences in water mass that concentrate bait.

Most offshore anglers know that the location of the Gulf Stream is key to locating billfish. But they might not understand that this giant, northerly flowing body of ocean does not have fixed boundaries. It can fluctuate from a few miles off the coast to more than 100 miles offshore. The stream has eddies, according to Roffer, that rotate counter-clockwise and pull nutrient-rich waters to the surface — a prime location for feeding game fish.

“Work the boundaries,” Roffer advised.

Mariano surprised some members of the audience when he told them that he doesn’t believe lure color is important in attracting game fish. He said using contrasting colors is best, and that most fish are color-blind at night.

As for using chum to attract fish “sound is quicker than scent,” Mariano said. “The sound you need to make is between 40 and 400 hertz — low frequency.”

Added Roffer: “If you have a gear that’s missing and making high-frequency sounds, the guy next to you is going to catch fish, and you’re not.“

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