BIGGER, FASTER … BETTER?
We are in the midst of a modern-day arms race in sport fishing. It’s a showdown to see who can outrun, out-fish and out-tech the next guy. Take the dredge, for example. It started off as a six-armed contraption with some big silver mullet on each arm. Then came a double-stacked dredge. Mudflaps. Squids. Skirts. Back to natural baits again. Triple tiers with dozens of baits. Pretty soon, the bait budget for the dredges rivals what we used to spend on fuel. And these are just the teasers — you don’t actually catch a damn thing with them.
The boats are getting faster too. It wasn’t that long ago when a 26-knot cruise was considered pretty quick, but those days are receding faster than my hairline. Go to a boat show today and nearly every manufacturer touts its boats as having 30-knot-plus cruising speeds, with top ends approaching — or well over — 40 knots. It’s amazing that a 60-ton hunk of wood and fiberglass can go that fast ( just don’t ask how much fuel they’re burning along the way). You have the need for speed? Gotcha covered.
Electronics are on the cutting edge. There is a good chance that whatever you buy today will be outdated in three years. Those same fast new boats are equipped with the latest in searchlight sonar, 100-mile high-definition radar, night vision and giant electronics displays. We study all kinds of data from satellites that orbit Earth, hoping to pick up the smallest variations in temperature change, chlorophyll and salinity to find the hot bite before the next guy does.
Boatbuilders are clamoring for higher-horsepower engines, looking to break the 50-knot barrier. Higher speeds open up distant fisheries like the Northeast canyons and Costa Rican seamounts, letting us go farther and faster than we ever have in the past. One day, our electronics will advance to the point where the autopilot will just drive the boat to an area on the chart plotter that says “Fish here!” in flashing red letters.
But just as some things change with the tides, others will always remain the same. We fish for the experiences we share with our families and friends, and for the sheer fun and beauty of it all. To see the sun rise over a slick-calm ocean. That first sip of hot coffee, tinged with a little salt spray in the air. For the sight of a tail-walking sailfish, or a blue marlin blasting a teaser in an explosion of violence and white water. Nobody fishes in tournaments for the money, but rather to share in the incredible camaraderie of going head to head against others who share the same passion.
One thing we can all agree on is the need for improved conservation measures for billfish and other pelagic species. We have a delicate balance between commercial and recreational fishing interests. Commercial fishing isn’t the enemy; their livelihood depends on healthy fish stocks. If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to join The Billfish Foundation. With the world’s largest private tagging database, a robust advocacy and outreach program and strong international ties with organizations like ICCAT, TBF is doing good work every day. Healthier billfish stocks worldwide? No matter which side of the technological arms race you’re on, that’s something we can all get behind.