Drone Tac­tics

WHERE AND HOW DRONES FIT INTO YOUR AN­GLING ARSE­NAL From the mo­ment I learned about small, re­motely op­er­ated drones, I imag­ined how these un­manned ae­rial ve­hi­cles (UAVS) might help me catch more fish.

Saltwater Sportsman - - Table Of Contents / Departments - JIM HENDRICKS

I dreamed about ae­rial scout­ing for weed lines, rips, and flocks of feed­ing seabirds. I en­vi­sioned spot­ting fish such as co­bia, mahi, red­fish and tuna. I even thought about drop­ping baits from above to fish that were well be­yond cast­ing dis­tance.

I’m not alone. The same thoughts have struck many an­glers. Now pi­o­neer­ing fish­er­men are con­vert­ing

their drone-fish­ing dreams into re­al­ity. In many re­spect the tech

nol­ogy had to catch up with the vi­sion. When the fly­ing pieces of elec­tron­ics first ap­peared about eight years ago, they proved dif­fi­cult to op­er­ate, and many were quickly crashed by novice pi­lots.

How­ever, to­day’s UAVS of­fer a host of fea­tures that make them eas­ier to use. One of the most im­por­tant is built-in GPS that al­lows the drone to au­to­mat­i­cally hover in place, fly pre­de­ter­mined pat­terns, and re­turn to the take­off point. Drones still re­quire ex­pe­ri­enced and fo­cused op­er­a­tors, but ad­vanc­ing tech­nol­ogy is eas­ing the task.

From a fish­ing point of view, de­vel­op­ment of wa­ter­proof drones played a piv­otal role. There are now a num­ber of wa­ter­proof drones, in­clud­ing the Gool­sky Q353 Triphib­ian ($104), Ideafly Po­sei­don-480 ($800) and the Quad­h2o ($850).

Yet ar­guably the most ad­vanced and prac­ti­cal UAV for an­glers is the Splash­drone 3 Fish­ing Edi­tion from Swell­pro ($1,958 with a cam­era and pay­load re­lease).

Fish­ing with drones is still in its in­fancy, but here are some of the cur­rent uses.


Drones equipped with sta­bi­lized video cam­eras now of­fer more vivid images than ever be­fore.

The optional ul­tra HD 4K wa­ter­proof cam­era for the Splash­drone 3, for ex­am­ple, of­fers a three-axis gim­bal with sta­bi­liz­ing mo­tors to en­sure

shake-free footage. The op­ti­mized field of view pro­vides a more nat­u­ral-look­ing per­spec­tive than a super-wide fish­eye lens. High-qual­ity im­age sen­sors cap­ture more de­tail and true col­ors on the re­mote con­trol’s 5-inch screen.

Send­ing the drone up to 300 feet and then set­ting it on an auto-cir­cle with a 150-foot ra­dius around the boat helps lo­cate fish-hold­ing flot­sam, flocks of feed­ing birds and, de­pend­ing on wa­ter clar­ity, schools of fish. Drone scout­ing works par­tic­u­larly well when fish­ing clear shallows and flats, al­low­ing you to spot bone­fish, red­fish, tar­pon and other game.

But ae­rial scout­ing with a drone is not as sim­ple as you might think, says Capt. Barry Bright­en­burg, who has ex­per­i­mented with drones while blue­wa­ter fish­ing off South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, and has served as a videog­ra­pher for the tele­vi­sion show In­side Sport­fish­ing.

First, you need a good pilot with the skills to fly a drone, and then he must ded­i­cate him­self to op­er­at­ing the UAV and fo­cus on the re­mote dis­play for signs of fish, says Bright­en­burg. “Hav­ing such a ded­i­cated crewmem­ber is a tall or­der on any boat.”

You also need lots of bat­ter­ies, Bright­en­burg says. Most UAVS have fly­ing times of about 15 min­utes, though some can fly for as long as 25 min­utes.

At­mo­spheric haze also ham­pers ae­rial scout­ing. “It hurts vis­i­bil­ity and cuts down on the con­trast you need to spot weeds and fish,” Bright­en­burg says. On days when haze is thick, drones don’t work out.

Bright­en­burg ad­mits that ae­rial scout­ing with a drone is more fea­si­ble now than in the early days of UAV de­vel­op­ment. “With drones that are wa­ter­proof and can fly them- selves, scout­ing is a lot eas­ier than it used to be,” he ex­plains. “But it still re­quires a good pilot and the video feed does not al­ways show the de­tail you need. Some days, it’s just bet­ter to have a guy in the tower with a pair of sta­bi­lized binoc­u­lars.”


The Splash­drone 3 Fish­ing Edi­tion also sees un­der­wa­ter. Say you fly over a shal­low reef and want to take a closer look. Sit the UAV down on the wa­ter and then use the stan­dard cam­era with a wide field of view and low-light ca­pa­bil­ity to peer be­low the sur­face.

This cam­era is on a fixed an­gle, so you can­not pan and tilt as with the optional ul­tra HD 4K wa­ter­proof cam­era, and it’s for live views only (no video record­ing). But you can pread­just the an­gle for un­der­wa­ter view­ing. In clear wa­ter, you can iden­tify species and de­ter­mine how they are re­lat­ing to the struc­ture. Once you’re done, it takes off from the sur­face.


Capt. Pete Gross­beck, who skip­pers Con­trolled Chaos, a 66-foot Vik­ing based in San Diego, has been us­ing drones to tar­get spooky Pa­cific bluefin tuna for the past three years. He uses the Splash­drone 3, which comes with a pay­load re­lease. You at­tach your line and the UAV op­er­a­tor can de­liver the bait or lure wher­ever you want. It can carry up to 2.2 pounds more than three quar­ters of a mile.

Gross­beck turns to drones when schools of big bluefin are “breez­ing” near the sur­face. “These fish are spooky and on the move, and you can’t get close to them, so we use a drone to skip a live mack­erel over them, like you would with a kite,” Gross­beck ex­plains.


One of the ma­jor im­ped­i­ments to drone us­age is wind. UAVS are dif­fi­cult to con­trol in winds over 10 knots, even in the hands of a skilled pilot. Un­for­tu­nately, wind is a fact of life on the wa­ter. And so, for now, the best time to use drones — for scout­ing, bait­ing fish or videog­ra­phy of an­gling ac­tion — is when the winds are calm.

AE­RIAL DIS­PLAY: Ray­ma­rine’s Ax­iom se­ries lets you launch and con­trol a video drone. FISH­ING DRONE: The wa­ter­proof Splash­drone 3 has a line re­lease clip, bot­tom.

By Jim Hendricks To­day’s drones can do far more than ae­rial scout­ing.

LOOK BE­LOW: The Splash­drone 3 lands, looks un­der­wa­ter for fish, then takes off.

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