DRONE AT­TACK

IT’S TIME TO GET WEIRD. LET’S GO FISHING WITH A GROUP OF AN­GLERS WHO HAVE TAKEN TO THE AIR IN OR­DER TO CATCH MORE FISH

Outdoor Life - - FISHING - BY NICK HONACHEFSK­Y

Bran­don Jones knew sharks were finning in his wa­ters just off the coast of Jack­sonville, Fla. They were, how­ever, a cast too far and he had no clue as to how he could reach them from the beach. “Af­ter years of shark fishing with a kayak and fight­ing through the surf, I knew there had to be a bet­ter way,” says Jones. “That’s when it hit me—a bolt out of the blue. A drone! I did a lit­tle re­search on­line, bought my first qual­ity drone, and be­gan learn­ing to fly it. It didn’t take long be­fore I was able to con­trol it enough to hover 30 feet above the waves and, with the cam­era, look down at my dan­gling bait.” Lyon Ven­ter with a surf-caught mack­erel taken with the help of a drone-de­ployed bait.

When I spot­ted a shark, I dropped the bait. Within sec­onds, the drag was scream­ing and the sand-spiked fishing pole was go­ing mad. Just 10 min­utes later, a 60-pound black­tip shark lay on the beach.”

Jones’ story took me back 15 years. On a full-moon sum­mer night, I, too, was try­ing to fig­ure out how to drop baits into the shark zone out be­yond the first break­ers. I hopped on my surf­board, a live bunker clenched be­tween my teeth, and pad­dled off into the night. About 300 yards out, I heard a splash, fol­lowed by what sounded like an ex­plo­sion. The mon­strous 5-foot tail of a thresher shark slapped the wa­ter at face level. I spit out the bunker and pad­dled as fast as I could back to shore. That was the last time I at­tempted that method of bait de­ploy­ment. I went on to test oth­ers, in­clud­ing three-man sling­shots, mod­i­fied potato can­nons, and re­mote-con­trolled model boats—all with lim­ited suc­cess. My king­dom for a drone.

In­deed, the drone revo­lu­tion is break­ing bar­ri­ers on a plethora of lev­els, from the bat­tle­field to pizza de­liv­ery to fishing. But be­fore you in­dig­nantly huff off, won­der­ing what the heck the angling world has come to, con­sider a few more fishing sto­ries.

WHO NEEDS A BOAT?

Jacques Ven­ter of South Africa, in­ven­tor and de­signer of the Gan­net bait-re­lease sys­tem for drones (drone­fish­ing.com), was frus­trated. For years, he had seen large sharks swim­ming be­yond the first set of break­ing waves but could never get baits out far enough to tan­gle with them.

“I gave up cast­ing from the beach for sharks,” he says. “The sand­bars stretch for at least 200 yards, and all I ever caught were small sand sharks.”

Ven­ter’s first suc­cess came while he was sit­ting in a lawn chair on his back deck, which over­looks the ocean.

“We set up a line with a live

bonito for my son Lyon,” he says. “We flew the drone out about

300 yards—100 yards past the outer sand­bar—and sat back. Lyon’s reel started to scream, and we knew it was some­thing good. The fish pulled hard and ran fast. It was a mon­ster king mack­erel that weighed 61 pounds. Now, every sin­gle time we use the drone, we are on some­thing that gives us a de­cent fight. From the beach or cliffs, it is a whole new ball game now. We catch fish that were pre­vi­ously re­served only for the guys on boats.”

FLY­ING FOR TUNA

Then there’s the one about Jaiden Ma­clean (seaulcer. com). The young Aus­tralian, whose in­sane Youtube video has gar­nered more than 3 mil­lion views, first uti­lized his drone to spy a school of long­tail tuna off Fin­gal Beach in New South Wales, Aus­tralia.

“We first flew the drone 350 meters [1,200 feet] away and spot­ted schools of longfins,” he says. “Then we dropped an oc­to­pus bait in front of the mov­ing fish. Af­ter the bait sat in the wa­ter for a bit, with tuna in­spect­ing it, one of the fish jumped it. It was an awe­some hookup.”

Since his first suc­cess­ful bat­tle, Ma­clean has taken gi­ant trevally, co­bia, and snap­per, and had one un­for­get­table fight with a co­ral trout.

“Last year I went on a trip to the Co­ral Sea, 350 nau­ti­cal miles off the coast of Cairns, in search of new species to land us­ing a drone,” Ma­clean says. “I spot­ted these mas­sive trout in the shal­lows around this is­land, but they were very wary. We dropped a bait in from above, so as to not to spook the fish, and hooked a 44-pounder. We proved that spooky reef fish can suc­cess­fully be caught from a drone. It’s so in­ter­est­ing watch­ing fish act nat­u­rally and see­ing how they am­bush prey with­out the in­ter­fer­ence of boat mo­tor noise or ter­mi­nal tackle in the wa­ter.”

Next on the hori­zon for Ma­clean is to launch his per­son­ally de­signed drone fishing clip and start a char­ter ser­vice to help peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, al­low­ing them to catch a fish of a life­time from the beach.

THE DROP SHOT

Drone fishing isn’t just for shore-based an­glers. While many boaters use drones for re­con­nais­sance—to spot bait ac­tiv­ity or to get a bird’s-eye view to ex­plore an area of in­ter­est—chris Mar­ion of Aguadrone (aguadrone.com) ex­pounds even more ways to uti­lize drones for boat­ing an­glers.

“One of our testers in Flor­ida uses our Aguadrone at­tach­ments when kite-fishing for sails or king mack­erel,” says Mar­ion. “The kite is at the mercy of the wind, and when the wind is dead, the drone is de­ployed with the bait clip. This al­lows us to hover and then drop the bait in from above to achieve the same re­sults as a kite.”

RIG IT TO WIN IT

Of course, the first step is to buy a drone. They are not cheap—the Phan­tom 3 or 4 will set you back at least $1,500, while the Mavic Pro costs about $800. Aquadrone’s all-in­clu­sive fishing drone, which fea­tures in­ter­change­able pods that clip on and off for bait-re­leas­ing ca­pa­bil­ity, is gen­er­ally avail­able for about $650. Bait-re­lease rigs are an added ex­pense. Gan­net, for ex­am­ple, has spe­cially de­signed bait-re­lease rigs ($159) for the most pop­u­lar drones.

You can also try this DIY bait-re­lease rig: First, tie 4 inches of 65-pound braided line off the bot­tom of each of the four drone ro­tor hubs. Next, at­tach a carib­iner to each, along with 24 inches of 65-pound braided line tied to a snap swivel. Fi­nally, tie a 12-inch sec­tion of 80-pound monofil­a­ment to an off­shore flat­line clip— the weight-bear­ing re­lease can be ad­justed, depend­ing on the weight of the bait you are fly­ing out. You can ei­ther an­chor the rod in a sand spike on shore or a rod holder if you’re on a boat. Let the line pay out un­til you reach your re­lease tar­get and en­gage the reel.

Fly­ing a drone is no more dif­fi­cult than play­ing a kid’s video game, but it will take some prac­tice. Take-offs and land­ings are a learned skill that will take you a cou­ple of hours to mas­ter.

A FRESH AP­PROACH

It can be ar­gued that salt­wa­ter­based an­glers are at the fore­front of fishing in­ge­nu­ity, but fresh­wa­ter drone-fishing ap­pli­ca­tions abound, too.

“Ev­ery­body wants to fish places that are im­pos­si­ble to ac­cess on foot,” says Mar­ion.

“Our guys have flown baits on long leads over the spill­ways, for ex­am­ple. If you can en­sure catch­ing small fish, you can fish it di­rectly from the drone and ex­tract your catch. But you do risk los­ing an ex­pen­sive piece of equip­ment. Drones, too, have been used to fly out and dis­perse chum in an area to get a bite go­ing be­fore a cast is made.”

DRONE DIC­TUM

Laws re­gard­ing drone us­age for recre­ational-fishing pur­poses are still in flux. Although each state con­trols the specifics, fed­eral laws ap­ply across the coun­try. Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion reg­u­la­tions pub­lished un­der U.S. Code Ti­tle 14, Part 107, cover drone us­age (find more info at faa.gov). Be­fore you fly to fish, down­load the FAA’S B4UFLY app at faa.gov/uas/ where_­to_fly/b4ufly.

Jacques Ven­ter (left) at the 2016 World Carp Mas­ters cham­pi­onship in France. Ven­ter’s team caught this 30-pound carp by find­ing a hotspot (marker) with his drone, then drop­ping feed and a hooked bait on the fish.

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