My father left me a few personal treasures, one of which was his black book of fishing numbers from the Bahamas. It was actually a blue binder and that cherished book likely won’t ever see salt again, but either way I will have that tattered collection of notes forever.
Times have certainly changed, and through our blistered fingertips, we now have instant connectivity to elegant touchscreen displays with ultra-fast charting and incredibly smooth screen transitions, providing the ability to view electronic charts and engine data, activate entertainment systems, adjust radar and sonar, and set waypoints with a quick touch or swipe. Educated fishermen know that ocean conditions can change in the blink of an eye. Water temperature and clarity, wind strength and direction, tide, moon phase, current and many more factors greatly influence the movements and availability of prized game fish species.
However, the most successful captains don’t just head out and troll around without any care to where they’ve previously found success. Some operations might be satisfied running over a few fish here and there, but the captains that put in the extra effort to catalog catch records are building a knowledge base that cannot be replicated. Simply recording a waypoint every time you hook fish and adding notes like stage of the tide, moon phase and water temperature will undoubtedly enhance your time on the water with emerging patterns adding to your familiarity and suspicion of seasonal tendencies and variances. Most associate secret fishing holes and prized numbers with bass fishing or bottom fishing, but many bluewater captains have their own treasured cache of waypoints accrued over time spent trolling for billfish.
Make Waypoints Work for You
With the ease of creating a waypoint, it’s important to organize and manage your data appropriately. Was that mark a blue marlin bite, bait spot or aid to navigation? How often you choose to assign waypoints is your choice, but with the ability to sift through hundreds of points of interest, track logs and routes through a MFDs search function it’s wise to be a bit descriptive in your naming convention. The newest GPSMAP 8600 series from Garmin holds 5,000 waypoints with up to 10 characters, and you can further add to the data sets with comments up to 20 characters. Raymarine’s Axiom Pro allows for the capacity of 10,000 waypoints up to 16 characters in length with comments up to 32 characters long. Adding colors and symbols will help discern fishing and navigational waypoints.
A great captain understands that fishing is only a small part of the job, but they do spend a significant amount of time and effort through trial and error in building their digital black book of coordinates. The age of the internet has rendered effective tactics and equipment as somewhat common knowledge, but captains still have spots that are closely guarded, and that they may only share with a select few who have earned their trust. Unfortunately, not all captain-owner relations end on a positive note and in recent talks with an individual from South Florida who will remain anonymous, there was an issue upon his termination about ownership and access to GPS numbers.
“I think the numbers should be shared. I diligently logged most of those spots over many years on my own time,” Capt. Ahab says. “The owner supplied the means and methods to access the fish, but I used my knowledge to find them. I feel that both parties have equal claim to what’s on that chart card, but I wasn’t given that opportunity. I was left on the dock in the Abacos with a plane ticket home.”
Rights of Ownership
While tempers can flare upon termination, the best fishermen know that numbers don’t equate to catching fish. And it’s probably not wise for a captain to engage in a legal battle with an owner that has much deeper pockets and could tie the case up in court, ultimately costing the captain money he probably doesn’t have trying to recoup a few fishing coordinates. However, the question remains as to whether the captain or owner should retain the possession of archived GPS numbers when parties decide that it’s time to go separate ways.
“The last job I had was on the Booby Trap. When I left that boat, I didn’t take anything. In my mind, I knew how to read a chart, and could find places to fish again. Now, I’m on the Titan Up and the owners are really great people, but if I walked off with all of their numbers, they would be furious, and rightfully so. But, you know, all good things come to an end at some point. If I knew I was leaving this job I would write down two or three choice numbers, that’s it. To me, I think that GPS numbers should be shared between captains and owners,” says Capt. Jeff Wilson.
Similar to cherished grouper holes, swordfish latitude and longitude coordinates are prized assets, and with a Texas swordfish record of 493 pounds on his resume, Wilson often attracts the attention of other fishermen. “The biggest thing for me while swordfishing in the Gulf is getting pot-licked. I hate it, but it happens all the time. I got burned last year with AIS. I had some spots to the east that nobody fished at all, and now everybody and their brother knows about them. The problem is that 90 percent of where we fish for swords here ends up being in the shipping lanes, so I have a tendency to leave the AIS on at night, but in the daytime, I definitely turn it off now,” Wilson says.
The FAD Fishery of Costa Rica
When Costa Rica’s FAD fishery was developed in a shroud of secrecy, GPS coordinates marking freshly deployed marlin feeders were of hot topic. “The first two years we were fishing the FADs, and no one really knew what we were up to. My boss would come to the dock at 10 p.m., and we’d have all of the rods in the salon. We would chug offshore and fish for five days, then come back under the cover of darkness. It started a bunch of drama because I had to tell everyone on the dock that we went somewhere else. Then, a couple of guys with side scan sonar found one of our FADs. They took a picture of it and put it on Facebook,” says Chase Edwards.
“The first time we put FADs out, my boss probably put $70,000 into it. He would be pissed that everyone was fishing his FADs, and everyone else wanted to see boats fishing his FADs. At one point, the leaked coordinates were on sale for $10,000. This is a tight-knit community, and my old boss was a bit cocky the way he went about it. He eventually made us go out there and send a diver in the water to cut the FADs in front of everyone while they were fishing. It was a lot of drama that got put in my lap, all over some numbers,” Edwards says.
Waypoints as Common Courtesy
Over the course of his worldly travels, Capt. Bryce Garvey of the 86-foot Merritt Flyer has earned a well-respected reputation and work ethic. And he’s not afraid about sharing his numbers. “I’ve always left the waypoints and would never think to delete anything. But I just can’t ever imagine an owner telling his new captain, ‘Hey, repeat Bryce’s track from Bermuda two years ago.’ He’s hired the next captain because he has faith in his abilities to navigate and catch fish. Personally, I’d never trust another captain’s route no matter what, but I think it’s a common courtesy more than anything. You should leave what you did on that boat there, but if you want to take a copy for yourself, I think that is fair. In the end, they are just breadcrumbs you know?” Garvey says.
When asked about how he archives data, Garvey, like many other well-traveled captains, is somewhat slow to adapt to evolving and available technology regarding waypoint backup. My SD cards are under lock and key. I don’t trust the apps that transfer and store data. I see a possibility for losing data, so I don’t do it that way. Software updates are scary, I’d rather just take a backup card with me.”
Waypoints on the Cloud
In the age of the modern fishermen, some are learning to catalog fishing routes and waypoints in those ever-present clouds that store and stream data effortlessly. With this technology comes convenience, raining down to the offshore captain and the ability to carry the cloud and invaluable data within their tablets or smartphones wherever they go.
Most all of the newest MFDs deliver built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which make it easier than ever to transmit NMEA navigation data to an external device. For Garmin users, the Active Captain app allows for the easy import of GPX waypoint files from your chartplotter to a smartphone or tablet. Once the app is running and you’re ready to try the MFD integration, you’ll need a blank SD for all the data you may transfer back and forth. Similarly, the Fishidy app for Raymarine and the Link app for Lowrance allow users to sync waypoint data between MFDs and mobile devices. Additionally, object appearance, metadata, waypoint customization and privacy settings are all preserved upon transfer.
The Legal Opinion
Reviewing the story of the disgruntled captain who was left at the dock without access to his chart card, we reached out to InTheBite’s resident legal expert, Winslow Taylor. “I think you can make an argument that he’s entitled to get those numbers back, especially if he brought them over and plugged them in from past experiences. I’d have to look into intellectual property rights and if there was a pay for hire agreement, but he put the time and effort together to fish those spots, and it took years and possibly decades to get a good book going. If anything, there needs to be better agreements with the owner. I think it’s rare that I know people that have anything more than a basic employment contract, or just a signed piece of paper,” Taylor says.