What Lies Beneath

If you swim slowly, blackfish will allow you to get very close to them, making for cool pictures and video.

Pictured above: If you swim slowly, blackfish will allow you to get very close to them, making for cool pictures and video.

Take glimpse under the surface to better understand the world of the fish we target.

I spend a fair amount of time underwater, observing and documenting fish and their behaviors. Doing so allows me to acquire a better understanding of how a fish feeds along a sandbar, rock outcropping, or other structure. This knowledge can then be translated into better lure choice, presentation, and placement. For example, we all know that drifting is one of the more productive techniques when targeting fluke, but why is this the case? Seeing firsthand where fluke set up on a piece of structure and how they ambush their prey will enable you to plan your drift in a way that increases your odds of hooking up.

Watching stripers swim unbothered provides clues to how and where to catch them.
Watching stripers swim unbothered provides clues to how and where to catch them.

So, how would an angler go about getting a glimpse into the world of the fish we target? One of the easiest ways is with the use of a waterproof action camera, such as a GoPro, WaterWolf, or Shimano ECM-1000 Sport Camera. The possibilities are limitless and, in most cases, you don’t need to get wet to capture compelling underwater footage. I use a GoPro attached to a pole while shark fishing. When a shark approaches the boat, I drop the camera below the surface to capture how the shark reacts to our baits and how it takes the hook. Playing the video back later often reveals mistakes I made, allowing me to make adjustments and be better prepared next time.

Using a camera can be handy while bottom fishing. Attached to a chum pot or anchor, you can get a peek at what the bottom structure consists of and what organisms inhabit it. This tactic comes with risks, though, as a new unit can cost as much as $400. If it gets hung up on the wreck, it could be an expensive loss. GoPro seems to come out with a new model every year, which means used ones can be picked up on eBay for a more reasonable, expendable price.

Another way to experience the underwater world is to physically get into it. There are two options: snorkeling or scuba diving. Although I tend to prefer scuba diving, there are times when it makes sense to leave the bulky gear at home and head out armed only with a mask, snorkel and fins. The lack of equipment creates a more serene environment, making me feel as if I am one with the sea. Since I am not breathing through scuba gear, I can hear the natural sounds of the sea. This silence is also calming to the surrounding marine life and allows me to get much closer without affecting their behavior. Additionally, snorkel gear is lightweight. It can be packed in a small duffle bag and easily stowed in the cabin of your boat or trunk of your car.

An action camera mounted on a gaff or long pole can capture great underwater images
An action camera mounted on a gaff or long pole can capture great underwater images of sharks and other big game species.

Although scuba equipment is bulky, heavy, noisy, rather expensive, and requires a certification, it does allow me a much longer time on the bottom, which equals more time to explore. Seeing a wreck or rock pile on a depthfinder gives you an idea of how large a structure is and how far it rises off the bottom, but that does not paint a complete picture. What is the structure made of? Does it consist of overhangs, caves, and other places predators might take up residence? The only way to answer these questions is to see it firsthand.

After diving a site that you regularly fish, you will never fish it the same way again. With every drop of a bait or hookset on a bite, the image of the bottom will be in your head, giving you that edge over an angler who sees only the wreck as a bump and color change on a depth sounder.

It is the goal of every angler to “outsmart” the fish they pursue. I hope, through reading this column, you have gained valuable insight into the minds of the fish you chase and succeed in outwitting a few. As we enter summer, you now have an additional opportunity to further your fishy education by taking a class taught by the fish in their own classroom.

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