Pingers. No, we're not talking about the little pills or the people on them. I’m talking about that thing on the water that has apparently happened to everyone, but of course, no one does it themselves. So “Pinger”. The word used to describe the process (dog act) of marking a fishing spot that someone else is currently fishing. The traditional method is to drive over to, or directly towards where someone is fishing, and then mark the spot. Or even just dropping a line next to them. This provides a constant supply of complaints (winging) down the pub for on social media. And even the odd alteration at the boat ramp or filleting tables. As a charter operator, I do obviously take my marks seriously, they are my livelihood. There is a huge cost in the way of fuel, hours on a vessel, investment in electronics and endless days trying to find them. But people are often surprised when I don’t seem too fussed about that rec boat heading towards us out of nowhere. Or that I’m not confiscating phones or searching my customers for handheld GPS. It’s not because I don’t care, but it's more the fact I would be fighting a losing battle. We’ve all heard or even have a story about the obvious drive-by pingers, or people just setting up in your drift. And the carry on of “it's a big ocean, why do they need to fish right next to me” and a “you don’t own this spot or the ocean” or “I found this spot years ago”. It’s always a hard topic to discuss but let’s try.
What are the odds of that? So most mornings before the charter I will come up with a bit of a plan where I will be fishing for the day. Obviously, I come up with a plan that might change once we get out there and find the weather or current different to expected. But most days I will pick an area and usually a particular mark to start on while sitting on the jetty. Head out and plot the course, usually 20 odd miles away. And you would be amazed how often there is another trailer boat or even another one of the only 1 or 2 charter boats that run from the bay sitting on that exact spot. With literally tens of thousands of marks on my computer, you would think this should be almost impossible. But it happens and from a charter perspective, it does make some sense. Unlikely but there is a reason for it. Like I mentioned I don’t just throw a dart at my plotter and say let's try that. I pick that spot in the morning taking all the known factors into account. Including weather, potential currents, how hard the fishing has been, what fish are biting and even things like what type of customers we have on board. So I’m working with the same factors as most of the other boats. This combined with that I like to normally start on a particular type of mark. Something a bit bigger or spread out, as the first anchor is always harder to get spot on. I want a spot where the fish might not be trophy size but they will bite start away so the punters get a feel for it. And I want a spot that is known to me, as I don’t want to be potentially wasting time with a new unproven mark first up. All these things are the type of mark that is easy to find, increasing the likelihood of me picking the same spot as someone else. This may be annoying, but luckily I am in the position where we have plenty of options and as soon as I realise there’s a boat on the mark, I just go straight for plan b. It's not an issue. What does amaze me is when I’m fishing a few marks in a particular area, not a boat in sight all day. Most of the time after the first anchor I am fishing small hard to find, and even harder to anchor on marks, because they are less likely to be fished prior. Then the next day I start on different marks but in the same area. And what do I find when I get out there. But a couple of trailer boats fishing the exact spots I was fishing yesterday when there was not a boat in sight all day. Well, I have a theory on that too, and it’s normally sitting on their cab roof.
Pinging Technology. So technology has made fishing a lot easier. I mean with meter perfect GPS, Sounders that can almost give you the fishes middle names. The fish have no chance these days. The same goes for pinging. Technology has made this easier as well. It’s not uncommon these days to see 20ft or smaller boats with what would be 4kw+ radar domes on top with the ability to ping you from many miles away. Now, these do have their place. Whether it be keeping an eye out when fishing in busy shipping lanes, navigating the reefy coastline at night or even finding that flock of birds when chasing the bills. But let's not kid ourselves. Most of these guys are not navigating poorly surveyed coastlines at night, nor do most have the outriggers and Tiagras ready for some game fishing. The one thing these radars do best, is find boats. That may be well beyond visual sight. And today's radar systems allow you to drop a mark on your plotter right where that boat has barely moved from for the last hour. I even half-joke that if they get a good parking spot with a good line of sight. They can sit on their boat in the caravan park and ping every mark I fish that day, without even getting the thing wet. I don’t let this bother me too much, I mean the technology is there to use, why not use it. But this is why when I see someone goes out of their way to drive past and ping a spot I’m anchored on. I don’t get too pissed off. I mean at least they are out on the water and doing it the traditional way. And more to that point why I don't stress about someone nicking a spot with their phone onboard my charter. I mean it's still a dog act, but at least they are paying me for the chance. And just a side note, no I don’t even have a radar on my 50ft commercial boat. I don’t have a real need for it. But if I had one would I use it to ping marks? Well if I didn’t have the mark already….. Of course.
The ones that pay me. What about when it comes to customers on my charter trying to “steal” marks. Well, most charter skippers from back in the day when a handheld GPS resembled a house brick. Have a story or two about chucking someone’s several hundred dollar GPS overboard. Leaving the stunned punter with nothing to say obviously being in the wrong. But things have since changed. Nowadays every phone is a highly accurate GPS. And there is no point trying to catch someone out on their Navionics app open during a charter. Any half tech-savvy person could quite easily run a background app on their phone that would record our entire trip. So even if I was able to inspect every phone I would have no idea. On top of that, unknowing to many is that every time you are a photo on your phone, if you have it enabled, your phone will actually record the GPS coordinates of every photo taken. So what am I meant to do? These people have paid a lot of money for an experience now they are not allowed to take photos to remember it. All while we are trying to promote catch and release fishing with the basis of being able to take home the memory and the photos home, instead of the fish. Well on the extreme side of things I have heard of some skippers confiscating and turning off phones at the start of the trip. Now I really don’t see the benefit of annoying most of your customers to protect against the odd one trying to do the wrong thing. I reality If you were dead set on stealing marks, as a second phone hidden in your bag would be easy for anyone dead set on doing the wrong thing to come up with. In my opinion, if someone was willing to go to these lengths to get the few marks we fish that day. Well, at least they are paying me good money for the opportunity. Which is at least better than the previously mentioned other ways to get marks without paying me for it.
There's two sides to every story. Just because someone pulls up next to you does not mean they didn’t have that spot marked before. But even in that case If you planned to fish a mark and found a boat already on it, you don’t have the right to fish it? Well, the courteous thing to do is just move on to your next spot. For me as a charter operator. I’m lucky that I have a lot of options, so if someone’s on the mark I plan to fish. No biggy, just move on to the next mark. But that’s not the case for everyone. What if your mate gave you a deep drop spot (a bigger problem in itself, but we will get to that later). So you mate gives you a hot deep drop spot 30miles out. You steam all the way out there and find another boat already drifting the mark. Go find something else? Your tinny doesn't have a sounder that can even hold bottom in the 300m you steamed out to. Your both drifting, and could quite easily both fish it without getting in each other's way. But you line up a drive with them you're in the wrong? It's a hard one. There has to be a little bit of common sense with it all. But things normally get out of hand as all they see, is you steam straight towards them from miles away and pull up on your drift. No one has ever hit me up about it. But I’m sure a few times people have seen what I do even in my 50ft charter boat and accused me of pinging. The truth is that if you are fishing almost anything within 20nm of the Bay. If you have managed to find it, chances are I already have the spot. But I can think of a couple of times I may have picked my anchor, jumped on the plotter and lined up the autopilot to the next spot, and gotten fairly close before I worked out another boat was already sitting right on it. So from their perspective, I have steamed straight towards them and once I’m close enough to work out where there are veered off to the next spot. Classic pinger procedure they are thinking. There has also probably been plenty of times where people think I have anchored up, on their drift. This is not the case, like I mentioned I have plenty of options so no point, I just move on. But what they don’t sometimes realise. I normally have a pretty good idea of what the drift is doing and you would normally be doing 100m+ drifts over an area. Well, I normally aim to anchor my boat on a 10x10m mark. And if I can tell that mark is not on their drift I’m going to do it. You might think I’m a bit close but I wouldn’t do it unless I know I’m not in your way. On this, I often have a laugh when I am anchored up on a tight 10x10m school and I know there is nothing else around me. But someone has a drift say as little as 50m away from us, and can not work why we are pulling in doubleheader goldy's but they can not get a bite. What I’m getting at is yes it is a big ocean and pulling up on someone’s drift is a dog act, and no doubt people do, do it. But most stories I hear well sure they may have been a bit close but there may be more to it. What matters is did it affect your day. And is it worth getting worked up about? Like I mentioned if you have found a mark out from the bay. There is a good chance I would have it and even more chance that at least someone else does. Thanks to better and bigger boats, unfortunately, there’s not much untouched stuff out there anymore.
Worst of all. There is one thing I do get annoyed about (well there are many but this is one). Even more than the obvious pinger. I feel it has a bigger impact on overfishing than all the drift dropping in radar using, hidden mobile phone app using pingers out there combined. And it’s giving your mate just a couple of marks to start with. No one gets annoyed at this, everyone will admit to doing it. It sounds harmless but in my opinion, it’s the biggest problem. So your mate gave you a few marks to get started. Do you think he has fished them before? Do you think he still pulls good fish off them? Do you think you are the first person he has given them to? Would you have an issue giving these spots to someone else if they asked? There may be a few exceptions, but don’t kid yourself. He has hammered that spot, he has not seen a decent fish on that spot for a while now (why else would he give it away). If he has freely given them to you, your not the first. And don’t kid yourself again, once you find out the marks are plundered they will be the first ones you hand out at the pub that night. But all this is not a big deal right. These spots are written off but there are plenty more out there to find right? Well yes but, if we keep this up there won’t be. See my "fish farming blog" for the whole story. But these are now plundered, they will continue to be hammered thanks to the never-ending cycle of handballing the marks. So what? It's just one mark, right? Well, it was, It was just one breeding ground for future fish that will now never recover and will never produce fish again. I know it's a big ocean but we can only do this so many times before we start running out. This problem has only been multiplied by the use of social media and the ability to share marks on things like Navionics. As soon as a mark is online, it’s as good as gone. So don’t worry about the humble pingers your new mark you just found may be getting destroyed as we speak by someone who doesn't even have a boat or know how to fish, they just want to build their rep online.
As a side note, if you are new to an area. I'm not saying don't ask for help. If you ask me where to start fishing out from the Bay, I will tell you. But it won't involve any marks. Instead, it will be where to look and what to look for. And this information will set you up to find your own marks, and long term help you, and the sustainability of fishing a lot more than a few numbers ever could.