Psst. Anglers who plan to fish for big money in the upcoming
Yamaha/Contender Miami Billfish Tournament, Friday through next Sunday,
might want to log onto http://iwave.rsmas.edu/wera/
before you go. You need to find strong ocean currents to locate
billfish, right? This website, put up by oceanographers at University
of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, can
point you in the right direction.
In near real-time, the website shows where the strongest ocean
currents flow between the Upper Keys to just north of Key Biscayne.
Here's how it works: A high-frequency radar system with transmitter
stations in Key Largo, Crandon Park and a scaled-down site in Dania
Beach sends an electromagnetic wave of six to 60 MHz to the ocean
waters which -- being excellent conductors -- scatter back information
on the direction and speed of currents -- plus wave height and wind
direction. The hourly average of these conditions is posted on the
News of the website caused a minor furor at last January's Cocoplum
Tournament when tournament official Dan Kipnis announced it on VHF
radio to the fishing fleet.
ANYTHING TO HELP
'I was looking at the site and listening to the guys and I go, `Hey
guys, why don't you go down south of Fowey [Light]?' '' Kipnis
recounted. 'Guys are like, `How do you know that?' The bite took off.
We caught 100-some fish. Anything I can do to help these guys and
improve their numbers. I love this. I love watching it work.''
One successful tournament captain who might have learned about the
website before some others is Miami's Ray Rosher, owner of the charter
boat Miss Britt and skipper of Kitt Toomey's private boat, Get Lit.
Rosher said the radar data is a good tool, but ''it's not what I
base my whole day on.'' He said the website sometimes is very accurate,
and sometimes not at all.
During the Billfish Xtreme Release League Tournament in March, for
example, the website showed north current of one knot from Key Biscayne
north. But when Rosher and crew arrived, the current was running about
one knot to the south.
Still, ''it did turn out to be where the fish were,'' Rosher said.
``The water quality was better. We caught fish on the south current and
ended up winning the tournament.''
Nick Shay, one of the Rosenstiel oceanographers who developed the
radar system (and a recreational angler), wasn't surprised by Rosher's
comments. Shay said the sailfish probably were still in the area
because ``it takes some time for fish to respond to changing ocean
Shay acknowledged that the current data is not posted in real time
yet for public use, although that information is accessible to
scientists through passwords. He said that's because boats using radio
frequencies between 15.8 and 16.8 MHz could interfere with the radar
signal and make it appear to not be working properly.
''We are trying to work around problems with frequencies,'' Shay said.
Rosher said he would like to see the current map overlaid with latitude and longitude, and for the coverage area to be expanded.
That's coming, Shay said.
''We plan to spruce up the website to have more precise
latitude/longitude and put on bottom contours and see where they are,
relative to the current field,'' he said. ``We are planning to go from
the Marquesas all the way past West Palm Beach if we get funding.''
SOME AREN'T CONVERTS
Not everyone is convinced of the value of the radar data.
''I don't even know how to turn on a computer,'' said captain John
Louie Dudas, who skippered Walter and Esther Vasquez's private boat,
Freedom, to a second-place finish in the recent Capt. Bob Lewis
Yamaha/Contender Billfish Challenge. ``I would rather go with what I
hear from people and what I see. The fishing could be good even when
the current isn't strong.''
The new radar system was not developed to enhance fishing success.
Shay said its main functions are to track fuel spills, help coordinate
search-and-rescue missions and contain the spread of sewage. But he's
received plenty of emails with questions and suggestions from anxious
Joked Shay: ``I haven't gotten any kickbacks. I'm pretty cheap. I'll take a fillet of dolphin.''