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Posted on Sun, Apr. 03, 2005
  R E L A T E D   C O N T E N T 
BIG HAUL: Team Rampage members, from left, Joe Kaminski and captain Jim Sharpe Jr. showed off their billfish in the Yamaha/Contender Miami Billfish Tournament in 2001.
BIG HAUL: Team Rampage members, from left, Joe Kaminski and captain Jim Sharpe Jr. showed off their billfish in the Yamaha/Contender Miami Billfish Tournament in 2001.


Website data guide anglers

Fishermen are logging on to computers for ocean current information that helps point them in the right direction.

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 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 website.

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.


'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 conditions.''

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.''


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 eager sportfishermen.

Joked Shay: ``I haven't gotten any kickbacks. I'm pretty cheap. I'll take a fillet of dolphin.''

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