sUAS/UAV offer unique perspective for anglers

drone gaffe
BY TOMMY BRASWELL Special to The Post and Courier

  • Updated

Among the many items pack into Santa’s sleigh last weekend probably were a lot of drones, which have become one of the hottest gift items in recent years. Some are $50 toys designed for youngsters. But there also are drones coveted by outdoorsmen and professional photographers, unmanned aerial vehicles selling for hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollar

Capt. John Madden of the charter boat Wahoo out of Ripley Light Marina utilizes a drone on fishing charters, not because it helps the crew catch more fish but because the drone allows them to offer an enhanced video memory of the trips like one a few days before Christmas when clients boated two 80-pound wahoos.

Similar to remote-controlled cars, drones are often called quadcopters with four rotors. Using a remote control, experienced operators can fly them through a variety of maneuvers. Some can synch a camera to the owner’s smart phone to give you a real time perspective of what the drone is seeing from on high.

There is some debate in the outdoors world about utilizing drones to search for game or fish, and no doubt as technology improves the debate will become more heated.

But the drones used aboard the Wahoo, DJI’s Phantom P3 and P4, do not help with fishing, Madden said.

“As a matter of fact, it’s a pain,” Madden laughed.

Madden and partner Robb Walker were discussing ways to make fishing trips more memorable, including taking videos of clients, and Walker suggested that drones with cameras were available and affordable.

“We take a lot of in-boat video with our phones. When we hit a nice sportfish, we can throw the drone up in the air, fly around and get a video of the client fighting the fish. It’s a perspective you can’t get in the boat. Part of the problem with being in boats is you are so limited space-wise. You can’t get far enough away to get everything in the picture. With the drone, you can get as little or as much as you want.”

Utilizing a drone requires an extra hand on board, he said. Madden’s fulltime captain Chris Gaffney and mate Drew Demaree are having to do what they normally do on fishing charters, requiring a videographer, oftentimes Madden.

“We actually release the drone from the flybridge. The drone pilot holds the drone in one hand and the controller in the other, fires up the drone and releases it from the flybridge as the boat is in motion. The drone will go behind the boat and straight up. That’s the easy part, and that still isn’t easy,” Madden said.

 The most difficult part of the operation is landing the drone on a boat that is rocking in the waves with outriggers, rods and reels and other obstructions awaiting the opportunity to knock a wayward drone into the ocean.

Madden says after clearing the obstructions, he will stand on the flybridge behind a person whose job is to catch the drone out of mid-air. He admits that they have lost a drone and had another get wrapped up in the teaser lines.

“Without operator error, there are still a significant number of things that can go wrong,” Madden said. “For example, once a drone gets under about 40 percent power, it goes to land itself where you first fired it up. That’s no good because in a boat you may be a mile or more from where you originally launched the drone.”

The newer model brings about a different problem. It is equipped with an obstacle avoidance feature, which sounds great when it comes to fishing rods or outriggers, but becomes an issue when the feature is engaged and someone is trying to catch the drone, which thinks that person is an obstacle.

Madden said he could theoretically see where a drone might be used to improve fishing, such a flying one over a nearby weedline.

“There’s not a zoom,” he noted. “You would have to get really low to see. It would be awful nerve wracking to try controlling a drone a half mile from the boat.”

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