Searching the ocean is not easy, Weedhopper.
It’s tough glassing for hours on end, trying to spot kelp paddies, stringers, puddling bait fish, scum lines, current breaks, porpoise, tailing billfish, sleepers, breaking fish in the distance, or a solitary bird working just above the horizon.
But the payoff?
Find that one school of starving pelagics…and getting there first…and you may be the one heading back to the docks early with your coolers plugged while the rest of the fleet chases radio fish all afternoon.
Unfortunately, effective searching often does not come naturally. This holds true whether you’re glassing with binoculars or searching unaided. (I recommend doing both, but more on that later).
So what’s the best way for boat owners and crew to get good at glassing? Ask 10 tournament anglers and you’ll likely get 10 different answers, but one good place to start is to use the techniques taught by the US Navy. Hey, it’s nice to spot fish, but sailors need to spot periscopes! The Navy began researching this stuff during WWII, and their methods work well today. Here’s what they recommend.
Stop Wandering Eyes
Try moving your eyes rapidly across the water and note what you see. Chances are, you won’t note much. That’s because humans don’t effectively see detail when their eyes are in motion. Sure, you want to scan, but you want to do it in sections, like this:
The idea is to set your sights on one particular area and give it a good look before moving on. While this is “need to know” information that you really need to know, it’s hardly groundbreaking information. What you do with your eyes inside these little circles is what really counts!
First, ignore the binocular positioning in the above illustration, it’s a great illustration for stopping wandering eyes but it was designed for aircraft and horizon searches. For surface water searches, lower the binoculars so that the horizon is in the top third of the field of vision. Start at the bow and begin scanning aft, imaginary circle by imaginary circle. Within each circle, stop your eyes briefly in increments as shown here:
Scan (for about five seconds) in as many small steps as possible inside the imaginary circle (see arrows inside circle on far left). Move the binoculars aft and repeat. When you’re done scanning whatever side of the boat you’re on, lower the glasses and rest your eyes a few seconds. Now search the same sector again with the naked eye.
Again Weedhopper, stop wandering eyes by using imaginary circles and scanning within these circles. By following the Navy’s lead you’ll keep your eyes from wandering and will see more of what’s out there. Sure it’s tough glassing for hours on end, trying to spot any sign of life or activity in an endless stretch of water.
But you’re out there putting in the time anyway, right? May as well use a proven technique and increase your odds of catching fish.
Editor’s Note: Jack Innis, aka Foss, is a longtime BD Outdoors member and avid angler who collects and appreciates high quality binoculars.