Choosing the Right Binoculars for Offshore Fishing

Fishing Binoculars

dorado fishingI recently had a conversation with a friend who was debating whether or not it was worth his while to invest in a pair of binoculars. While he understood the advantages of having them, he didn’t feel that he spent enough time fishing offshore to justify the cost. He was right, a good pair of binos aren’t cheap.

But when you consider that a good pair will last you a lifetime, the per trip cost becomes pretty insignificant.

If you’re unfamiliar with marine optics, there are three basic types of binoculars. These are standard marine grade binos, digitally stabilized binos and gyroscopic binos. These different types can vary in price from $100 to $10,000, so you’ll need to figure out which are best for your needs.

It’s tough to explain how the different types of binoculars work without having you look through a pair, but let’s give it a try. Imagine you’re on your boat on a fairly calm day and you see another boat far off on the horizon. With the naked eye, the only thing you will be able to determine is that it’s a boat that may or may not be moving.

marine binocularsIf you look through your standard marine grade binoculars, you’ll be able to see that the boat is actually a Parker pilot house. The boat is stopped and there may be two or three people on deck. While looking at the boat you’ll probably only get quick glimpses of it as the rocking of your boat makes it difficult to keep focused on the other boat.

Put those down and pick up a pair of digitally stabilized binoculars and you’ll be able to confirm that the boat is actually a 23-foot Parker pilot house, with a Yamaha outboard. You’ll also see that there are three people on deck and that one of them is fighting a fish with a Shimano Trinidad reel. You might also notice that they are sitting 100-feet from a small kelp paddy and that there are birds flying around the boat. If you switch to the high dollar gyroscopic binoculars, you’ll see all that and notice there is another paddy with birds on it a mile and a half past the Parker.

This example aside, binoculars aren’t for seeing what other boats are catching, they’re for finding fish and birds. Since most of the people reading this article aren’t in the market for a $5000 pair of Fujinon Stabiscope binos, I’m going to focus on the more affordable options.

binoculars offshore

The binos I carry on my boat are the West Marine Raiatea 7 x 50 binoculars and the Fujinon 12 x 32 Techno-Stabi binoculars.

I normally spend most of my time fishing inshore, so the Raiatea’s had worked fine for looking for conditions along the coast or trying to find bird life when fishing for yellowtail. In both of those cases, I was standing in a stopped boat and trying to spot feeding activity within a half mile of my boat. Even in rough water, these binos would work well enough to get the job done.


These binoculars didn’t perform nearly as well offshore. First off, the boat is usually moving while I’m glassing, so the rocking made it very difficult to keep focused on the horizon. Secondly, when I could keep focused it was only at short distances.

This is where the Techno-Stabi binoculars take over. While I won’t bore you with the technical specifications of how they work, I will say that they do their job well.

The stabilization allows you to focus at great distances even when the boat is rocking.

The best example of just how well this works was an afternoon tuna trip I took with my friend John Curry. We were running from the 14 to the 277 and weren’t seeing anything, so he got out his Techno-Stabi’s to take a look around. After a couple minutes of glassing he told me there was a birds school up ahead and that I should run for it.

12031442_10203614904613239_6323528935332260773_oAfter running three or four minutes at 30 MPH, I still couldn’t see the birds so he got the binos out and confirmed they were still ahead. When we finally got there, we found a big spot of feeding terns and the tuna were biting below them. Out of curiosity, I checked the distance we’d run and he’d spotted those birds at almost three miles away.

11999723_10203614904573238_8200138662025280893_oThe Techno-Stabi’s will run you about four times as much as a good pair of standard marine binos. But if you spend any amount of time fishing offshore they’re a worthwhile investment. Information is priceless on the water and sometimes seeing just a little bit further can make the difference between going home with a skunk or filling the boat.

Erik Landesfeind is BD's Southern California Editor and has over 30 years of experience saltwater fishing for a range of species in both California and Mexican waters. Erik is also an active freelance writer and the author of the weekly column So Cal Scene, which BD publishes every Friday. In So Cal...