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Reading the birds

By Staff | Apr 4, 2019

Much of your success as an angler comes from an ability to read birds. It’s a learned art, but fishermen can observe and get important messages from birds.

One bird’s actions relay information to other birds. For instance, a hungry flock may head for the horizon without actually having seen signs of food. Those birds follow others whose behavior say, “Follow me, there’s food this way.”

Fishermen should learn to interpret these messages, because most marine birds feed on bait fish that also attract game fish. Becoming an on-the-water bird-watcher can improve your catch.

Read body language

When you see a frigate about 100 feet high, try to determine how the bird holds its head. Following the line of the long, easy-to-see beak tells you where a frigate is looking. A downward-pointed beak means the bird’s attention is focused on fishy goings-on below. Better get your baits over there fast!

The beak extends straight out from the body when a frigate holds its head up to scan the area, perhaps trying to relocate a bait school that has gone down. This sign isn’t as hot as a downward-looking bird but still deserves a trolling pass.

Don’t always fish directly below a high-flying frigate. Check the bird’s position in relation to the sun, and keep in mind that the bird keeps the sun behind it whenever possible for better vision into the water. Depending on the sun’s angle and height, a frigate may have its eye on a fish up to 100 yards away.

Offshore anglers

Frigate, Man-o-war, merits attention from blue-water fishermen because of its penchant for following billfish and mahi. Frigate cruise above pelagics, waiting for an opportunity to snatch bait fish that predators chase to the surface.

The bird’s large size and distinct shape, long pointed wings and split tail makes it easy to see and identify from a distance. You can spot a single frigate up to ten miles away, and if you see one, it’s usually worth the time to fish near it, because there’s no better indicator of pelagics in the open ocean than a frigate bird.

But just seeing a bird doesn’t guarantee you’ll catch fish. Learn to observe frigates and decipher important messages transmitted by their behavior. On first spotting a frigate, note how high it’s flying.

When searching for a meal ticket, birds use altitude to their advantage by climbing high to view a broader area. A bird soaring at 200 feet is not nearly as interesting as one that’s close to the water.

Actively feeding frigates stay near the surface. They don’t dive because their feathers lack oil for waterproofing. If they get soaked, they can’t fly.

Check to see if a frigate holds its position or keeps moving. A bird may hover by facing into the wind, or for lack of a breeze, may remain stationary by circling over a particular spot. Whether it’s ten or 100 feet up, a stationary frigate is looking at something, either bait or a larger fish. A frigate on the move is looking for something.

Which way is that frigate flying? Frigates tend to ride the wind when possible for effortless travel from one place to another. Birds on the hunt usually fly against the wind. Of course, they’re also a lot easier to keep up with when flying against the wind.

Don’t forget to compare the bird’s flight path with prevailing currents. Mahi often swim into the current. As mahi travel, they frequently send schools of flying fish skittering across the waves. Knowing this, a frigate may cruise about 100 feet up while following a group of mahi for miles. When the mahi spook bait, the frigate drops in for a snack.

Frigates following mahi have to stay on the move just to keep up with restless fish. Mostly solitary hunters, frigates seldom flock together over open water. When they do get together, they mean business. Anglers on the troll for mahi should change course to intercept or catch up with two or three frigates flying together, because those birds are definitely on to something.

Frigate conventions usually occur in conjunction with feeding frenzies, so if you see a gang of them working close to the water, get over there quickly to grab a piece of the action. Frigates flock up over large food sources.