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Reading the birds, Part II

By Staff | Apr 11, 2019

Beware of deep divers

Boobies sitting on the water may or may not represent good news. Those birds stay in an area because they expect something to happen. Wherever you see boobies, keep a sharp eye on the sounder to locate bait pods far below the surface.

If it weren’t for the boobies aggravating persistence (stupidity), you might be happier to see them while trolling. Boobies, unlike frigates and terns, can dive rather deeply to catch their prey, so they often indicate the presence of baitfish well below the surface.

The bad news comes when a flock of these slow learners spoils the fishing by repeatedly grabbing lures or baits, forcing anglers to pick up lines and flee. The presence of cormorants tells that baitfish are in an area but swimming at depths inaccessible to other birds. These deep divers may take unexpected risks when chasing dinner.

Offshore fishing involves a great deal of hunting. Terns get your attention. When you see terns working the water, you know game fish are around. They’re very good indicators of tuna and billfish. Terns are definitely over fish when the birds hover over the water to pick at the surface, then fly up to swoop down and hover again.

Birds on the feed move vertically. Terns move horizontally, flying from one place to another without dipping toward the water, are in search mode. If you’re not catching anything in your current position, and you notice all the birds heading west, you might want to head west, too.

When fishing for yellowfin, keep an eye out for boobies, because they seem to look for the same bait balls that attract tuna. You know they’re on bait when you see 20-30 birds diving, crashing the water.

Shearwater Shuffle

Flying so close to the waves that they often disappear in the troughs, shearwaters stay low while searching for food. Once they find baitfish, usually with the help of voracious tuna, these birds congregate in large flocks. Shearwaters sometimes sit on the water and poke their heads below the surface for a look around. That means there’s bait down there right now. While terns take to the air and fly around when waiting for bait pods to reappear, shearwaters perform a low-altitude leapfrogging maneuvering called the Shearwater Shuffle, bouncing from one surface frenzy to the next.

Petrels frequently travel in the company of tuna. When tuna are feeding deep, you often see petrels picking at tidbits that come to the surface. If you notice petrels feeding over a slick, it’s a good idea to troll the area or start chumming to draw fish up to your baits.

The jaeger, German for “hunter,” is a dark, fast-flying bird with sleek, long tail feathers that stand out as the bird’s defining characteristic. When you see a long-tailed jaeger or two, it is a very good indicator of marlin in the area. If they’re around, it’s because fish are or were recently pushing baits to the surface and feeding. Jaegers travel in small groups, rarely more than four birds together, and they seem to like fast and furious action. They get in, grab the bait and get out.

Taking a few moments to verify the direction of a flock’s travel when birds are working over bait can pay big dividends.

Get ahead of a flock and let the birds, along with the bait and gamefish, come to you.

Don’t approach a flock from behind, so you’re trolling where the fish were. Anglers have to stay ahead of the birds to find game fish on the move.

Good fishermen know how to read on-the-water signs, and the best fishermen understand the sign language of birds.