Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Jigging machines:

A motor - http://www.phidgets.com/products.php?category=24&product_id=3274E_0

and a controller - http://www.phidgets.com/products.php?category=12&product_id=1065_0

and a pressure sensor - http://www.phidgets.com/products.php?category=3&product_id=3137_0

should do it. And a computer (a phone would be enough), and a bit of programming - but Phidgets makes that really easy. Any major programming language will do.

£200 or so for the hardware. I'd need a case and a short rod, some kind of spool and some wire.

Why do commercial jigging machines cost so much??

Since I am very familiar with Java programming, I was thinking it would be pretty easy to add voice control and sound.

It would be nice, at the end of a drift over a wreck, to call out 'All up' and all the machines wind up ready for the move uptide. And when you get there, 'All down' gets them set again while you're folding the sails away.

Since I already have a computer that uses GPS input and depth input, it shouldn't be hard to accurately map the depths round a wreck, so that when the boat drifts right over the top of a wreck, all the lines lift up enough to not get snagged, and drop down again downtide of the wreck.

Since all the machines would be operated by the same computer, their actions can be coordinated to that if one hits the bottom, the others can be alerted and perhaps lift up little. If two or more machines are hauling fish, they can change the hauling speed so that they don't all arrive at the surface at once. Fishing routines can be written as simple text files so that variations are quick and easy to create, and the more successful routines adopted by all the machines.

I have a lot of work to do on the cat this summer to get it really sea-worthy, but I am really tempted to get the equipment anyway and experiment with it.

I'll start with the CAD, designing the box, reel, rod etc.

Friday, 18 May 2012

home-made jigging machines?

I've got a list of jobs to do on the boat that will take me all summer. However, at the end of the summer, the boat should be really sea-worthy, and ready to take me places.

Meanwhile, I've done a bit of fishing on a friend's boat - jigging lures over wrecks to fill the freezer and offload excess fish onto my neighbours. Plenty of fish, so long as you find wrecks that are far enough offshore not to have been emptied by charter boats and the commercial guys looking for fishing grounds closer to port.

It's got me thinking about having another shot at fishing from my cat when I've fixed it up. There's a lot of work involved in sailing to the fishing grounds and fishing without the use of an engine. Too much work, unless I had a lot of crew who could all handle a sail boat efficiently, navigate and fish. And that's unlikely to happen. I've been thinking about reducing the work involved with the fishing, and got round to considering jigging machines again.

When you're wreck fishing, there's a bit of a pattern as to when you catch fish. No fish when the tide is slack, and usually none when the tide is in full flow. The fish bite (cod, pollack and ling anyway) when the tide gets over half a knot or so, and it usually tails off towards full flow. And once the fish are biting, they are all at it. One fella gets a bite, the rest of us are expecting a bite any moment, and it's common for several of us to be all pulling in fish at the same time even though we might have been an hour or two without a nibble.

So there's a window of opportunity opens for a while, and you want as many lines down as you can get down without so many that they'll tangle each other. There's the time of the tide to fish, and then there's the place. You need to be close to or over the wreck. 100 metres or so downtide of it, and it is time to move back uptide. Lines up - move uptide - lines down again for another drift over the wreck.

If the fishing could be automated and I was reduced to dealing with the catch and sailing back uptide for another drift, I reckon that would be do-able.

But jigging machines are expensive £2000 - 3500 each. I'd need at least four. I think there's enough room on my boat for eight. I can't afford that experiment!

So I am considering making my own. The control can be provided by a computer - I'll have a low power PC onboard by the end of the summer, but a laptop would do. I've spent years programming computers, so creating the software is no problem at all. One computer controller several jigging machines has a few advantages - one button press can command all machines to wind up at the end of a drift, and another button press can make them all start fishing at the start of a drift. Catches can recorded easily - everything into a database creating a record of every catch, exact position, tide state etc. Variations of jigging actions can be tried out, and all lines can switch to the method that is most successful. So software not a problem.

I've spent quite a bit of time recently working with CAD, so the physical design isn't a problem either.

Hardware? I need a motor, a line tension sensor, and some sort of controller to communicate between the sensor and motor and the computer. And for more than one jigging machine, a controller to control the subordinate controllers.

I can start with one jigging machine, and see how that works, so it won't cost much to try it out.

So, between my days fibreglassing and so on, I intend to spend some of my evenings researching motors, sensors and controllers.

I'm open to suggestions! (Anyone got a jigging machine? What sort of motor is in it? :))

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The end or...?

Now what? No fishing, got a boat, what to do....? Next...

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The most sustainable fisherman of all!

I have caught so few fish, I have decided to quit! If every fisherman caught as many fish as I have, the oceans would be teeming with fish. We could walk from England to France on the backs of giant cod. I've fished sustainably, but the fish haven't sustained me.

So this is my final posting to this blog - I'll leave it as a record for other who may be considering similar plans.

There are several fishing methods I have dismissed without even trying:
  • Trawling: I might have the power to pull a small net downwind in a gale, but I can imagine the danger of snagging the bottom in such weather. It always was a dangerous occupation!
  • Drift netting: Much more feasible from a sail boat, but too much by-catch. Chucking dead dolphins back into the sea would spoil my day.
  • Potting: I'm in a prime area for potting, but retrieving pots needs accurate manouvring which is hardly feasible with a sailboat. If I was allowed an engine, I could use the sails to get to and from the fishing grounds and the engine just for retrieving the pots. But to have an engine I'd have to have a commercial license which isn't feasible.
  • Longlining: As with potting, retrieving the line means driving down the line accurately. Not really feasible under sail. In some benign conditions it may work, but a change in the wind direction could mean the line could no longer be picked up.
So, here are the methods I've tried:

Wrecking: Rod and line fishermen typically drift over a wreck, catching fish as they pass the wreck. Around slack water, they can anchor by the wreck. I can't drift over a wreck - well I can, but hoisting sail to get back to the start of the drift and then dropping sail to fish another drift would be a ridiculous amount of work. So I figured I'd learn to anchor in just the right place. Once I had the anchor down, I could adjust my position up/down tide by changing the length of anchor line I had down, or across the tide by altering the anchor line position athwartships, setting the catamaran at an angle to the tidal stream.

I knew I'd need to anchor accurately, so I created a database of all the wrecks in the area, and wrote some software that enabled me to find them easily. I also paid quite a bit for a fishfinder, so I could see the bottom well - sail right over the wreck to be certain of the position, and see if there are any fish there. At each wreck, I'd spend some time looking at the tide and wind, before deciding on a spot to set the anchor, and drop back towards the wreck.

This is far more difficult than it sounds! At slack water, not too much of a problem. But the tide is more complex than I'd realised. Out at sea, it doesn't just flow back and forth. It's change of direction is often circular. It goes right round the compass. Of course, most of the time, it flows one way or the opposite. But even then, the speed of the flow is constantly changing. Which alters the position of the boat a little as the anchor line goes tighter or slacker. And the speed of the flow has a greater effect on where the fishing lures end up. I've realised too that the flow varies with depth, certainly in strength, and I suspect in direction too - just as the wind direction varies as you go higher into the atmosphere. When the tide is flowing fast, your line is taken away from the boat in a parabola. Without a massive weight, it is impossible to reach the bottom with the lure. On top of that, if the wind changes direction...

So with wreck fishing, I've ended up spending most of my time trying to get the  catamaran into the right position, then fishing with different weights on the line trying to get the lures into the right place. It's been a lot of work (especially as I don't have a windlass, and we had to winch the line back by hand. Pulling up over 150 metres of line by hand is hard work, especially if the wind is blowing!).

There's another problem with anchoring over wrecks. It really pisses off the line fishermen who drift over the wrecks. They can't do it with a boat anchored there. Anchoring over a wreck pretty much claims the wreck all for myself. And there are so many line fishermen targeting any wrecks within 20 miles of the shore - well, I don't think I could cope with that much unpopularity. And the wrecks further offshore - which are far more productive anyway? Well, out there there are ships. And none of them expect any boat to be anchored so far offshore. So I'm at a great risk of being run down. Having decided that a ship is on a collision course, the only option would be to drop the anchor line overboard and set sail - not something that could be done quickly enough.

Trolling: The system I devised for this, the modified downrigger, works great. I can sail about at up to 3 knots, and still have my lure close to the bottom. But unless I hit a shoal of bass, I won't get many fish this way. The fish are at the wrecks, and sailing backwards and forwards past a wreck with the lures down is hard work. Turning a sailboat requires a lot more work that turning the steering wheel of a motorised boat. I plan to use this method from a motorboat (fishing to fill my own freezer) to allow me to fish over wrecks even when the tide is flowing strongly.

Trolling with a longline: Once I'd given up on the idea of anchoring over wrecks, I had really set my hopes on trolling with a longline. Towing a line such as this:
trolling a longline
past a populated wreck should catch a lot of fish. It means I just have to sail to a wreck, and carry on sailing to pull all those lures right through the right place.

However, try as I might, I haven't succeeded in getting the line set without the snoods (the short pieces of line between the lure and the mainline) wrapping themselves round the mainline, and sometimes, even the droplines (the lines between the float and the weights) getting entangled with the snood/mainline mess. I thought having a lead weight halfway down the snood would prevent the tangling, the lead holding the snood from the mainline. When small weights didn't work, I tried larger ones, but that was worse. Eventually I realised that setting a longline while dragging the line through the water means that at some point on the descent, a snood will lie parallel to the mainline, and will inevitably spin to some extent, wrapping itself round the mainline. The size of the weight doesn't really matter.

When engine-powered boats set longlines, they anchor one end to the seafloor then drive off, paying out line and connecting snoods as they go. I can't anchor a line to the bottom, as explained above. And to pay the line out, the boat has to be moving, even if slowly. The snoods end up tangled. No doubt if I persevered, there would be times I'd succeed in getting the line down OK, and pulling it past a wreck, get a decent haul of fish. But more often, no doubt, I'd get tangles or lose some gear. (One day, my basket of snoods was blown over by the wind. It took me 6 hours to untangle the mess.)

The other major problem!

An occasional good haul of fish might seem worthwhile. After all, my fuel costs are zero or close to it and I can cover almost any distance for free. My ice boxes can hold ice for several days, even through hot summer days. But a great problem I can't solve is crew.

I can't keep watch 24 hours a day. I need at least one crew member. Hauling in the longline is a two-person job. And really, it needs to be someone who can handle the boat, and who has experience with sailing at night, able to recognise which way ships and fishing boats are going just from the lights they are showing. That way, I could sleep. The crew also need to be on hand as soon as the weather is good for fishing, able to stay out for several days, and have something else to be getting on with between trips.

There are any number of keen anglers out there who would love to visit some of the far off wrecks. But since I can't drift them over a wreck, their rods and lines would be no use. Somehow, they just don't get the same kick out of  hauling in a longline as they do from reeling up a fish with their rod bent double.

I have had quite a few crew during my experiment, from experienced sailors to complete novices. They've all come for a sail, a lark, to help with my experiment, or even, to have a shot at making some money. I'm sorry for the disappointment of these latter types, and am grateful for the help of all of them. The fishing gave us an excuse to go sailing, and to play about with various schemes and we certainly had some laughs along the way.

And the fish of the future? Well, if the oil runs out before we run out of fish, the fish populations will likely rebound, and we'll all be able to catch fish from the shore, or little boats using 'inefficient' methods may be good enough. I guess it's our technical efficiency at catching fish that has reduced their number to such a level where we can't really catch fish without using even more technical efficiency. While that remains the case, I don't think there's much prospect for fishing under sail - in the English Channel at least.

    Monday, 26 July 2010

    The end of the line?

    My last trip was shorter than planned, but more tiring, so I've had to catch up on sleep a bit before reporting.

    My inexperienced crew were on time, and we got to Brixham by 8:30. On the way to the mooring, I called in at the ice factory to check whether there were any trawlers due in to collect ice. It would be nice to use my new engine installation, motor the catamaran round to the ice, load up and be off again in a few minutes. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be that way. The engine installation works great, and at half rev's with just the 6hp engine, we were able to do 4 knots, and manouvre quite easily. But when we got the ice quay, there was a trawler occupying the space, just beginning to load up. All we could do was circle about, trying to avoid traffic, as we waited for the quay to become free. Long after they'd loaded ice, the trawler showed no signs of moving on, so I had to go alongside and ask when they'd be going. Of course, since my boat looks like a yacht, not a fishing boat, the skipper had no reason to think that I was waiting for ice.

    I wanted just 200 kg of ice. I can't expect the ice man to do anything other than give priority to trawlers, who load up with many tons of ice. Oh well, we got alongside fine, and shot the ice straight into the fishboxes, and left the harbour at 11 am.

    The wind was forecast as northerly, force 3 - perfect for reaching the 20 miles to the wrecks where people have been catching bass. Within half an hour, the wind dropped to nothing at all. After an hour or so of flopping about, I cheated, and remounted the engine and motored for an hour, till the wind arrived again.

    But it came from ENE and light, which meant I had to tack to the wrecks, and I couldn't get more than 3-4 knots. And the tide was against us - which meant we didn't arrive at the wrecks till 6 pm.

    Still we set the long line, using bigger weights on the snoods to prevent the snoods spinning round the mainline, and an improved system for setting the lines between the floats and the weights.

    I left it down for 4 hours, sailing in increasing wind, but with just a storm jib up and a well-reefed main to keep the speed down to 2 knots. We sailed right over two wrecks, 3 miles apart. Well, according to my navigation software we did, but I couldn't verify it with evidence from my fishfinder.

    My fishfinder is PC-based, and connected with a USB cable to my laptop. One fundamental flaw with this setup is that if I put the USB cable from the fishfinder into a different USB slot in the laptop, the fishfinder won't work any more. Changing the order of where I put the USB cables mucks up the com port settings, and the fishfinder becomes unusable. I know this because I've done it before. It took the best part of a day, uninstalling stuff, cleaning out the registry, reinstalling etc. Of course, I then labelled the USB ports - GPS, fishfinder, phone. No problem. Till I carelessly used the wrong USB slot again! Doh!

    Were we really over the wrecks? Very probably. Were there fish on the wrecks? I don't know! When we pulled the line up, we had just one small fish, a pollack or a pouting, which wasn't even hooked - it was hanging on the the tail end of a lure, and let go when it came to the surface. But worse, the snoods were almost entirely wrapped around the mainline, despite changing the weights half way down each snood. And some of the braid that goes between the floats and the weights was also entangled with the snoods and mainline, and some had to be cut away. What a disheartening mess!

    We clearly couldn't use the trolling longline method again this trip, without an enormous amount of work sorting out the line - and without a clue as to how to prevent the same mess happening again.

    I sailed slowly about the area of these wrecks, considering what to do next, while the crew got some sleep. I thought I might try the rods and downrigger set up. This was a setup designed to work on places like large banks, where I could troll lures some distance, sailing back and forth. It would be hard to use over wrecks, fishing and sailing back and forth with the required accuracy.

    While I pondered such things, and why the trolling longline had tangled so badly, I had a busy time avoiding a couple of beam trawlers that were working the area around the wrecks. Their courses were quite unpredictable, and they had such bright deck lights going, I was convinced that their skippers were unaware of our prescence. They wouldn't expect a yacht drifting about the area, and I guess they didn't look. So, I had to sail away from the area. No way could I leave my crew on watch in these circumstance! No sleep for me!

    The wind was now from the NW, blowing from Brixham, and quite hard. Even with storm sails up, we were doing 4 knows close-hauled. So I left it at that a while, working my way slowly upwind so that in the morning we'd have an easy short sail back to the wrecks. But the wind was very variable, and there was still the odd boat around. I could see that I couldn't call on the crew to do a watch, and that I wouldn't get any sleep that night. Tomorrow, I'd be in no fit state to fish, and if we wnet back to the wrecks in the morning, the charter boats would be back fishing them, and again, I couldn't leave my inexperienced crew in charge amongst other boats.

    So as the wind died slowly through the night, I just hoisted more sail, and set off to return to Brixham. Six mile froms Brixham the wind died entirely again, so I fitted the engine and motored again. Why not? This wasn't fishing any more!

    The engine worked great, and I was able to motor right up the mooring and pick up the mooring without help. Three hours motoring in total used just 4 litres of fuel.

    But of course, no fish! Again. Back at the mooring after a lot of work, and no sleep, again!

    Sunrise, approaching Brixham in the dying wind.

    Wednesday, 21 July 2010

    Sustainability of line-caught fish clarified

    The more time I spend fishing, the more I learn. But I've spent so much time working on the boat the last few weeks, I've had to resort to going for a beer with a couple of marine biologists to carry on with my learning.

    They tell me the reason all the inshore wrecks are so devoid of fish is that they are frequently netted. Boats lay nets alongside the wreck, and pick them up 12 or so hours later. The nets catch almost everything, including dolphins. Often, nets become tangled on the wrecks and have to be abandoned. These are the wrecks line fishermen find 'snaggy' - we lose our lures on them. Of course, the nets continue to catch fish, even though they are not retrievable.

    Tomorrow, I'm going to fish the wrecks in Lyme Bay - the bass have arrived at last. I saw last year that some of the wrecks there were netted - I might have to sail by a few before I find one that is suitable for line fishing. If I see a boat pulling in a net from a wreck, I may stick around to watch what comes up.

    Finding crew is often a problem. Until I catch reasonable quantities of fish, pay is minimal or non-existent. Being available to fish whenever the weather is reasonable and going out for 2-3 days or more, working shifts (we need someone on watch at all times) - somehow, people find the prospect unappealing. However, I have persuaded my 16-year old daughter and her boyfriend to try a trip. Last time she sailed, I think she spent most of the time playing with Lego bricks on the floor of the cabin. I don't think he's sailed at all. Should be interesting... and we will also have on board a professional photographer, who wants to document a trip.

    With my new engine installation, inexperienced crew, and a passenger with a camera, what could possibly go wrong?

    Tuesday, 13 July 2010

    Thoughts on sustainable fishing

    Now that I've found the fish, if my longline techniques work as hoped, it should be no problem going back and getting them as soon as the weather clears. Till now, I've been the most sustainable of fishermen - using no fuel, and catching no fish - sailing about dripping fresh water onto the sea as my ice slowly melts.

    We know there's a problem with trawling. That's why we have quotas, regulations on net sizes and designs, limitations on days at sea, and boat scrappage incentives. More bureaucratic constraints to counter the effects of improved technology. A modern trawler is computerised and loaded with fantastic echo sounders and satellite information giving sea temperatures and of course GPS. Trawlers can now predict where fish are likely to be, go there directly and precisely, see the sea floor in 3D, see where the shoals of fish are and trawl their nets at just the right depth to scoop them up with clinical efficiency.

    Pretty good really, apart from the indiscriminate nature of trawling - so that fish that weren't targetted or that are subject to quota are thrown back dead. And of course, the never mentioned dependency on cheap oil.

    The solution often put forward to this industrial fishing is small scale line fishing, which almost eliminates by-catch and doesn't wreck the sea floor as beam trawling does. But there are problems with line fishing too!

    Line fishing is only really productive on wrecks. The sea floor in the English Channel is mostly flat and barren, but there are thousands of wrecks dotted all over the place and fish congregate around them. The wrecks provide shelter and with all the nooks and crannies, a diverse environment where many species can flourish. I have a theory that the iron in the wrecks may promote life in the sea too, iron being a limiting factor for plankton. But that's just my theory. Anyway, the wrecks are where the fish are.

    The wrecks have been mapped, because if you are trawling, catching your net on a wreck can wreck the net or worse. So trawlers like to go round the wrecks (though a skipper may go as close as he dares). The wrecks provide some shelter for the fish from the trawlers. Wrecks are like mini-conservation zones.

    Except even the small scale fisherman is now armed with all he needs to exploit the wrecks. I have a pretty complete (I'm pretty sure) database of all the wrecks in the English Channel and beyond. And all the reefs, banks, rocky outcrops. I've got GPS - who hasn't? Many of the wrecks have their positions marked accurate to within 10 metres. So now many of the wrecks have nets laid alongide them. Which spoils things for line fishermen, so they favour the unnetted wrecks.

    From my trip on Sunday, systematically trying wrecks further and further offshore, it is clear that the inshore wrecks are virtually empty of fish. You can catch some decent fish, but it takes time, jigging your lure about, waiting and waiting. On the wrecks further out, you drop your lure and get a hit right away. That's where the fish are.

    But they are being cleaned out by line fishermen. Commercial guys and armies of anglers on charter boats. Look at this fishing report for Dartmouth based trips. The charter boats don't bother with the inshore wrecks any more. They go for the mid-Channel wrecks. Mid-Channel! The wrecks halfway across. Trouble is, if you go any further out, you meet the French line fishermen coming the other way! The wrecks in the middle are the last to be targetted. I heard that one of the most experienced commercial line fishermen working out of the Dart was considering going as far as the Western Approaches to find unspoiled wrecks. Previously productive wrecks were now producing nothing more than small pollack. Those fishermen with their 'sustainable' methods are clear-felling the fish populations on the wrecks!

    Where will it end? It will end where the fish are so far off as to be uneconomical for the deisel-powered line fishermen to reach. And that's where I come in, able to cover great distances for free. If I get my methods sorted out, I'll be able to clean out the places other fishermen can't reach. And I'll be able to sell my fish as sustainably caught, (line caught, no by-catch, no harm to the sea-floor) and close to zero carbon consumption. The grim irony blackens any green credibility I may appear to possess.