There's one unavoidable fact when you fish
for marlin in Southern California: This might be the birthplace
of the sport, but by no means is it a fertile billfishing
ground. If you want to catch marlin in any quantity, you can't
wait for them to find you - you have to find them. Your best
tool? A good pair of binoculars and a solid knowledge of how
to use them.
Most of us have used binoculars before, but do you know how they work?
Binos are basically a pair of small telescopes
bolted together as a set. Each "telescope" consists
of a tube with lenses at each end and prisms inside. Light
enters the tube through the largest lens, called the objective.
It then bounces off a series of prisms, which maintain the
correct orientation of the image. Finally, the image passed
through the last lens (the eyepiece) and is viewed by your
eye. The concept is the same for all binoculars, regardless
of price or style. The only thing that changes is the quality
of the components and, therefore, the quality of the image
Pick A Pair
The first thing you'll learn when you set
out to buy a pair of binoculars is that the prices vary
wildly. You can get a pair for under $150, or you can pay
$1,500 or more - all for a set of binos that would seem to
do the same basic thing as any other pair. Fortunately, binoculars
are one of those rare commodities where you tend to get what
you pay for - the more you invest in a pair of binos, the
better quality product you'll get.
There are a couple of characteristics that separate the good from the bad ...
Magnification - The first number
in any description of binoculars (ie - "7x50") is the magnification
This is how many times the image is enlarged, or how many
times closer the objects you see will appear. A magnification
factor of 7 is the standard for most binoculars.
Objective Lens Diameter - The second number
in the classic description, it is the diameter (in millimeters)
of the objective lens. The larger the number, the more light
can get into the binoculars. However, the objective lens
is where most of the weight of the binoculars comes from,
and a larger lens adds significantly to the overall weight
of the unit. A 50-mm objective lens is the most common.
Field of View - Usually described
as either an angle (in terms of degrees) or a distance (number
of feet at 1000 yards), this is the width of the view you
see when looking through the binoculars. No matter which
method is used to describe the field of view, bigger is
better. A wide field of view allows you to take in objects
by moving your eyes within the field, rather than moving
the binos themselves. Over a long period of glassing, this
can be very important.
Coatings - There are several different coatings
that can be applied to the optics in a pair of binoculars,
and the better the binos, the better the coatings. Most of
the coatings are to improve the percent of light that is
transmitted through the lens (reducing the amount reflected);
in addition, some pairs will have special UV-resistant coatings
to protect your eyes.
Materials - Inexpensive binos
will cut corners wherever possible in materials; this is
not necessarily bad,
provided the corners cut are not essential ones. Replacing
metal cases with resin parts can reduce weight (and therefore,
fatigue) with little decrease in effectiveness or life
span. However, avoid any binos that use plastic in any
of the optics.
There are a lot of decent binoculars out
there, but the best of the bunch are the Zeiss 7x50's. They're
seven-power, with as large an objective lens as you'll find.
Their short, wide design gives them a balance that makes
them very comfortable to hold for long periods of time. They
have great low-light visibility, and they're well armored.
This design hasn't changed in my lifetime, and these are
the binoculars you'll find in the hands of those who make
their living on the water.
We have a pair of Zeiss on HOOKER, and I
love them. I particularly like the feeling of "roominess"
you get when looking through them. With any pair of binos,
since each eye is looking through its own optics, you get
the classic "double bubble" field of vision. In
some binoculars, you get the sense of looking out from within
a tunnel, and the feeling is very claustrophobic. Not with
these. I'm not sure if it's the relatively large exit pupil
or what, but I always feel like I'm in a room looking out
a picture window when I use them. This is the kind of stuff
that makes or breaks a pair of binos when you're going to
be looking through them for a couple of hours. And as we all
know, the most expensive binoculars in the world are useless
if you aren't looking through them ...
You can get a pair of Zeiss 7x50's for around
$1000, less if you can find a used pair from a reputable source.
Other manufacturers that make quality binoculars include Fujinon,
Steiner and Bushnell. Whatever you do, stay away from the
ones with the silly compass reticle. Even the marlin will
laugh at you ... :-)
matter what kind of binos you buy, make sure to get
a eye shield for them. Some binoculars come with them,
but you'll likely have to buy it separate. The shield
forms a light seal between your face and the binos,
blocking out any light from the side, and keeps the
binos from creasing your grill in choppy water.
Imagine sitting in a darkened theater
watching a film, then having the usher shine a light
in your eyes just as you get to the good part. That's
how the shield works - it blocks out nuisance light,
and lets your eyes adjust to the low light level. They
make it a lot easier on your eyes if you intend to be
"in the glasses" for a long time.
I've seen them in neoprene (black)
or silicone (red or brown). The black ones might
look better on your binos, but I'd go with the silicone
- the neoprene has a nasty habit of leaving black
marks on everything it touches - including your face
The biggest innovation in binoculars in recent
years has been the introduction of image-stabilized binoculars
for the consumer market. Nicknamed "gyro binos"
for the gyroscopic stabilizing mechanism present in early
models (and still used in high-end products), image-stabilized
binos have the ability to dampen out the movement of the binoculars,
resulting in a jitter-free (for the most part) image.
Gyros have been around since the days of
the Cold War, and the technology was originally developed
for military use. In fact, the earliest pair that were available
commercially were Russian surplus, made available after the
fall of the Berlin Wall. These models were big and clunky
and prone to failure. It was immediately apparent, however,
that even these early models could revolutionize billfish
are two kinds of image-stabilized binoculars. True "gyro
binos" use a gyroscope to maintain
the stability of the optics that are mechanically isolated
from the case of the binoculars and, therefore, the movement
of your hands. Because of the complexity of the mechanism,
these tend to be both heavy and expensive - they can run
anywhere from $3,000 to over $10,000. If you have the money
and want the best, however, this is what you buy. Among the
leading models of gyroscopically isolated binoculars are
Fujinon's Stabi-scope and Fraser-Volpe's STEDI-EYE (at right).
The Fraser-Volpe's are basically their MIL-SPEC model as
provided to the Navy, and the Stabi-scopes are carried on
the space shuttle, so either way you'll get a well-tested
those of who cringe at the thought of taking out a second
mortgage for a pair of gyro binos, technology has provided
a second option. As camcorders became more popular in the
'90's, technology was needed to take the jitters out of all
those videos being shot by soccer moms of the next Mia Hamm.
Before long, this same technology was being applied to the
challenge of image-stabilized binoculars, and for far less
money than the traditional gyroscopic solution. Using solid-state
accelerometers and microprocessors, the optics are adjusted
internally to counteract the unwanted movement. Quite a few
manufacturers make these electronically stabilized models,
with the Nikon StabilEyes, Canon Image Stabilization, and
Fujinon Technostabi (at left) among the most popular. Most
will cost from $500 to $1,200.
I've used a set of Technostabis on HOOKER, and I can tell you first-hand
that the image-stabilization technology is fantastic. While
it's great to be able to see things jitter-free, the real
advantage is in the additional magnification that can be achieved
because of the stable image. The Technostabis I use, for example
are 14 power - that's twice the magnification of a pair of
standard 7x50's. Suddenly, you're seeing things clearly twice
as far away as you could with your traditional binos - with
a smooth image.
matter the internal design, all gyro binos require batteries
- lots of batteries. Plan on needing a fresh set of
batteries every 2 to 6 hours, depending on the model
Like standard binoculars, you tend to get
what you pay for. While a $750 pair of gyros may have the
same electronics as a $1,500 pair, you'll get inferior optics.
My advice is to get the best set you can reasonably afford.
If I had to make a choice between better stabilization or
better optics, I'd opt for the optics.
The best binoculars in the world are useless
if you don't a), use them and b), use them right. Drive past
any serious battlewagon, and you'll see all hands on the bridge
"in the glasses". Catch up with one of these guys
on the beach, and they'll have raccoon eyes from the eye shield.
Bottom line is that there's no substitute for time spent glassing
know what you're thinking ... damn, those things are
heavy! How am I supposed to look for more than a couple
of minutes. Well, intelligent selection of lightweight
binos helps, but you're best bet is posture ... or correctly,
the lack thereof.
If you want to tell the pros from the
amateurs when it comes to using binoculars, look at
their elbows. They're probably calloused from all the
time they've been resting on them. Pro fishermen learned
this trick long ago, and now I'll share it with you
- the only way to spend a lot of time in the glasses
is to find somewhere you can prop up your elbows. Once
you rest your arms on the instrument panel, bridge combing
or other horizontal surface, slouch down until your
eyes reach the eyepiece and settle in - you're gonna
be here for a while.
Spend enough time staring through binos and
you'll find yourself starting to drift a bit. It's a natural
thing, and it hits different spotters at different points.
You may be tempted to try and bear down and concentrate, but
you're a lot better off simply taking 5 minutes to rest your
eyes (and the aforementioned elbows).
Time in the glasses is essential, but it's
only half the solution - you also need to know how to look.
I've talked to a lot of different people over the years and
have found that there are nearly as many opinions as eyeballs.
Here's my thoughts ... I like to set the horizon about a third
of the way from the top of the field of view. That way, I
maximize the amount of water I'm looking at (not many fish
in the air!), but never lose sight of the horizon and risk
disorienting myself. Where you are looking will have an affect
on how you look (see spotting positions below), but I like
to minimize the amount of movement of the binos as much as
possible - especially when using gyros. I tend to focus on
a patch of water, and use my eyes to scan it, rather than
move the binos. When I'm ready to move, I close my eyes momentarily
(a nice "micro-break") and move the binos. Then
I open up and do it all again.
What you're looking for, of course, is anything
out of the ordinary. We'll cover what you might see elsewhere,
but anything that isn't water should be identified and possibly
In a perfect world, marlin always bite,
bait is plentiful, everyone can cast the length of a football
field, and we all have a half-dozen sets of gyro binos on
the bridge - along with the crew to operate them. You wish.
Reality doesn't work that way. But just for a moment we'll
assume that it does, and describe the best way to search
the waters if you have a full bridge of spotters. Obviously,
you will need to tailor this to the actualities you face
on your own bridge ...
Long Center - This is your "distant
early warning" system - the guy who looks in the direction
the boat is going, and maybe 30 degrees to port and starboard
of the centerline. If you only have one pair of gyro
binos, this guy gets them, and he should get the most
unobstructed viewing perch as well. Hopefully, he'll see
the fish early enough to let the crew
Short Left / Short Right - Sitting
to the right and left of the captain, these guys get
half the horizon - centerline to 90 degrees abeam the
boat. Most often equipped with standard 7x50s, they are
looking for anything that the Long Center missed as well
as widening the swath of water searched as the boat moves
Captain - While the primary responsibility
of the captain is the safety of the ship and crew, a
good skipper is constantly scanning the water ahead and
out about 45 degrees from the centerline. He's looking
for those ones that pop up inside the range of all the
bino guys; if he's really good, he won't drive over them
Aft - If you have enough bodies,
having someone watch the lures is a wonderful luxury. Beyond
keeping an eye on the jig spread to avoid tangles and
the like, they can alert the crew to the presence of
marlin in the spread so a dropback bait can be launched.
You can discuss with your crew if there is any value
to announcing those marlin seen off to the sides, since
you've already passed them and it's not likely they'll
be there by the time you get back. The aft position is
a great place for someone taking a break from the more
eye-intensive binocular positions.
you're the guy who spots the fish, do not take your
eyes off of it until someone else confirms that they
see it as well. This is particularly true if you are
using gyro binos, as you will spot things that may take
another couple of minutes to get in the range of others.
Nothing is more frustrating than finding - and then
losing - a marlin ...
No matter how you do it, the purpose is
the same - cover the most water with the most eyes using
the best tools and the best techniques. The net result will
be more marlin seen and, presumably, more marlin caught.