'We do programming on software that creates sea surface temperature charts. Twice a day."
Speaking is Jeff Gammon, founder/owner/worker bee of Vista-based Terrafin Software. What Gammon does, for 99 bucks a year per customer, is acquire data from the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), Polar Orbiting satellites, and...well, I'll let him tell you.
"Started by creating sea surface temperature charts for my own fishing," Gammon says. "I was taking NOAA coast-watch charts from the Internet, trying to zero in on the right coordinates [based on sea surface temperatures] to use for my own fishing. I fished out of San Diego. Had a 20-footer, fished for albacore, yellowfin tuna, offshore fishing."
I ask, "When was this?"
"Around '98. Then, once I started making my charts, I thought, 'Maybe other people would like to use these charts,' so we put a few on the Internet for free. Then, I looked at my programming background and thought, 'Rather than take two hours to create one chart, I can spend a few months writing software that will create charts quickly.' So, I worked on that for awhile. And then we went to a subscription service."
"Who is 'we'?"
"Me, my wife, who has a real job and supports us," Gammon laughs. "We had 400 subscribers the first year. Went to 800 the second year. Right now, we have 3300 subscribers, and we've expanded into other regions. We do the West Coast, we do all the continental U.S., we do most of Mexico, all of Baja California, all of the Sea of Cortez on down to Acapulco."
I look down at his maps. Gammon has two kinds. The first shows sea surface temperatures (SST). Higher surface water temperature areas are colored orange to red, lower water temperature areas are colored blue to purple. The other set of maps shows chlorophyll concentrations. Gammon tells me that chlorophyll is produced by plankton, and plankton is a food source for bait fish. Areas of the chart colored in red or yellow tones represent chlorophyll-rich areas; blue shades represent low levels of chlorophyll. I ask, "Why do I want these maps?"
Gammon says. "Generally, guys who fish out of San Diego fish for tuna or yellowtail or dorado. They're looking for changes in the water temperature. What these images do," Gammon points to a coastal San Diego SST map, "is illustrate where there's a strong change in temperature in the ocean."
"And fishermen will pay for that information because...?"
"That's where the structure is," Gammon says. "The fish will be on that structure, in most cases, pretty close to the line."
I look at the map again. Next to Ensenada the ocean is colored purple, which, according to the map's legend, is 53 degrees. Next to La Jolla the ocean is colored sky blue, indicating 56 degrees. There's a dark orange blob, looks like it's a couple hundred miles offshore, which indicates 58.5 degrees. Great-looking blobs but, "What is this structure thing? How come fish don't hightail it into the center of their favorite temperature zone if that's where they feel toasty?"
"Food," Gammon says. "Chlorophyll charts give you another clue. What tuna and yellowtail like is clean, blue water, which is really low in nutrients. Very little plankton in it, not much there to attract bait fish. But, where that area meets an area with a higher level of plankton, that's where bait fish are likely to be."
I see...small fish are attracted to plankton, big fish are attracted to small fish, everyone meets at the same place, many will die.
Gammon continues, "Food." Big index finger points at a chlorophyll chart. "This is a typical chart that a guy fishing out of San Diego would use. Here are the one-day tuna grounds," big finger points at a dark blue spot in the ocean off Rosarito Beach. "We see a large, bubble of green-colored water in this area," big finger moves north. "This is a 30-mile-in-diameter circle of water. All around the edge of it is cleaner, blue water. That clean blue water is what will hold the fish, along its edges. So, guys are going to want to go out and work around these edges." Big finger moves south. "Or, they may decide to come down here and work these edges."
Always the edges. "Why are edges so important?"
"The edges are the structure. Talk to the bass guys who fish in lakes. They fish the rock piles or they'll fish submerged logs; that's the structure in the lake. In the ocean, off San Diego and Southern California, it's so deep there's not much in the way of structure to affect the surface. So, the currents themselves, where they meet, become the structure offshore. You've got the clean blue highways, and the edges of that is where the food is. Fish want the water that they like and they want food."