It’s been a day of bait rigging, boat maintenance and libations around the Pirate’s Cove Marina. With strong seas offshore, 86 boats chose to take a mandatory Lay Day on Tuesday. That means the bulk of the fleet (all but two) will be going hard the next three days. There is a new wrinkle to the competition this year, though. Although it was initiated in 2022, the split entry divisions for sonar and non-sonar equipped boats wasn’t a factor. Many of the larger tower boats that had the Omni sonar installed were not able to transit the Oregon Inlet Bridge due to the channel depth and couldn’t fish. The handful of boats that did sign up decided to drop out. But this year the channel is fully dredged and 28 boats opted to enter the Omni division.
”The Omni/Non-Omni split registration was designed to level the playing field yet still allow boats that wish to use the technology the opportunity for additional payouts. The split option has been well received by the teams,“ says Tournament Director Heather Maxwell. Optional Omni entries include payouts for the Billfish Daily ($5,250), Heaviest Marlin and Overall Points ($3,500 each) and Daily Jackpots, plus Winner Take All ($4,375 each). That money is in addition to the tournament entry base fee ($2,500). Non-sonar entries across the board totaled $15,500.
Omni directional sonar technology has long been used in the commercial fishing industry. Recreational sport-fishing boats only started adding it in recent years. The units are expensive ($110,000+) and they require considerable space for the components and through-hull transducer. The transducer, which extends about 1.5 feet below the hull when deployed, is housed in a tall internal cylinder when retracted. Larger custom-built sportfishers can more easily accommodate those needs, but on smaller or older hulls retrofitting can be difficult or impossible. The PCBT board of directors came up with the split entry to account for those factors and not penalize boats without the special electronics.
Unlike regular fish finders that shoot a narrow cone directly underneath the boat to detect fish and bait, Omni directional sonars use mid-frequency rapid pulses that project out away in a flatter, circular arc from the transducer. Salinity and water clarity can affect the signal, but ideally objects can be detected up to 5,000 feet away. The actual working distance is less. Still, having that ability to see bait balls or marlin well in advance is definitely advantageous. Weldor’s Ark, a 55-foot Jarrett Bay, has been using Omni sonar for two seasons now.
“Our boat was built in 2000 and we updated it a few times since, then added the Furuno Omni sonar two years ago,” says Weldor’s Ark skipper Capt. Dale Britt. “The transducer housing is center located just forward of the two engines, behind the generator. The brains are in a cabinet close by and it’s 30 inches tall by 18 inches wide and 5 inches deep. We were able to accommodate it, but many boats just can’t fit all that in existing spaces.” The Omni display is located on the flying bridge and interfaces with the boat’s Garmin displays.
“I primarily monitor the Omni myself, like some other captains,” Britt adds. “Other boats have a full-time crew member who just watches the screen during fishing. That’s their sole job. I was joking with Bull (Bull Tolson, captain of Sea Toy) the other day and we both laughed that we didn’t have time to look for birds or rips anymore because you’re too busy watching a video screen.”
Britt, who also serves on the board of the Big Rock Tournament, feels a split entry system is critical for major tournaments like the PCBT.
“Any boat that has Omni sonar has a distinct advantage,” Britt says. “Boats without them are not on a level playing field. There are still a lot of really good fishermen competing well without Omni, holding their own or even out-fishing Omni boats. But having separate entry categories is a great idea.”
The two boats braving the swells today released a sailfish (Salvation) and boated a dolphin (Speechless). By 8:30 Wednesday morning the others will be looking hard into the water, searching for likely prizes—with Omni directional sonar or not. Friday’s scorecards will tell how each group fared.