Fishing can be a monotonous task- throw the line; hope that there are fish nearby; and hope that your equipment is strong enough. Catching a fish may be fun, but the process can be mind-numbingly frustrating. Luckily, we live in 2019, where drones can be used to eliminate these headaches and add some adventure to the sport.
This post will walk you through what kind of rod and drone to use and the differences between an electric payload release mechanism and a downrigger. Additionally, we will walk you through the steps of setting up your equipment and how to go about fishing with your drone.
There are a few things that you’re going to need to ensure everything goes smoothly when you get out on the water with your drone:
Fishing Rod: you’re going to need a fishing rod. One of the many misconceptions about drone fishing is that the drone acts as the rod and reel. However cool that may sound, that is sadly not the case.
The job of the drone is to assist the rod in casting the line, not to cast the line itself. The best type of rod for you will depend on where you’re fishing and what you’re hoping to catch.
Bait and Tackle: this will depend on what you’re planning to catch. I suggest using a bobber or lure, as drone fishing typically involves casting far away. Bobbers and lures will help with this.
Drone: the drone is the star player here, so you need to make sure you have the right tool for the job. The three key factors of a great fishing drone are the battery life, range, and camera quality.
You need long battery life to ensure that you can use your drone on a boat without having to dock and recharge, as well as good control range to be able to cast as far as needed.
Capability for an HD camera is not required, but if you want to see where the fish are, this is what you want.
Here are some drones I recommend for the best fishing results.
SwellPro Splash 3
On the surface, the Splash 3 is just like any other modern consumer drone, boasting long battery life and fly times, as well as a 4k camera with a 360-degree view. But the Splash 3 has a few features that make it a little better for fishing:
- It’s waterproof- an obvious necessity for fishing.
- SwellPro has a release mechanism that was built specifically for the Splash 3. It’s the most accessible fishing option out there, and also the safest. The Splash 3 was made for fishing.
For those who want a cheaper option, there is a more simple version of the Splash 3 with built-in fishing mechanisms called the Splash 3 Fisherman. This version lacks some functions like “return to home” and a 4k camera.
To read more about the SwellPro Splash 3 and check current pricing on Amazon, click here.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro
Even though the Phantom 4 Pro was not built with fishing in mind, it meets all of our requirements. There might not be any DJI fishing attachments, but there are third party payload release options that work great. I’ll discuss Phantom 4 compatibility later in the “Release Mechanisms” section.
But I Already Have a Drone…
For those unwilling to shell out the money for a fancy fishing drone, fear not, your drone will probably work great. Most modern drones like the Mavic 2 and Yuneec Typhoon H are great.
Check your packaging or manual for battery life, range, and weight restrictions to decide whether or not your drone is capable of fishing.
The release mechanism is what you will attach the line to the drone and drop the line off into the water.
There are many types of release mechanisms that range in size and price. Do a quick google search to find out which options are available for your drone.
Electric Payload Release Mechanisms: usually the safest bet because they are fully remote control and easily attach to the drone. The problem is that they are not compatible with every drone.
As I mentioned earlier, SwellPro also makes electric payload release mechanisms for their drones. If there is an electric payload release mechanism available for your drone, I strongly recommend that you use it instead of a downrigger: it will be easier for you and safer for your drone.
Downrigger Release Clip: once attached to a fishing line, a downrigger release clip will release the line from the clip once enough tension is created. It’s not the fanciest way to drone fish, but it gets the job done.
As this option is more difficult and dangerous to the drone, I only recommend using a downrigger release clip if there are no electric payload release mechanisms available for your drone.
I found these downrigger release clips on Amazon that seem to work fairly well for drone fishing. I will go over how to install a downrigger release clip in the next step.
SkyRigger: SkyRigger is an advanced release mechanism explicitly made for fishing. Although it’s not electric, it is much cleaner and easier to attach than a downrigger release clip.
SkyRigger can be set up only to release the line when a fish is hooked. It is possible to release the line with a flick of the rod just like a regular downrigger clip. SkyRigger was designed for the DJI Phantom line of drones, but according to their FAQ, it will work on the Mavic line, but not recommended due to their weight limits.
Attaching the Line to the Drone
There are two different methods: one for the payload release mechanism and one for the downrigger release clip.
Make sure you follow these instructions carefully- any mistakes could offset the balance of your drone and disrupt it while in the air. Always test-fly in a safe area away from water before you go out.
Electric Payload Release Mechanism: since different brands of electric payload release mechanisms install differently, installation instructions vary.
Your manual will have detailed instructions, but just in case you need an example, here are some generic instructions that will apply to most products:
- Screw the mechanism into the central mount (this should be the largest one).
- Mount the mechanism onto the desired location by screwing the other mounting plate on the opposite side.
- Connect the release mechanism cables to the drone (consult your manual for this).
- Attach your line to the payload receptacle
- Go fish!
If you’re confused, here is a video of a release mechanism mounting onto a Mavic.
Downrigger Release Clip
- First, secure a small nylon rope. This is the base on which you’ll attach your clip.
- Next, tie the rope between the two feet that make up your drones landing gear. On drones without landing gear, find a way to secure your rope to the bottom of your drone without obstructing any sensors.
- Now, open your downrigger release clip and the standard clip that comes with it. Attach it to 8-inch length of rope with a regular clip on the other side of the rope.
- Attach the regular clip side of the rope (not the downrigger) to the rope from Step 2. Make sure that the rope hangs from the middle of the drone to ensure balance during flight. This is a good time to test-fly.
- Next, use the clamp on the downrigger clip to attach the line.
- Go fish!
Check out the next step for a guide on how to use the line once it’s attached.
For a visualization of this process, check out this video.
From the SkyRigger FAQ
- Loosen/tighten the grub screws on the SkyRigger mount to adjust it to the width of your drone.
- Use the provided “fish tool” to loosen the clamps.
- Gently attach one of the clamps to the drone. Do not retighten yet.
- Slide the other clamp into place then retighten both clamps.
- If the release mechanism swings away from the camera so that the drone can stand flat on its feet, then the mount was installed correctly.
- Run your line through the bottom “wheel” portion of the SkyRigger.
Check your manual for any clarifications on these steps.
Dropping the Line into the Water
After you’ve attached the line to the drone, it’s time to go fish! Here I will explain how to lower the line using each mechanism, as well as give some general tips on how to drop.
Electronic Payload Release Mechanism
- Once the line is attached, let your line go slack and fly your drone upwards until you have a clear view of the water’s surface.
- Survey the water for movement and shadows. This may indicate fish. If you have a low-quality camera, you can also look across the water yourself and pick a spot that seems promising.
- Once you have decided on your spot, let your drone hover.
- Press the release button on your controller. This is usually mapped to the lights control button, but can be activated in different ways, depending on which payload release mechanism you are using. Once the line is dropped, lock your reel and wait for a bite.
- From here you can put your drone into hover or orbit mode, or you can simply maneuver it back to safety.
Downrigger Release Clip and SkyRigger
Both the Downrigger release clip and the SkyRigger work similarly.
- Once the line is attached, let your line go slack and fly your drone upwards until you have a clear view of the surface of the water.
- Choose a spot that you want to drop your line and let your drone hover over it.
- Lock your line and quickly jerk your rod upwards to pop the line off of the downrigger and into the water.
- Alternatively, you can lock your line but keep it attached to your drone. If you get a bite, the line snaps out of the clip on its own. Do this if you plan to move your line without reattaching it to the drone.
- From here, put your drone into hover or orbit mode, or simply maneuver it back to safety.
SwellPro Splash 3
Since the Splash 3 is waterproof and features a waterproof camera, you can submerge the lense by letting the drone float on the surface of the water. This way you can see what’s under the surface and choose a spot from there.
Catching the Fish
Some of the following may be common fishing knowledge, but I am including it here just to give you the best possible success.
- If you’re using a bobber, let it sit until it becomes fully submerged in the water. Once fully underwater, quickly pull your rod upwards to “set the hook”.
- Once the hook is set, plant your feet and reel that fish in! Remember, if you pull up too early, you will yank the bait away from the fish and the catch will get away.
- If you’re using a lure, use your reel to pull your lure through the water to simulate swimming slowly. Be careful to make sure you don’t move too quickly and scare the fish away. As before, once you feel that you have something on the line, quickly pull your rod up and start to reel.
- If your drone is filming the catch, make sure your drone is far enough away that the splashing of the fish doesn’t disturb the drone.
- Make sure you consult your local Wildlife Administration for rules and regulations on fishing on public waters.
Drone Fishing Without a Rod
As a short disclaimer before I begin this section, I don’t recommend anyone fish with the line directly attached to the drone if they value their drone.
Some drones can carry more than others, but if a giant fish decides to bite your line, chances are, the fish will take down your drone.
If you’re still willing to brave the risk, I’ll give a brief overview of fishing with just a drone.
- Attach an electronic payload release mechanism to your drone. I don’t recommend trying this method without one.
- Attach your line with bait to the payload release.
- Drop the line in the water and move your drone so that it drags the line across the water.
- Use your camera to see when a fish bites your line.
- Immediately pull up and towards the shore. If your drone looks to be losing the battle against the fish, use your payload release to drop the line altogether.
Keep in mind that IGFA (International Game Fish Association) does not recognize fish caught with only a drone as record legal.
If you’re using a boat, a special note needs to be made about the Return-to-Home (RTH) feature that most drones have. Your takeoff location will be where the drone returns to if the GPS signal is lost. Due to the drifting nature of boats, the drone will not likely return to your current location.
DJI drones will let you update the RTH location, but you will need to do so manually in the settings.
Waves: be wary of waves when flying your drone close to the surface of the water. Wave height is unpredictable, and inexperienced flyers may find it difficult to navigate quickly.
Unless your drone is waterproof, fly a reasonable distance from the surface of the water.
Maintenance: make sure that you clean any devices before and after your fishing trips. Unexpected malfunctions are more dangerous over water than in any other situation.
Lastly, have fun! You get to do something that was nowhere near possible a short few years ago.