Saturday, August 2, 2014

Doing the Drone

EVER SO CAUTIOUSLY, I moved the left stick forward and watched as it leaped into the air.

There’s no doubt that 2014 will go down in history as the “Year of the Drone" within the fishing community. Forget the latest and greatest tackle innovations or super-duper electronics. Nope, this year the buzz is definitely about drones and who can take the most awesome photos with them.
            The list of people who have purchased the flying cameras is growing faster than I can keep up! So far, my WON column partner, Jonathan Roldan, and Ali Hussainy, President, BD Outdoors; Erik Landesfeind, and Barry Brightenburg all determined they had to have one. If you search the web, you’ll find plenty of entertaining videos that were shot with drones by crews and anglers on the sportfishing fleet.
            I, too, couldn't resist; mine arrived in mid-May. By the time it actually got here, I had watched hours of U-Tube videos on quad-copters in general, and had logged in many how-to hours on the DJI Technology Phantom 2 Vision Plus website, the drone that I actually ordered.
            The day it arrived, I cautiously unpacked the carton and followed directions, being very careful when I assembled the Quad Copter. That’s probably not an accurate statement since all that was required was that I tighten the self-locking propeller blades and charge the battery before it was ready to fly. But truthfully, I wasn't quite ready! I felt a little bit intimidated by this 24- x 24-inch bundle of technology resting on our coffee table.
            I studied the instruction manual from cover to cover – all 75 pages – for several days. I devoured the information on the camera, Wi-Fi, GPS, software and cell phone app – all of which needed to be understood before I took on the challenge of flying this machine that had set me back about $1,500. I had not been this nervous about taking control of boats that had cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and yes, a few owned by others that were even more dear than that!
            Okay, call me crazy, but the only thing I had ever flown was a model airplane tethered by a control line which I flew in a circle … often crashing it before the full circle had even been completed.
            Early one morning, after days of procrastinating, drone in tow Yvonne and I walked across the street to the park. Going through the checklist printed on the underbelly of the unit as carefully as a 747 pilot, with great trepidation I turned on the controller, and started the drone. Ever so cautiously, I moved the left stick forward and watched as it leaped into the air. Thank God I knew to let go of the stick so it could spring back to the center! It hovered at 30 feet or so and I began "Doing the Drone" for real.
            For the next few weeks, I flew at the drop of a hat, taking off from my front yard overlooking the lake.  To begin, I flew pretty much straight up and down, and then slowly, as my confidence grew, the flights extended farther. I flew it to the edge of the lake, as well as a block or so in either direction, going higher and higher until I sent it to 250 feet and lost sight of it.
            There were remarkably few mishaps. I discovered the dreaded death spiral when I descended too quickly causing the drone to drop like a stone! I was in luck! My error was high enough for me to slow the drone’s descent down so instead of a crash, well, we will simply call it a hard landing. No fault, no foul, aside from a nicked up prop or two that a little sandpaper took care of.  It was ready to resume training, but the question is, just who was training who?
            Then it came time for me to head to Baja. I safely stored it in the trusty Roadtrek for the drive down to East Cape in its own custom case in early June. 
            Upon my arrival, I flew it often.  Mark and Jennifer Rayor's beachfront home; at Rancho Leonero; at East Cape RV and then I headed up to La Paz for WON Panga Slam.
            Jonathan Roldan, Tailhunter International, my WON column partner, and I flew them together at Muertos and Balandra Bay.  Swapping tips we began to grasp the possibilities that the drone offered. Some of our Drone images ended up in the La Paz Panga Slam story. I even had the courage to fly it out for the beach shot at Chileno Bay at the Stars & Stripes tournament’s shotgun start.
            Jonathan had two clients who attempted to use theirs from a panga and ended up float-testing them (by the way, they don't float). Both were a total loss; however, one was insured.
            At this point, almost every flight drew a crowd full of questions. The best description I've come up with is that it’s like an incredibly stable tri-pod in the sky with the difference that the drone will hover in the same place when you release the two joy sticks until you sort out what you want to do, sort of like a “pause” button. 
            "Doing the Drone" has gained momentum within the fishing community.  It has added a dimension that has been missing in this serious challenge of fishing.  Find a drone overhead and you’ll find grown men once again playing with their toys.