A new perspective on drone fishing catches on

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Jaiden and his business partner Byron Leal flying their DJI Phantom 4 drone
Jaiden and his business partner Byron Leal flying their DJI Phantom 4 drone. image: SeaUlcer

It all started with a blog – Sea Ulcer – that captured the ocean adventures of 4 mates.

Jaiden Maclean, his brother Brody and friends Sam and Keaton became known by their slogan, ‘Above and below the water’.

When seaulcer.tv blog featured drone vision of a huge swell in Fiji, event sponsor Red Bull reached out and asked if they could use the footage to create a promotional video.  ‘The drone enabled me to capture some amazing footage of some really big waves,’ Jaiden said.

From then on, Red Bull regularly contracted Jaiden to film with his drone and edit surf movies. It was an area he saw benefits in pursuing so he obtained his Remotely piloted aircraft operator’s certificate (ReOC) and Remote pilot licence (RePL).

Merging fishing and his passion for photography, Jaiden strapped a GoPro to his Phantom 1 and began his aerial photography journey. That’s when Sea Ulcer was truly born.

The ability to film from the above perspective gave real meaning to the ‘above and below’ tagline.

From a young age Jaiden Maclean and Byron Leal worked on the Great Barrier Reef diving for crayfish together and, in 2016, drones were an emerging technology and had not yet been used to support fishing.

It was one simple question that started the journey that led to the creation of the ‘Sky Rigger’. Two fishermen, intrigued by new drone technology. ‘Could we use a drone to catch a fish?’ they wondered.

A school of fish captured on the drone’s camera during a fishing venture.
A school of fish captured on the drone’s camera during a fishing venture. image: SeaUlcer

Initially, Jaiden could see the benefits of using a drone to spot reefs and see where fish were sitting. However, they wanted to find out if a drone could in fact help to catch a fish, so off to Bunnings they went and built a homemade drone attachment.

Amazingly, it worked. And, in their first attempt, they snagged a solid Northern Bluefin Tuna off the beach and caught it all on camera. That was the moment when they realised they had discovered something special. The video went viral, achieving more than 100 million views across all platforms in the first week.

The famous 22-kg tuna caught using a drone
The famous 22-kg tuna caught using a drone. image: SeaUlcer

‘During the very first attempt of drone fishing, we hooked and landed a 22-kg tuna from the beach! It was freaking crazy and un-be-lie-va-ble!’ Jaiden said.

The pressure-release technology adds a new accessible element to fishing. ‘It allows you to drop your bait right where the action is, as well as allowing people in wheelchairs to fish in ways they couldn’t before,’ he said.

‘Seeing these kids in wheelchairs fishing now has really touched our hearts’ This is something they haven’t been able to do before. This is a big component of why we we’re doing this.

‘We’ve even started to expand our business, operating a drone fishing charter service to share these incredible experiences and help people to become drone fishing pilots themselves by assisting them with the courses and qualifications.’

Drone fishing is catching on. Sam Fitness captured.
Drone fishing is catching on – Sam Fitness with his catch. image: SeaUlcer

Jaiden says drone fishing has many benefits. ‘It’s more sustainable – there is no bycatch and it’s better for the environment as you’re not losing fishing line and tackle around your coastal rocks and reefs, and it can be accessible for anyone.’

In Fingal Head in northern NSW, drone fishing has brought the community together. Local Indigenous children started regularly watching the fishing ventures and eventually got a drone themselves via their local surf lifesaving club. Sea Ulcer then donated some of their products and now drone fishing is a new way of life.

‘There is a real community element,’ Jaiden says. ‘It’s a new and exciting idea that people haven’t seen before – its unique. People are intrigued and by having the drone camera, feeding live footage back to a screen, you can really share the experience with them.

‘Some people say that fishing is boring because you must be patient and wait, but when you add the drone element it becomes really exciting. It creates a whole new experience.’

Fishing with passers-by
Fishing with passers-by. image: SeaUlcer

When asking Jaiden for a safety tip, we got a few. He is a real advocate for the drone safety rules and uses his videos to promote a safe flying culture. ‘People need to know the rules and why we’ve got them. ‘

A tip for fellow fishermen: ‘Be aware of your surroundings. There are helicopters flying up and down the beach looking for sharks, different airspace restrictions or people in the water. You should do your research of a location before you get there. This includes checking the weather forecast.

‘Weather is a big one when fishing as the wind can really impact your drone’s capabilities.’

Check out this video if you’d like to see the moment that changed it all for Jaiden. It features their first successful drone catch and some fantastic footage.

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