When you go on one of our pelagic trips, you can be assured that we will do our best to make it as productive as possible. We will use our many years of experience (which includes understanding the movements of currents) to find the best places to go birding on any particular day.
Generally, on the East Coast, we have to travel a lot farther to reach the edge of the continental shelf (where the real pelagic birds occur) than one has to go off the West Coast. Off North Carolina's Outer Banks, this means that we usually spend at least two hours running at full cruising speed to reach productive waters. (Note - off Virginia Beach the shelf is even wider and we may run for twice as long.) When we reach a productive area (usually, but not always, the shelf edge) we slow down to a pace at which we can scan for birds. When we spot birds (or cetaceans, or other marine life for that matter) we make an announcement over the boat's P.A. system to alert folks on deck, and if possible, try to get the boat in a better position to see what has been spotted.
During the winter, we do a lot of chumming which attracts some species (including gulls, gannets, fulmars and Great Skuas) quite close to the boat. During the warmer months, we don't do so much chumming, although we often put out a little fish oil from the stern of the boat. This sometimes helps us to get closer looks at some of the tubenoses when they come in to investigate the scent. We've found that because there are usually no gulls offshore in summer and because the shearwaters are usually unresponsive to our tossing scraps off the stern, that some methods of chumming which work in other parts of the world (usually in cooler waters) are not as effective on our Gulf Stream trips.
One thing that we do during the warmer months that is not done on pelagic trips in cooler waters is to troll baits and lures behind the boat in order to catch a few fish. This adds to the excitement of the trip when a fish is hooked, and it gives the crew of the boat an opportunity to show us what they do for a living. As a result we get to see some species that we otherwise may not see, like dolphin (the fish, also known as mahi-mahi), yellowfin tuna, wahoo, and occasionally Blue and/or White Marlin. Some day we may not get a bite but on other days we get to take home some fish for dinner as a result of our efforts. We do make it a point to release the marlin that we hook though. If we spend a long time fighting a fish or if we stop to catch a school of smaller fish, the crew makes up for this break in our traveling by staying late looking for birds in the afternoon. Consequently, sometimes we don't get in by 5:00, but rather 5:30 or 6:00. It is also worth mentioning that we've had many trips where we caught a lot of fish and also saw great birds. On May 29, 1998 off Oregon Inlet, NC we caught eight (8) big yellowfin tuna (40 - 50 lbs.) and several large dolphin (20+ lbs.) in addition to seeing a Fea's Petrel and a Bermuda Petrel!
We also take note of cetaceans and other marine life during our pelagic birding trips, and may take a few minutes to study some whales or dolphins, but we don't tend to stay around for a long time waiting for them to resurface, nor do we follow a particular group or animal for long periods of time. Nevertheless, our trips have yielded some very interesting encounters with various cetaceans, and we have been able to document the occurrence of some rare visitors to our waters.
Although the emphasis of our trips is clearly on birds, what we strive for on our trips is a well-rounded experience with all of the offshore wildlife, be it birds, whales, dolphins, fish, sea turtles, or something else.
The weather has a big impact on how we run our trips too. On calm days it might be possible to chase down a bird or flock of birds for a closer look. On rough days, which are fairly likely in winter, it is often a matter of getting the birds to come closer to us by chumming them in. On rough days it is usually not feasible to pursue birds in the distance, as they will often be gone before we would arrive and a change of course might make for a wet and miserable ride.