When Dave Ferrell recently called and asked me to write about tournament preparation in an upcoming issue, my first thought after hanging up was that there’s almost no extra prep for us when we enter a tournament. We do this every day for a living, so a tournament day is not much different to me from any other given charter day. But I’m always looking to catch a bigger fish than everybody else, tournament or not.
My tournament prep is an ongoing, everyday thing, and most of it is refined in the 200-plus days that I spend on the water every year trying to increase the odds of putting my anglers on a fish.
Most of the tournaments that I fish in are big-fish kill tournaments in my hometown of Kona, Hawaii. For those of you who just saw the word “kill” and are already thinking of your attack, to run in next issue’s Letters, I can only say that I’m tired of defending it, but when you are playing for big money, you have to put the fish on the scale in order to determine a winner. Since a tournament win can double, or triple, my annual below-welfare-level income, you can bet that we are going to get good at harvesting a few. It’s a part of the sport that I was brought up in, what can I say?
With all that said, your terminal tackle is probably the area where the most issues can occur when tournament fishing. My dad once told me, “When you put your terminal tackle in the water, it’s the only part of the game that you can control to 100 percent certainty.” Losing a fish due to a tackle failure is simply inexcusable.
When trolling for big blue or black marlin, I’m a huge fan of overkill. I tie good knots, make perfect crimps, use strong leaders and hooks, and service my rods and reels regularly. I do my reels myself, because I have heard too many horror stories about reels that just came back from the shop.
I also always like to take on an extra crewman when there is money on the line. Although we’ve grown up fishing here in Kona with only one deckhand, in a tournament situation, you can change your whole game plan by adding a competent second crew member. We discuss, in detail, all of the motions that we will go through, from the bite to photographing for release, or taking the fish, if appropriate. Establish a system that works for you and your crew, and repeat it until you can do it robotically.
I always prepare as if I’m going to face the worst-case scenario. If you have a plan for anything that may come your way, you will make fewer mistakes and, in turn, lose fewer fish.
A simple program also minimizes mistakes. And by simple, I mean that you should keep a clutter-free cockpit, and minimize the crap that you troll behind the boat. Big marlin are ambush predators — not shoaling or schooling feeders. You don’t need to run six or eight lines behind the boat to raise a marlin. I only run four lures, maximum. In fact, I recall winning a tournament a few years back where we only trolled three lures. Two seems to work just fine in Cairns.
Have a plan with your team, have your tackle perfect, and minimize confusion on a bite by keeping an orderly system that everyone can work within. And please, no loud screaming and yelling — unless absolutely necessary.