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March 04, 2013

Tournament Tips from Proven Winners

Top Captains and Mates Share Their Secrets

Whether fishing a single tournament, a regional circuit or an entire season’s worth of events, a team must undergo a great deal of planning, preparation, practice and commitment to be competitive in today’s tournament scene. Rest assured, tournament fishing is a team sport, with every member, from the owner down to the guy taking the picture, bearing the weight for the entire operation. A team is only as strong as its weakest link, so knowing your job cold, and doing it without question, represents the swiftest path to success. At the same time, fishing should be fun, and a boat with an uptight vibe usually doesn’t have much of a shot at victory either.

Here, then, are a number of tournament pitfalls, and steps you can take to avoid them. Fishing a tournament can be a great way to supercharge your excitement level, but only if you have a realistic chance of competing for the win.

Money Matters

tournament fishing docks

Always a contentious subject in either a win or a loss, all financial dealings need to be worked out first, regardless of whether you’ll be fishing on board a private boat or one you charter. The team chartering the boat needs to know exactly what the charter fee includes. Do fuel, bait, food and drink cost extra? And who is responsible for the tournament entry fees?

Private boat owners need to have their cost splits worked out in advance when sharing the boat with any guests. Most tournaments also have side jackpots or calcuttas that you can enter, with many paying out six or even seven figures to the winners. The percentage of potential winnings for the crew or boat, and whether that comes from gross winnings, off the top, or net winnings, after tournament expenses, is also something that should be agreed upon in advance. Ten percent per crewman seems to be the average going rate in the industry these days. Make sure you get all agreements in writing, signed by all parties.

tournament dock


Reservations for the marina and the shore-side accommodations for the crew should be made as early as possible. Some of the best slips at certain locations are booked a year ahead of time, and rooms may not be available at some of the popular smaller venues if you wait too late. Also check on rental cars or golf carts, if you’ll be in need of them. Be sure to have the most up-to-date charts for your GPS plotter and paper charts when traveling to different locales. If you’re traveling out of the country, research the customs and immigration procedures, and where you can get provisions and supplies. In non-English-speaking countries, we normally hire an agent.

Additional Crew

If you need to hire a regular crewman, or just an additional hand for an event, try to get a commitment from the person as soon as possible. The best guys are usually booked up well ahead of tournament time. When fishing a circuit or a season, we try to keep the same mates for the duration of it. This ensures that everyone stays on the same page, knows where everything is, and is familiar with the way that we fish. Showing a new mate how you do things just two days before a tournament can lead to costly mistakes under tournament pressure. Plus, it takes time away from the duties of the other crewmen to train a new person. One exception to this rule comes when fishing a new place for the first time. Hiring an experienced crewman with valuable local knowledge sometimes pays off as well.