Tournament Strategies for Boat Owners

Keeping the boat prepped is an important part of your game plan too

When you choose to put your money down and start fishing competitively in tournaments, you should never underestimate the value of preparation, particularly as it pertains to your boat and your team. When you consider all of the expenses associated with entering one of these events - crew, bait, tackle, fuel, food, drinks and all the other things that go into a smooth-running operation - you must first consider the vessel that transports you to and from the fishing grounds.

Keeping your boat ready and dialed in is of paramount importance. Not having everything in tip-top shape is a fool's gamble, and it will come and bite you when you least expect it. And when things go wrong in a tournament with big money on the line, it can get ugly fast. Most professionally run operations stay ready to go at all times, and those that fish regularly have a distinct advantage, not only because they are up on current fishing conditions, but also because they know how to keep their boat in fish-fighting shape and ready to run.

It's easy to stay ahead when you check the engine room daily and fix problems as soon as they appear. To make this job easier, we keep the engine room as clean as possible and wiped down at all times so that we can detect any leaks or trouble brewing before a major problem develops. A clean engine room allows you to monitor fluid use or leaks and any external part wear and tear. As a rule, I make a complete engine-room inspection at the end of every day's fishing. That way, if there's something wrong, or even something just starting to go wrong, I can get a jump on it, and I have the whole night to make adjustments, repairs or complete change outs and can avoid missing the next day's fishing. Sure, as the old saying goes, "stuff happens," but the inspection every day keeps any surprises to a minimum and helps ensure that your boat fishes the next day.

We also keep an engine-room logbook that notes fluid levels, engine and generator hours and comments on anything we see that might potentially erupt or anything that we need to adjust or repair. Keeping notes, such as the number of hours that we have left before we need to change an impeller, helps us track what kind of life we are getting from our equipment and helps us determine if the cams or bearings might be wearing out and if an impending failure looms on the horizon. By noting the hours, we can determine if the life of the impeller is getting shorter with each change out. As a rule of thumb, if we have not replaced an impeller after a year of service, we will pull it and start with a fresh set before we begin our spring and summer travels. Removing the threat of a potential failure lets you stay focused on fishing.

I also like to keep a good stock of spare parts on board at all times. On every boat, you'll have a few items that you know may give out at any time. Some potential failure suspects - like main engine sensors - can shut you down, even if the engine is fine. With a quick change out, you can get up and running again in a matter of minutes, instead of waiting days for parts or a mechanic. We always get our mechanic to go through our engines so he can monitor any potential failures inherent in the series before they become a problem for us out on the water.

No one makes bulletproof stuff - things fail - but if you are prepared for the breakdown, it won't be the end of the world. To avoid sitting at the dock when we should be out fishing, I always carry both main engine and generator water-pump kits, spare cams, rebuild kits, impellers, spare injectors and the tools to remove and reinstall them. The only thing that can put a stop to our day is a major engine failure.

We also bring all of the specialty tools required to work on the engine, such as injector wrenches, so that should we need them, we can not only troubleshoot what's wrong but replace the part ourselves with a bit of coaching over the phone. Again, all of this is meant to reduce downtime and heartache when you need to be on the water. Having the required tools also allows the mechanic to travel light and fly in with just the parts needed to fix our problem.

Routine checks of the lazarette and bilge areas, bilge pump float switches and high water alarms ensure that everything stays in proper working order. We even use a heat gun to monitor A/C and refrigeration compressor temperatures so that we know they are cooling and not struggling. Again, these temps are noted in the log as a reference and baseline to track any changes that might occur over time with each piece of gear.

Externally, we keep the boat clean, waxed and protected so that we can focus on the fishing and our guests' enjoyment. It's not good form to do that type of work with people on board. Make sure to clean and wax your enclosure so you can get maximum visibility even when taking spray. Inspect and make sure that your outriggers are tuned and tight, and that the spreader cables are clean, with no rust or chafing. We replace our halyards twice a year so that we always have fresh mono and clips that work properly.

Our cockpit bait freezers are defrosted and the bait is packed in an orderly fashion and inventoried so we know what we have and what we need to replace. There should be no excuse for poor bait or not having enough of it. This is one area that owners should not get cheap - fresh, well cut and put-up bait is absolutely necessary to produce results, so the crew must constantly be aware of how they handle it and how they go through it. Again, keeping inventory notes and dates of procurement helps ensure that you always have good bait. Leave the freezer-burnt stuff to those who choose not to pay attention - they will get fewer bites!

The last obvious components of any successful tournament rig are its tackle and crew. You should inspect your tackle at the start and end of every fishing day - tightening screws, checking roller guides and replacing chafed line goes a long way toward avoiding potential breakdowns with the winning fish on the line and helps protect your investment as well.

Regarding the crew, attitude is everything. Make sure that agreements about how to split potential winnings are clearly understood before you leave the dock. Money ruins a friendship faster than a marriage, so be sure to take care of business first. If at all possible, try to keep the reins on any late nights. A serious professional crew stays focused until the end of the event. There is plenty of time to party when the chips are in your pocket and not on the line. I'm not saying you can't have fun, but dealing with a hangover doesn't help your odds.

Paying attention to the little things will help keep a major failure from ruining your days on the water. With a little bit of due diligence and organization, you can increase your chances of a trouble-free tournament experience.