Helpful Tips and Reminders for Sport Fishing Tournament Preparation

Being prepared for competition is one key to victory
A sport-fishing boat on the water during a beautiful clear day. Release flags can be seen flying from its rigging.
Being prepared for any scenario can mean the difference between a rigger full of flags at the end of the day or not. The Buckskin Billfish

Special delivery: Sign up for the free Marlin email newsletter. Subscribe to Marlin magazine for $29 for 1 year and receive 2 bonus digital issues.

The sport of fishing is truly unique. It brings joy in so many different ways, from the solitude of being on the water to enjoying time with family and friends. And for many, catching fish is just a bonus. Fishing is fun, they say, but it is also known as “sport fishing” because over the years, it has morphed from a hobby to a competitive sport that is constantly evolving and, thankfully, growing.

I grew up playing many sports, and have always loved the adrenaline rush of a big win. But none of that compares to the rush I get when the right fish is hooked up during a tournament. Better yet, boating the fish that you know is likely a winner and hearing the weight yelled out by the tournament official, leading to the big check. The same rush goes for release tournaments.

Plan

Tournament fishing requires both luck and skill if you want to capitalize on the opportunities that come your way. “Catch what you see” is often heard right before the lines go in, but to do that, you must first plan for success.

Before participating in any tournament, there must be a plan. To do this effectively, you need to know the rules inside and out. This is the most important thing by far, and yet it amazes me how many people fish tournaments without full knowledge of not only the tournament rules but the IGFA rules, as well as the regulations of the governing area where they are fishing. Knowing all the rules keeps you out of trouble, and mitigates the possibility of disqualification. A smart crew can utilize the rules to their advantage, but whatever the case, knowing the rules allows you to wrap your head around a solid game plan.

The second part of that plan is figuring out what it is that will give you and your crew the best odds of winning. Let’s face it, the world of tournament sport fishing isn’t exactly a fair game. Not everyone fishing can afford a stacked crew of professionals or a perfect sport-fishing machine equipped with every bell and whistle known in the industry. But the best part is that it’s still possible to win some of these tournaments if you make a smart plan, which oftentimes requires a little out-of-the-box thinking. Know what you are capable of, given the tools and crew you have to work with.

The third part of the plan is doing your homework—whether that means keeping up with the bite through your small but trustworthy network of colleagues; following sea conditions such as surface temperature, chlorophyll, and/or salinity satellite images; or knowing which boats plan to target which species. This homework might just be the most helpful part of the plan leading up to, and throughout, the tournament.

Remember, communication is key, not only among your team but with your network as well. Be sure the headset units are charged and in good working order before tournament time, and when it comes to communicating with your trusted network, don’t drop the ball by keeping yourself out of the loop. Satellite-texting devices are a great way to stay in touch during the tournament, and working together is all part of a good strategy.

Prep

Now that you have a plan, it’s time to get prepared. Having your crew sitting on go before the boat ever leaves the dock on Day One is crucial. A few days of pre-fishing is always preferable so that everyone can get in sync, but sometimes this just isn’t possible. So, clear communication with the crew and anglers about everyone’s role is more important than ever. Walk through scenarios with each other so that anything that could happen has been discussed. Everyone should know what it is they are responsible for—from the boat and tackle prep to who is bringing the food and drinks.

A few weeks before the tournament, you should comb through all of your spare parts and tackle, making a list of what is missing. I recommend doing this a couple of months ahead of time in case, God forbid, you don’t have something you need or realize a few reels are no good; you’ll need that time to address it.
Be sure you have plenty of spare rigs made up. My rule is to have ready three times (or more) the rigs that you expect to use and inspect everything you already have rigged, from teasers and lures to outrigger lines and release clips. Make sure the boat maintenance is up to date and that every piece of equipment is in perfect working order, the drags are set properly, the new main line is spooled, and your lures have new leaders.

Prep also includes your bait. Your tournament baits should be the best, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to rig some ahead of time, vacuum-seal them, and have them ready to go in the freezer for those days when you burn through baits quicker than expected. When using live bait, it should go without saying that those baits should also be the best: seasoned, and well-fed, with any that look questionable separated and used only for pre-fishing.

Now that you’ve done everything necessary to make the catch happen, don’t forget about the endgame. If cameras are required, be sure all of your cameras are working, batteries and spares are fully charged, and the time and date stamp is set properly. If you’re harvesting fish, your gaff points must be sharp and the flying gaffs must be rigged properly.

Read Next: Here are some top techniques for Atlantic sailfish from one of the best in the game.

If you are fully prepared and your fish is gaffed boatside, you still need to get it in the boat without incident. If it’s a massive tuna, or even a huge marlin, some sort of pulley system will get that fish either over the rail or through the door. Once the fish is on deck, plug the gaff hole(s) and keep it wet to help keep the weight loss at bay. And if the fish is going into a fish box, be sure it doesn’t get beat up—or cut by other fish in the box—on the ride in. You never want there to be a question of any kind regarding the mutilation of the fish once it is presented at the scales.

Tournament fishing is one of the best ways to test your fishing skills as an angler, a captain or a cohesive crew. It is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have when you are holding up that big cardboard check in front of your peers, and I hope these tips help get you the opportunity to do just that.

Free Email Newsletters

Sign up for free Marlin Group emails to receive expert big-game content along with key tournament updates and to get advanced notice of new expeditions as they’re introduced.