Follow the Rules in Sport-Fishing Tournaments

Each tournament is unique in its own way
A tournament angler pulling a large marlin boatside.
Follow the rules and be prepared to celebrate a successful blue marlin release in your next big-money tournament. Scott Kerrigan / Aqua Paparazzi

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Why do we have rules for tournaments? I have previously written about how no one reads the rules when they’re fishing in all of these big-money events, but to see it happen year after year is just crazy, in my opinion.

I have been a tournament director for a long time now and fished in quite a few in my career. Most all tournaments use a combination of their own rules and the IGFA’s. The first paragraph of the IGFA rules states: “The ­following angling rules have been formulated by the International Game Fish Association to promote ethical and sporting angling practices, to establish uniform regulations for the compilation of world game fish records, and to provide basic angling guidelines for use in fishing tournaments and any other group angling activities.”

Pretty straightforward. Just as in all other sports, such as golf, tennis, baseball, bowling or whatever, each has its own set of rules by which to abide. Whether amateur or professional, they all have them. Tournament rules set important guidelines for everyone to follow: the maximum pound-test line allowed, the hours of fishing, whether you call in your hookups and releases, and your intentions with regard to harvesting your catch.

So why all the rules? For example, why do we call in our hookups in the first place? It helps confirm that you are indeed hooked up with a tournament qualifier. Does it help the ­others in the fleet? Sure. They might want to fish around you, hoping you’ve found a hot bite. And it can cause problems too—other boats can get close enough to possibly cut off your fish. Today’s captains can be pretty ­aggressive, but usually, a quick call on the VHF is enough to gain some room to maneuver.

As of this writing, we’re deep in the midst of our summer tournament season, and we’ve already had several ­high-profile disputes with shark bites and mutilated fish in tournaments on the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. Even gaff marks and other damage caused by boating a large blue marlin can be disputed by other competitors who are in contention for a large cash purse, which can be upwards of several hundred thousand ­dollars or more these days.

Fortunately, there have also been several instances of the captains and anglers self-disqualifying their catches, whether it was a lack of species identification on the video or an inadvertent error by the crew. This is very professional behavior and will earn the respect of your peers every time.

Read Next: Where is the next world record marlin likely to come from? Good question.

I can speak from ­experience when I say that tournament directors have their work cut out for them when reviewing videos, especially with all that money on the line. Having observers helps, but even then, they have to see a problem and effectively explain it to the director to make the final call of whether to DQ a fish. It’s never easy, any way you look at it.

The best advice for your entire team—the captain, mates and all of the anglers—is to be thoroughly familiar with the rules in each tournament in which you choose to participate. By understanding everything, there’s much less of a chance of making a costly mistake in the heat of the moment.

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