Thoughts on Tournament Pre-Fishing

Capt. Skip Smith chimes in on this popular concept

Two sport-fishing yachts cruising on the water.
A few days on the water prior to the start of your next tournament can pay off if you use that time wisely. © Los Sueños Resort and Marina / Pepper Ailor

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When I was first invited to be an angler in the Los Sueños Signature Triple Crown many years ago, we would always go pre-fishing for a couple of days before each tournament started. Many other boats were out there doing the same thing. The idea was to give the anglers some time to burn their thumbs and practice hooking these fish while also giving the captains a chance to find the mother lode. We would try a few different areas over the two or three days, but we would throw out the same teasers and dredges each day. I wanted to try some new stuff that I had brought with me, but the owner didn’t want to change anything from their usual spread. I never could figure that out since we were only fun fishing.

Watch: Take a ride on Wall Hanger, a waterjet-powered beauty from Spencer Yachts.

One captain had the right idea. He would run to the edge of the 50-mile boundary and look for free-jumpers, fish for a few minutes, and then pick up and run again to keep looking for that big group of sails moving into the area.

Back when we first ­started fishing in Venezuela, the ­locals would get mad at us for releasing the white ­marlin we caught. They said that if we released them, those fish would take the school with them and move off, just like a wounded mahi does in a school of dolphin. We were catching way too many to kill them all, that was for sure. We would kill maybe one a day that was gut-hooked and bleeding really badly for the washdown kids and their ­families to eat. Years later, ­circle hooks really helped reduce the numbers of ­gut-hooked billfish.

When fishing in Texas in the early 1980s, it was too far to run offshore to pre-fish because the boats were a lot slower. I figured I could charter a plane and fly out to the fishing grounds to look for weed lines and water-color changes—there were no oil rigs off Texas back then either. We flew time and course from the East Breaks to the Hilltops and back in again. I learned a lot doing that.

Recently in one tournament, a boat went pre-fishing and came in with a rigger full of flags. Talking to the other crews that night, most of them said that they would not fly any flags if they did well the day before the tournament because everyone would be fishing where they were the prior day. Nothing like giving away your spot to the fleet.

Another boat with sonar went pre-fishing without the boat owner aboard, so they used only teasers and saw quite a few marlin but did not try to hook any. A few days later, the boss flew in, and on their first day, they caught five blue marlin and looked like heroes. Pre-fishing does pay off sometimes.

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I agree that it is important to find the billfish before the tournament starts, but should we leave them all with sore jaws? Does the extra caught fish on the pre-fish day hurt your first day of fishing a tournament? Let me know what you think. I know that no one will quit pre-fishing because most of us will use any excuse to catch a few more billfish. We are hooked too!

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