Tournament Fishing

With many of New Zealand’s major game fishing tournaments now occurring or just around the corner, many of you will be gearing up and getting prepared for what may be a busy few months ahead.

Tournament MarinaI love tournament fishing. I realise that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I really enjoy the atmosphere that well-run tournaments produce, the fact that major sponsorships are provided to our sometimes-struggling industry, and the excitement of taking fishing to a competitive level. All things considered, tournaments are supposed to be of an honest and fun nature, with good sportsmanship at the forefront of everyone’s mind. As with any competitive sport, this is not always the case especially when there’s major prizes and money available (not to mention fisherman’s egos!).

I don’t think I can remember any tournament I’ve been involved in where there hasn’t been some sort of discrepancy, drama or misunderstanding. As long it’s nothing too serious, it can add to the atmosphere at times…remembering that we are only fisherman.

Being Prepared

As with any fishing trip, being well prepared and organised will increase your chances of success. There is nothing I hate more than being unorganised and chasing your tail on day two of a tournament.

Tournament BoatBeing prepared and ready for an unexpected bite time can be the difference between winning and losing, as it’s not uncommon for a team to come from nowhere on the last day to win a tournament. Making the most of a ‘hot-bite’ (in some cases it may only last an hour) or capturing ‘multiple hook-ups’ are all factors that help a successful team.

I realise it’s pretty basic stuff and it’s been mentioned many times before, but making sure everything within the team including the boat, tackle, and registered team members are all within the tournament parameters is without doubt the first thing to consider.

Having all your tackle serviced and spooled with good, pre-tested line, plenty of leaders cut (to the right lengths), hooks sharpened, tools packed in a handy spot and enough spare tackle and tags to last the trip are all pretty basic things that are often over-looked.

Without writing down a shopping list, it’s important to consider everything from crimps, out-rigger clips through to bait catching tackle… you don’t want to forget something which is important when catching fish.

Having bait (either dead or alive) available before the start of the tournament is a preference of mine, I hate having to find, catch and process bait during valuable tournament time. Although this can’t be helped at times, especially as a lot of New Zealand’s game fishing is done from trailer boats, I prefer to have enough dead baits in the freezer and a tank full of live bait before ‘start fishing’. Even if you don’t use the bait, it’s always handy to have the option available if the situation arises. Once again it could be the difference between winning and losing.


As with any sporting situation, teamwork is vitally important to the overall success of a tournament boat. Having everyone familiar with the cockpit or fishing area on the boat and what everyone is trying to achieve is always going to help come tournament time.

Preferably, going fishing as a team for few days prior to the tournament will not only help you find out how the area is fishing, but also help familiarise anglers with tackle, fishing techniques, hooking-up procedures, tagging or gaffing, or it may just be an opportunity to meet other team members and catch a bit of bait for the tournament.
Tournament Boat 2In many overseas tournaments where big prize pools and Calcutta’s are available, teams not only have professional captains and crew, but also paid or professional anglers on board. I realise this is a bit excessive within the New Zealand scene and in some cases the element of fun maybe taken away, but it’s just an example of professional teamwork on tournament winning boats.

I know from crews perspective it’s always nice to have an angler or anglers who are familiar with the boats program during tournaments.

Wind-On Leaders

Wind-on leaders definitely have their advantages and disadvantages and in some cases they are not all they’re cracked up to be. But in regards to tournament fishing, the positives of wind-on leaders definitely outweigh the negatives.

Aspects such as being able to clear lines quickly, pitch baits cleanly, tagging fish from the rod tip (if required, i.e. poorly hooked fish), easing fish handling, and quick boat-side release are all positives that will improve tournament fishing. You may also be able to reduce your leader and hook sizes in an attempt to increase hook-up ratio’s, depending on your preferred fishing techniques. Generally wind-on leaders keep every thing clean and, in some cases, safer.

Some may argue that wind-ons are an unnecessary evil and that’s fine. I just feel that being able to tag and release a fish as quickly and as efficiently as possible has to be an advantage when trying to maximise ‘bite-time’ fishing.


Tagging and releasing your fish is a pretty important skill that can often be the difference between a winning and a losing boat. In a lot of cases tagging isn’t quite as easy as it sounds, especially in tournament situations or where really big fish are concerned.

During tournaments, fish are often tagged and released quite quickly, this is once again done in an attempt to maximise fish ‘bite-times’, especially if you know more than one is feeding in the area. Attempting to tag a jumping billfish in the shoulder is often a lot harder than it sounds, on occasions tags get knocked off applicators, applicators get broken, or in a worst case scenario poles get lost over board.

Good crews will always have a spare tag pole, spare applicators and at least 2 – 3 tags ready so that if a tag shot is missed and a tag is lost for some reason, a new one can be replaced as quickly as possible (tucked in the ‘tag-mans’ belt may be a good option).
As far as tag poles are concerned, a pole that is as long as is permitted, quite rigid and thin so it has little drag through the water is generally more effective, especially if the fish and boat are moving at speed.

Most tournaments have restrictions on tag-pole and applicator lengths, plus tag types you’re able to use, so it’s a good idea to read the fine print or ask the right people prior to the tournament starting. There have been plenty of hard luck stories on this subject around the world.

Some tournaments now have rules stipulating tagged fish must be clearly photographed prior to release. In my opinion, this totally negates good teamwork and handicaps good crews who are capable of releasing fish quickly and efficiently. No, this doesn’t mean backing around like a madman, drowning everyone in the cockpit. It does mean that with good angling, clever driving and good crew work fish can be released in good health and the team can be back fishing again for more tag points quickly and efficiently.

The point I’m trying make is that good anglers, captains and crews should be rewarded for good team work, rather than restricted…isn’t that what a tournament is all about? Competing as best you can as a team?

The way the photograph rule stands, a lot of unnecessary disqualifications occur and generally these fish have to be tired-out a lot more so a photograph can be taken accurately. I realise a lot of prize money is on offer now at these tournaments, but do we have to tire fish out now for the sake of prize winnings? Isn’t this totally against what tag and release is all about?

If tournament organisers are so concerned about dishonesty, surely an on-board observer or judge may be a better option.

Fixed and Flying Head Gaffs

Fixed and Flying Head GaffsHaving a good set of gaffs on board is also something that is commonly over looked by fisherman especially at tournament time. Commonly we hear of crews that are unable to land the winning fish with out some sort of drama unfolding. It can be amusing and a bit of a laugh between friends when a good outcome is achieved, but some times it’s nice to be able to handle a fish correctly, especially when a big fish and prizes are involved.

Make sure your gaffs are strong enough to do the job intended. Many times gaffs that are intended for use on strong game fish (from kingfish and tuna through to larger marlin) simply aren’t up to the job and end up straightening when sunk into a fish of a lifetime.

During a tournament a lost fish can be an expensive mistake…sometimes more than what a new gaff would cost in the first place.

A good crew should have their gaffs ready to go during a tournament. Make sure your flying gaffs are well greased; the ropes and shackles should be fine and firmly connected. It’s not a good idea to be doing this when hooked up to the winning fish.

Having a Game Plan

We all know that factors change constantly, especially in game fishing. But having some sort of game plan that everyone on board is aware of helps immensely. Find out how an area is fishing prior to ‘start fishing’ through your own local fishing knowledge, SST charts, currents and tides. These are the obvious indicators on where to start.

Have the anglers tuned in to the fishing techniques to be used. Whether it is lure fishing, switch baiting, live-baiting or dead-bait fishing. Make sure everyone on board is familiar with what’s going on.

Prior to the tournament and each night during, a good idea is to look through the prize pool and decide where your best chance of winning prizes may lie. If you’re out of the running in tagging section perhaps targeting another section such as heaviest fish maybe the way to go. Always be aware of minor sections, as it’s not uncommon for prize winning fish to cut up and not weighed in…sometimes an expensive mistake!

I know the saying “it’s better to be lucky than good”, but I hate wandering around the ocean aimlessly, especially during tournaments. I like to have a plan that everyone is familiar with, having fun but being competitive. Your game plan may not always work, as there can only be one winner obviously, but you’ll be more competitive than wandering around hoping for the best.

Competing in tournaments and the atmosphere that they provide can be a lot of fun, especially when everyone can let their hair down a little at the end of it all and tell a few lies and hard luck stories. I think it’s great to get major sponsors and support involved in our industry, as sometimes I wonder which way it is all heading. Committees and sponsors put a lot into tournament organisation; in my opinion tournaments need to be supported through participating in a competitive and sportsmanlike manner…. making the tournament the best it can be.

As long as everyone is there for the right reasons, dishonesty should never be an issue. There’s nothing wrong with being competitive as long as you’re a good sport with it.

No doubt a lot of what has been written here is nothing new to many of you, but being well prepared, good teamwork and having attention to detail will hopefully aid in making some boats more competitive during a few of the upcoming summer tournaments…Good luck!