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April 08, 2009

Downsize for Tournament Success

When you can't hit the home run, it's time to practice the piscatorial version of small ball.

The really big money (sometimes thousands to tens of thousands of dollars) may be in the calcutta, but teams that are reluctant to buy in because of the risk of blanking out on both the tournament and the side bets still can collect some decent prize money.

Downsizing can also maximize the value of a marlin that meets a tournament's minimum-size requirements for weigh-in but wouldn't bring many points on the scales.

"At this year's [2008] Bahamas Billfish Championship, we released a blue marlin that would have possibly made the minimum length and would have been worth money," says Sport Fishing contributor and full-time mate Jon Meade. "But we wouldn't have gotten the same number of points if we had killed it.

"This fish was around 500 pounds. If we killed it, it was worth only a point per pound. Released, it was worth  600 points."

The 600 points Meade's team earned by releasing the blue helped them retain their standing and ultimately win the overall BBC victory.

Caribbean Origins
Stansel's downsizing strategy is a refined version of a technique he first encountered while living and fishing in Puerto Rico in the late 1980s. Local captains had adopted the strategy of light tackle and smaller bait during their charters to focus on more plentiful numbers of small billfish. They seldom used large baits in their spreads, and their success at putting fish in the boat reflected the technique's effectiveness.

"The hookup ratio was incredible," says Stansel. "They just didn't miss many strikes pulling small baits and lures."

Capt. Mike Benitez (787-723-2292, www.mikebenitezfishingpr.com) introduced Stansel to trolling for sailfish and small marlin with scaled-down plugs and baits. Benitez, who operates out of Club Nautico de San Juan, believes that the downsizing strategy is tailored for tournaments. His experience indicates that the "big-bait/big-fish" strategy does not always hold fast.