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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.

Moore believes that the angler handling the rod should be proficient in the nuances of fighting billfish with light tackle. The angler has to pay attention to how the fish is   fighting and what it may do. He has to be ready when the captain begins to back the boat down or drops back into idle."When you have a good, attentive, competent angler in the cockpit, it's a great technique," he says.

Stansel always keeps one or two 50-pound-class outfits rigged with pitch baits in the event that a larger blue marlin shows up in the spread. If a big blue comes sniffing around, then a team member whips the bait in front of it and tries to coax the fish into eating.

The caveat to fishing lighter tackle for smaller bills is that sometimes a fish may be more than Stansel or the rest of the team bargained for.

"In one tournament, we hooked a big marlin that would have been the winning fish, easily 500 to 600 pounds," he recounts. "We backed down on it for 13 miles and fought it from 8 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., when it finally broke off. He was too big for the tackle we had."

The Big Tease
Chasing after release points also means that teams have to draw more fish to their boats to maximize the number of potential strikes during the course of a fishing day. Stansel achieves this by putting as much meat in the water at one time as possible.

"We're trolling a lot of bait," he says. "We'll have some big teasers, mullet dredges or squid dredges behind the boat" to cause "lots of ruckus in the water. Then we drop a small ballyhoo or a small Black Bart in the middle of the spread."

The big, noisy teasers serve a dual role: First, the "ruckus" attracts a billfish's attention and brings it into striking range. Second, the relative chaos of the situation combined with the bait and teasers in the water also excite a fish to the point of near apoplexy. When it spots the smaller bait or lure, it zaps it aggressively and increases the likelihood of a hookup.

"Those fish will get so angry that they'll hit anything they can zero in on," adds Benitez. "The smaller bait is an easy target because it's a familiar forage size to a smaller billfish."

Multiple hookups also become a strong possibility because smaller billfish are less prone to the solitary lifestyle of their larger brethren. Sailfish especially tend to forage in loosely knit packs. It isn't uncommon to have more than one sail crash the spread, says Benitez. The frenzy of an outraged billfish striking a trolled 'hoo or lure could cause a chain reaction among its buddies. In a tournament, a double or triple hookup could lead to a lot of points in a very short time.

Small ball sometimes leads to a very big inning.