7 Top Tournament Tips

Five captains reveal what it takes to win fishing tournaments

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Winning a top fishing tournament comes down to luck. No captain I’ve ever discussed this with has told me otherwise. But a quick look at major-­tournament results shows that the same boats often place in the top 10 — whether in the Caribbean for blue marlin, Florida for sailfish, mid-Atlantic for stripes or the Southeast’s kingfish circuit. That can’t be simply luck. I’ve asked five captains consistently in that top tier what it takes to win...Capt. Vincent Daniello
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Be Overly Prepared Well in Advance

"You never want to say, I wish I had this or that," says Drew Moret (drewmoret@yahoo.com), the Islamorada flats guide featured in my Game Plan column last August. "If a particular fly is working well, you don't want to have two — you need to have 10." But Moret takes preparation one step further. “Get in the mind-set that you’re trying to catch as many fish as you can every time you leave the dock, whether you’re in a tournament or not,” he says. This makes preparation routine and also takes the edge off tournament jitters.Capt. Vincent Daniello
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Fish Together Often

"You need strong mates and good anglers, but above all, you need a leader in the cockpit," says Brett Wilson (www.hindsightsportfishing.com), a top Florida and Cape Cod tournament captain. "Someone has to help orchestrate everything. I can't do that from the tower." This doesn't require a hired gun at the helm or in the cockpit — ­dedicated crews who fish together often and hone techniques will out-fish professional fishermen who aren't in sync. "For instance, I can position the boat to change a long kite bait without first clearing that whole side, but that works only when the guys in the cockpit know how I do things," Wilson says.Capt. Vincent Daniello
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Understand How Weather Affects Fishing

Top crews know that sailfishing peaks after a front, while marlin bite best just ahead of a front, but they go a step beyond: They capitalize on that knowledge. “If I’m marlin fishing in high ­pressure and don’t expect aggressive bites, I might scale down and target smaller fish,” says Capt. Ron Schatman, who has been at the top of many blue marlin and wahoo tournaments over the past five decades. Conversely, “when the pressure is falling and the bite is more aggressive, my crew knows that fish are more likely to come back if they miss on the first bite.” “For kingfish, I want to be just ahead of that front to get the bite,” says Jamie Ralph (thinkblue24@hotmail.com), SKA Yamaha Pro Championship Angler of the Year in 2010 while at the helm, not behind a rod. “When I’m sailfishing in a strong north wind, I want to be at the southern edge of where the bite has been, because fish will be tailing to the south.”Capt. Vincent Daniello
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Think Outside the Box with Bait

“I always have something exotic in my spread,” Ralph says. “It could be tinker mackerel, speedos, maybe live ballyhoo. If I’m in a pack of boats not getting bites, I might put out just one sardine. Sometimes that something different turns on the kingfish, and we start getting bites on everything in our spread.”Capt. Vincent Daniello
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Know Tourney and IGFA Rules Inside-out

"If an angler's line is about to hit the covering board, you've got to know to let it hit," says Jamie Hough (www.flatspotcharters.com). "You have to do the right thing and be able to explain it, or you might not pass a polygraph when you win."Capt. Vincent Daniello
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Form Reliable Network Connections

“Help teams from out of state,” Hough says. “Share your local knowledge. It will come back to you when you’re on their home turf. When I drive 22 hours to Port Aransas in Texas, I want to know someone there willing to help me.” “Don’t be one of those guys who doesn’t answer the phone whenever he’s catching fish,” Ralph says. “Develop relationships with guys who call and say: ‘I haven’t heard you call in a fish lately. I’m in a pretty good bite up here.’” Hough adds: “Guys who treat every other boat like the enemy are never in the top 10.”Capt. Vincent Daniello
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Wait for the Bite

“If I’m in the right spot with the right weather, and I’m not getting a bite, I don’t give up on the spot,” says Schatman. “I’ll come back around the next tide change.” As well as weather, the tide might drive the bite, but it’s tough to predict. “Stick to your guns” Hough echoes, regarding fishing tide-­dependent inshore shallows. “If you know fish are going to bite in a spot but the tide isn’t quite right, stay there. I used to run all over the place and then come back to that spot when the tide was right, and find someone else sitting in it. The hardest thing for me to learn was patience.” “You can’t rely on finding a better bite. You’ve got to be ready to go head-to-head in one square mile of water and out-fish everybody around you,” Ralph says. “In the end, you need luck. One or two major tournament wins is a damn good year, but when it’s your turn, you’ve got to be ready to seize that opportunity.”Capt. Vincent Daniello