How Did They Do It?

How five skippers pulled off major tourney wins

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What does it take to win a fishing tournament? Perhaps a better question is, what doesn’t it take? The dirty little secret about tournament fishing is that winning requires a lot of everything. While intense preparation usually figures as a major component of any successful team, that doesn’t preclude plain dumb luck as accounting for a winner’s check. Similarly, playing it safe on the water is often the key to success — but then again, the risk-taker is sometimes the one who prevails in the end. And that’s the beauty of tournament fishing: You never know what lies in wait. Here are a few thoughts from some recent winners of big events and their accounts of just how they did it.Debra Todd Photography
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2012 Silver Sailfish Derby
Synopsis: A timely cold front lights up Sailfish Alley off Southeast Florida and propels Get Lit to a record 36 releases on the first day and a winning 58 releases for the event. As told by: Capt. Quinton Dieterle 305-361-9740 Key Moment: Not long after lines in on the first day, I vividly remember being among a crowd of boats fighting for cruising pods of sailfish. I thought, "Just stay calm and wait for the next wave." That was the best move of the tournament. We somehow drifted north unnoticed, and while everyone else battled each other, we had the fish all to ourselves: pod after pod of sailfish! I remember fighting a triple and screaming to the anglers to hurry because 100 yards north was another pack of 10 fish. It was a great feeling when we roared back on the 36th fish, got the release and broke the tournament's all-time single-day record.
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2012 Silver Sailfish Derby
Goals/Game Plan: We wanted to make a strong defense of our 2011 title. Our crew was the same, but we were in a different boat: a 60-foot Spencer. We studied the contours and ledges, and listened to the locals, but we knew we needed some luck and hopefully a north wind. The fishing had been tough, but a cold front was forecast to push through with 15-knot north winds. Midcourse Corrections: We actually switched gears during our practice day. The wind was starting to blow from the north, and we instantly hooked up when we put lines in. I remember the crew looking up and smiling, sensing what was about to happen. We quit fishing and ran back to the dock. Most of our tackle was rigged for light winds and a slow bite; we knew that wasn't going to be the case. Out came the heavier leader and bigger hooks.Jason Arnold / jasonarnoldphoto.com
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2012 Silver Sailfish Derby
Mistakes: We all make mistakes, but on this occasion, everything went like a perfectly written script. I can't remember a mistake by anyone, and sometimes that's what it takes to win. Lessons: We were confident but concerned entering the event. Our victory the previous year was partly due to conditions that favored our team. We know the area, but not to the extent of the locals. Being from Miami, we like conditions that favor tailing fish and sight-fishing, not the spot-fishing off Palm Beach. But luck struck twice, and things worked out in our favor.Leonard Bryant Photography
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2012 Bisbee’s Black & Blue Tournament
Synopsis: Team Frantic Pace wins by the skin of their teeth off Cabo, earning $2.396 million, the second-largest single payout in Bisbee's tournament history. As Told By: Capt. Josh Temple Key Moment: When we realized the snap swivel had opened and straightened on what would be the tournament-winning 465-pound blue marlin, victory seemed impossible. Every bump of the throttle, jump of the fish or turn of the reel spelled near disaster. We fought that marlin for 45 minutes with a completely straightened swivel, knowing that the next time the leader came near the boat, I would have to take wraps below the swivel-leader connection and not let go. That marlin never turned on its side, and was still straight up and down and very green when it came to the boat. Herk (Capt. Hercules Marsella) backed down hard, I took my wraps, the leader popped off the swivel, and I held on for dear life, as Tony Berkowitz reached over with the flying gaff and made a perfect shot. I still had the leader wrapped in my hand when I sank the second gaff. When we finally closed the transom door, we pretty much knew it was going to take an act of God to derail our momentum. Goals/Game Plan: I secretly hoped we'd win, but I don't think any of us seriously considered it was a realistic possibility. We were the dark horse, fishing on a 40-year-old, live-aboard boat with mismatched tackle, an injured crew and first-time saltwater anglers as clients, few of whom spoke any English. Our friends called it a Cinderella story, and I'd have to agree with them.
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2012 Bisbee’s Black & Blue Tournament
Midcourse Corrections: The fishing was very, very slow, and after a fruitless first day, we more or less just went with a gut feeling to move to an area where we had hooked a qualifying fish during a previous event in Cabo. Berkowitz made the call to head to a more specific location within this region for the afternoon tide change, and since our live-bait system wasn't functioning, we stuck with the lure program. It worked. Mistakes: We made three major mistakes. Before the event, we had purchased 80-pound line instead of the 130-pound that tournament rules allowed. Here we were, fishing for well over $2 million, and we handicapped ourselves with line 50 pounds lighter than what we could have legally used. Next, our tuna tubes and live-bait systems were nearly inoperable. So always make sure that your live-bait systems are operating properly. Finally, never ever use a snap swivel to connect the mainline to the leader. Always use a ball-bearing swivel, and connect the leader to the mainline with crimps. We used snap swivels and short, six-foot traces with wind-on leaders. I knew better and should have insisted on changing this system. Lessons: I could write a few chapters on what I personally learned from this experience, but from a team perspective, I think we would all agree that in a situation like this — based on all of the mistakes and long-shot scenarios we dealt with — in the end, there's something to be said about karma and the fact that it's often far better to be lucky than good. We just got really, really lucky.Capt. Josh Temple
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2012 HT Redfish Series
** Synopsis:** Perseverance and a well-strategized game plan push Eschete/Jordan to their second consecutive, come‑from‑behind Team of the Year victory in Louisiana. As Told By: Capt. Dwayne Eschete Key Moment: Similar to the previous season, we found ourselves entering the final tournament of the year in second place for Team of the Year honors. We trailed one of the best teams on tour, Eddie Adams and Sean O'Connell, and we were fishing their home waters around Slidell, Louisiana — where they had already won a tournament earlier in the year. During all three days, we had fish that were right on the slot line, but we were very careful not to go over the slot — it led to us winning a second-straight Academy Sports HT Series Team of the Year title.Courtesy HT Redfish Series
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2012 HT Redfish Series
Goals/Game Plan: Like all the other anglers, my partner, Clark Jordan, and I set a goal of winning every tournament we fish. Of course, that likely won't happen, but it's good to aim high. There were numerous decisions we made throughout the year on the water, but it started by looking at the schedule and deciding which tournaments we felt we actually had a legitimate shot of winning. Midcourse Corrections: We are sight-fishermen at heart, but at times, the trail makes stops in places where sight-fishing is not the way to go. We had to step up our game and turn to fishing deepwater patterns. It's important to be proficient in everything from pitching Gulp! baits to blind-casting to dead-sticking to fishing under a cork. In a redfish tournament series, you're tested in many ways.Courtesy HT Redfish Series
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2012 HT Redfish Series
Mistakes: A fish died on us in one of the earlier events of the year. When a redfish dies, you're penalized a half-pound, which is usually significant. Also, when a redfish dies, it generally stiffens and sometimes lengthens. If a fish stretches over the slot, you're disqualified and out of the race for Team of the Year. So, suffice it to say, we realized that we needed to be more careful in taking care of our fish. Lessons: Simple: Don't ever give up hope when fishing tournaments — anything and everything is possible.Jason Arnold / jasonarnoldphoto.com
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2012 Bermuda Big Game Classic
Synopsis: A wise blue marlin release on the final day earns Fa-La-Me and its new crew a big victory in Bermuda. As Told By: Capt. Rob Moore Key Moment: On the last day of the tournament, a big blue marlin ate our bridge teaser. It was obviously a big fish, but it was a questionable fish. We were in the running to win the event, but if we killed the fish and it didn't make the 500-pound minimum weight, we would've lost everything. We ended up letting it go. We simply couldn't afford to take the risk. Luckily, our decision paid off, and we amassed enough points to win.
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2012 Bermuda Big Game Classic
Goals/Game Plan: We had a brand-new boat and new crew. Jon Meade and twin brothers Taylor and Tyler Beckford were in the cockpit. Tyler had never fished with us, so it was really three guys who'd never worked together. But we gelled quickly and actually won the Bahamas Billfish circuit leading into Bermuda. Everything just fell into place. All I had to do was get to know the boat at blue marlin speed. The crew was it — they really took the ball and ran with it. Midcourse Corrections: There was a lot of grass in the water, so we adjusted our rigging, which really helped. We switched from J-hooks on our lures to tuna-style Mustad 9162 hooks. They ran much cleaner, and we went from catching zero fish on day one to two blue marlin releases and two white marlin releases on the second day. Of course, the winning fish ate the bridge teaser, so go figure! Sometimes luck never hurts, I guess.Courtesy Frank Rodriguez
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2012 Bermuda Big Game Classic
Mistakes: When you win, it's tough to say you'd change anything, but when you lose you'd like to have changed everything! I really don't know what we would've done differently. Maybe we could've adapted to dealing with the grass a little sooner. Lessons: The biggest thing in Bermuda — and probably anywhere — is to pay attention to the locals. I always knew where (Allen) DeSilva and (Alan) Card were. These guys are amazing. They'd be fishing an area, then they'd suddenly leave, and you'd have to know where they went. I learned this when I first fished here in 2008, and it really helped me this year.Courtesy Frank Rodriguez
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2012 SKA Tour Championship
Synopsis: Rigorous prefishing and 20 years of patience pay off for this veteran kingfisherman off Louisiana with Tour Championship and Team of the Year honors in come‑from‑behind fashion. As Told By: Capt. Neal Foster Key Moment: We pulled off-plane the second day, lines went out and bam! We caught a fish in the 40s. I said to myself, "That's a good start." But when several boats came in, I lost that confident feeling, so we moved. We looked for spots we had prefished, with no boats around, and we found a good spot. We caught a couple of small fish then, wham, another in the mid- to upper-40s. We pushed to the next spot and, again, caught a few small fish. Then came the big one of the day. When we laid it in the bag, the feeling was overwhelming. We had to have been near 100 pounds. Turned out, our small fish weighed just over 48 pounds, and the big fish checked in at 52.99.Courtesy SKA
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2012 SKA Tour Championship
Goals/Game Plan: This year, I decided that instead of just taking off work, catching bait and going where the fish should be, I would prefish more, from Florida to west of Louisiana. That way, I'd have as much information as I could gather. I took notes on everything, and my teammates prefished with me whenever they could as well. Midcourse Corrections: At the captain's meeting, we learned that we could weigh-in our two fish either one per day or two in the same day. We caught a lot the first day, but they were small, and as we got close to the docks, I learned that not many big fish had come from that particular area. So I had a decision to make: weigh-in or wait. I was confident about our chances the following day. So we waited.Courtesy SKA
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2012 SKA Tour Championship
Mistakes: That night before the final day is always tough — it's a no-sleep situation, because ultimately everything rests on your shoulders. If you make the wrong decision, you feel like you let everyone down, from your team to your sponsors. That happens a lot. But this time, there were no mistakes. It was our time. Lessons: I've been doing this a long time — 20 years — and I've never seen a professional kingfish boat pull up to the dock with only one person on it. It's always a team effort.Pat Ford
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Courtesy HT Redfish Series
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Courtesy Bermuda Big Game Classic
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Leonard Bryant Photography
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Capt. Josh Temple