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Eyes On the Prize:

Tournament Tuna Fishing

Meltonn Leadin

    July will be here before you know it, and though it’s still far off, you’re thinking you’ll step into the fire that is big game tournament fishing in the Northeast. Anytime you and your buddies hit the edge, you seem to catch fish, so why not give it a shot, right? Or maybe you are convinced that tournaments are pure luck; as long as you are fishing, your chances are just as good as anyone else, right?
    To put it simply, it’s not that easy.
    Every July and August, the best fishing teams on the East Coast assemble in the Northeast to duke it out for millions of dollars in prize money awarded to the boats that bring back the largest catch. Some spend their time targeting marlin while others focus on the tuna categories, but one thing is certain, teams that have perfected their secret sauce are seen taking home the big checks consistently. I will touch upon a few of the ingredients you must master to become a consistent tournament winner in the Northeast. Naturally, a lot must be learned during the transition from effective “fun” fishing team to a productive tournament fishing team through simply fishing some tournaments. Fishing hours, tackle restrictions, and boundary limits are just a few of the restrictions imposed on teams to level the playing field during some of these high-dollar tournaments.
    So, how do you make the transition from fun fishing to tournament fishing? I along with the rest of the Jersey Nutz sportfishing team, has had many years of practice making the transition from charter mode to tournament mode and 2017 proved to be one of the best yet. The team captured more than $200,000 in winnings, with the team taking home a 1st, 2nd and 3rd combined in two of the three tournaments fished. We have developed our own version of the secret sauce based around a few topics. Most of the information provided here is geared toward tournament tuna fishing opposed to marlin, but some information does overlap.

    The first thing you must realize when you decide to fish these tournaments is that you are fishing against the best in the business. Some teams are charter vessels running to the canyons four to five times a week (like us), some are rich guys with open checkbooks, and some are a group of friends who fish together weekly. What I’m getting at is the fact that you need to prepare for an intense competition and be smart about how you approach your fish days.
    At the start of every tournament, we sit down and evaluate all the information we have. Reports from friends, temperature charts, fish logs etc. will all be used to evaluate where we are going to fish. Remember, it is tournament fishing, not fun fishing. In most tournaments the big money goes to the single big fish so if you have the option to go to a bite that has been producing five to eight 40-pound yellowfin a day or a bite that has produced one or two 70-pound yellowfin a day, you are most likely better off going to the slower bite in hopes of weighing the big fish. Weighing a bunch of 40-pound fish might make you feel better, but 99 percent of the time it is not going to win you any money. You will notice the boats that consistently take home paychecks do not usually weigh a lot of fish, but when they do hit the scales they are weighing the tournament winners.
    The name of the game in tuna fishing the last 8 years or so has been bringing bigeyes to the scale, so if you’re looking to enter the game, be prepared to spend most of your time trolling in circles waiting for that one bite that just might win you some big money.


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