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Step Up To the Podium

Join The Big Game Tournament Scene

Stewart Leadin

    I have always loved competition. When I was kid in school I played baseball and golf and I always enjoyed the big games and tournaments. The added pressure that these tournaments bring can be very exciting. In the big game fishing world every bite is exciting, but when that bite could be worth a year’s salary or six figures or even more, then that can get the juices flowing. The thrill of victory is very sweet but the agony of defeat can be awful! I have had some success in the offshore big game tournament scene but I have also watched $50,000 break off and swim away! It’s not for everyone but with the right crew and the right attitude you can really have some fun.
    The offshore tournament scene in the Northeast starts in June and can run through September and October. A few of these are invitational only, but most of them open to anyone who wishes to step up and pay the entrance fees. The invitational format is used to keep a set number of boats and keep a control on the total number of participants. Many of these tournaments are limited by slips in the host marinas and some of them just want to keep it to a manageable amount of boats. With the invitational format, if you don’t behave you won’t get invited back next year. Once you have selected a tournament and signed up, you should immediately arrange for your dockage. One of the limits in offshore tournaments is the available dockage. Most tournaments require that you leave from the same port, with a few exceptions. This is done to keep everyone on a level playing field. Usually the entrance fees will be your lowest expense; fuel, bait, ice, dockage, food, and the calcuttas can exceed that cost by three times or more. Do not kid yourself: offshore tournaments are not a cheap endeavor. And once you sign up, you are committed and have to fish whatever weather comes your way.

    There are several formats to offshore tournaments. One of the keys in being successful is understanding the different strategies that each format presents. Developing a plan that will give you the best percentage to put you in the money is key. Many tournaments combine these formats and give you and your team multiple ways to win or place in a category. But remember the fish gods play the biggest role in determining who will be the winner. Some days the best prepared crews with the most perfect baits fishing the best waters will still not get the bite. And sometimes you are just in the right place at the right time and that winning fish comes up and puts you in the money.
    Remember, anyone can get the lucky bite, but you still got to put him in the boat! That is what separates the winners from the losers. At the end of the day it is still just fishing.

    Big-Fish Tournaments
    This type of fishing tournament awards the points to the biggest fish caught and landed. Usually these fish are killed and weighed in on a tournament certified scale. Most of the time these types of tournaments target a specific species of fish. In recent years there have been some movement toward measuring the fish alive and videotaping the catch, measure and release. But this is not a perfect system, and when fish are close in length the video can be open to interpretation from the judges. This format is my least favorite as the “lucky bite" factor can be very high. Just one big fish can win it all.

    Total Number of Fish
    This format awards points based on each fish caught and released. This is how most sailfish tournaments are run. Many of these have you call in your hook-ups and releases to a tournament boat. This format rewards the boat that catches the most fish throughout the tournament. This can be used for one specific species or spread to other fish. I like this format a lot as the winning boat clearly had the best performance by catching the most fish instead of just landing one fish. The skill in this format is a step above at this level, in my opinion, and is a better way to measure a team’s true abilities and performance over just catching one big fish.


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