16 Tournament Hacks

Make the most of every bite with these tournament tips.
Charlie Levine
For the last two years, FishTrack has sponsored the Los Sueños Triple Crown, and we've gotten to ride along with some very seasoned crews from around the world and take note of how they prepare their tackle and gear to capitalize on every bite. These 16 tournament hacks represent some of the tweaks and tips we witnessed over the years.
The first thing you want to do before you ever rig a bait is check the ocean conditions. Look at FishTrack's satellite imagery and marine forecast before every tournament, noting any prevalent color breaks or warm water, as well as wind and swell.
When fishing a tournament, you have to bring everything you need with you. There are no tackle shops out on the rip. Make a checklist so you don't forget the essentials, from sun block to swivels to water to bait to fuel filters, you better have everything you need (or may need) before you leave the dock.
Rig baits ahead of time, especially when you're pulling dredges. In a busy tournament like the Los Suenos Triple Crown, the bite can turn on at any moment and the winner may be determined based on time of release. You need to make every second count and you don't want to miss precious fishing time rigging baits.
Tie a bunch of leaders ahead of time. Make sure they measure within tournament rules and store them in a spot that's easy to get to, but out of the way. This little stretch of monofilament suction-cupped to the house is a great spot to store extra, pre-rigged leaders.
Put fresh baits on your dredges each morning. It also helps to store the dredges under the cockpit and remove any tangles so you can drop them in as soon as the tournament director calls 'lines in.'
The crews that win catch-and-release billfish tournaments always try to convert every hook up into a double, triple or even a quad. When you get tight to one fish, start circling to see if you can pick up a couple more bites before you clear the lines.
The captain is constantly scanning the horizon, the spread and looking at his electronics, so he may miss a fish that pops up behind a teaser. Using a release clip on the bridge teaser acts like an alarm. If a fish takes a swipe at the squid chain and it pops out of the clip, you'll know it.
Each angler should hold his or her rod the entire day. Don't fish it out of the rod holder. Sailfish and white marlin can bite pretty subtly. Keep your thumb on the line and the reel in free spool (or with a very light drag) so you don't miss a bite.
On the Dealer's Choice, the mate kept a bag of bamboo skewers handy that he used to stiffen up his hook-sets on the fly by wrapping them on the leader with electrical tape.

Rig baits during any lull periods. In Costa Rica, it's not unheard of for crews to run through 60 or more baits in a single day. The water is warm and the baits will wash out if they don't get bit. There's also mahi and other non-targeted species around that can slice your baits. Store rigged baits in a tray inside a cooler or freezer so the ballyhoo do not sit directly on the ice.
Keep a pair of binoculars handy to spot any action. The toughest call is knowing when to make a move. Gather as much intel as you can before you decide to pick up and run.
If you have a tuna tower, use it. A spotter up in the tower will call out any fish that pop up behind a teaser, alerting the anglers. They can also notice baits that are not swimming properly and help the captain spot birds or floating logs that may hold fish.
Always, always, always watch for birds, porpoises and other indicators of possible bait concentrations.
More crews are using communication systems so they don't have to holler at one another. This keeps the captain in the loop so he can report anything he sees to the anglers, and he never has to miss a joke.
When it comes time to get the release, be aggressive, but stay safe. Having a mate stand with the angler is always a good policy.
Use your time as efficiently as possible. To stay close to the action, these baits were rigged on a cutting board attached to the inside of the bait well hatch on the transom.
Our last hack is really a no-brainer, but always top off the fuel so you have plenty on board first thing in the morning. The lines at the fuel docks can get ridiculous at tournaments. Call ahead and reserve a spot if you can.

Save time and fuel with the FishTrack app.