Top 10 Tournament Fishing Tips

Don't be a loser, follow these tips to land in the winner's circle.
Charlie Levine
Tournaments are a great way to meet fellow anglers and take part in some fun competition. If you win, you can also pocket some serious cash or at least cover your expenses. The difference between the winning teams and the losers usually falls in the details.
KNOW THE RULES: Every tournament is a little different when it comes to the rules. Many billfish tournaments follow the IGFA Int'l Angling Rules while others add in fight times, require a certain pound-test line or other items. Read the rules and go to the captain's meeting. A few years ago, a team lost out on a high six-figure payday because one of the anglers forgot to get a local fishing license, which was required in the rules. Don't be that team...
FRESH LINE: Spool up all of your tournament reels with a fresh top shot of line. You don't want to miss a potential winning fish because of old line that was nicked, cloudy or degraded by sunlight. Don't take the chance, get some fresh line.
GET YOUR RIGGING DONE: Take advantage of all of your time at the dock to get your bait rigging done. Many crews pull three-arm dredges loaded with split-tail mullet. That means you'll need at least 200 or so mullet (maybe more!) each day ready to go on pin rigs for two full dredges and plenty of spares.
NEW LURE LEADERS: If you plan on pulling lures, swap out all of your used leaders and have plenty of extra hook-sets and leader material on hand if you need to re-rig anything. Many tournaments will measure out your leaders if you catch a winning fish so make sure the leader lengths are in line with the rules.
CATCH EM QUICK: You always want to try and catch a double or triple if possible. After you hook one fish, leave the lines out for a bit and make a wide circle to see if there are more fish to catch. But once it's time to reel in the fish, don't be afraid to chase it down and get the release as fast as possible. You can't catch fish unless you have baits in the water...
MAKE BAIT: Do all of your bait catching before the tournament and cure your baits if possible. Bait pens are a great way to cure baits, but they can also be susceptible to changes in water salinity and temperature fluctuations that might kill off some of the bait. So, catch as much live bait as possible and if you have to buy them, put in a live bait order well ahead of time.
CARE FOR YOUR CATCH: When you boat a fish, make sure you have plenty of ice on board, as well as cooler space to ice the catch down and secure it as quickly as possible. A big fish can lose several critical pounds if left on deck. The fish will dry out in the sun. Large tuna bags work great if you don't have much cooler space in the boat.
BOAT MAINTENANCE: Unfortunately, breakdowns will happen. Due your best to eliminate the possibility of an engine failure by going through all of your systems before the tournament. Change fluids, check filters, top off on fuel and complete all of your routine maintenance well before lines in to find any potential problems ahead of time.
DON'T PARTY TOO HARD: Part of the tournament experience is enjoying a couple of drinks at the dock and having fun, but don't go too hard. Too many crews missed out on a payday because they were sleeping one off when they should've been fishing. It's better to save the partying till the end of the event so you can celebrate a victory!
DO YOUR HOMEWORK: Spend time researching satellite imagery and sea surface temperatures before the day's fishing. Pinpoint any potential good-looking breaks and convergence zones and target those areas first. Find ideal conditions over structure for your best chance at a tight line.

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