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How to Prepare for Sportfishing

Lay the Groundwork

Prepare like a pro and make your time on the water more productive.

Sportfishing boats

If you’ve ever been envious counting flags flying from outriggers, or elbowing through the crowd to get a view of the weigh-in scale wondering how these guys do it, here is a clue. It’s all about preparation and practice. While you may lack the skills of the guys that fish all the time, you can improve your odds when fishing for fun or competing in an occasional tournament by following their footsteps to success. 

Whether fishing offshore or working inshore lumps and gullies, the first key to successful fishing is to be able to think about fishing while you’re actually doing it. That means not thinking about the boat, because you’ve already dealt with all that stuff. So before you even think about leaving the dock, give yourself ample time for a preflight check of the engines and fluid levels, bilge pumps, batteries, ground tackle, and safety gear. Stock a supply of vital spare parts like fuel filters, belts, and water-pump impellers. Test each electronics unit. If you expect to run or fish in the dark, make sure all your nav lights work. Remember, a boat drift fishing at night is considered under way and is required to display its red and green sidelights, and white mast and stern lights.

Don’t overlook the compass light. Mine blew out one hour into a night trip once, but I was able to wedge a cyalume chemical light stick under the compass hood, which worked perfectly and provided ample illumination till dawn when we reached the fishing grounds 93 miles offshore. As a rule aboard my boat each person carries a similar light in their pocket, along with a whistle.  

The same attention to detail goes for every rod and reel you’ll use. Don’t wait to think about whether a line is chafed or the knots have been inspected as the line goes peeling off the reel, no doubt pulled by a trophy fish. Go over every outfit carefully, in advance. Test and set the drags, inspect the guides, the line, and leaders. Sharpen hooks and fill up on weights, swivels, and other hardware. It is much easier and more effective to do these chores at the dock.

The same is true for rigging baits. And be sure to rig plenty. One school of mahi-mahi or even a single bull can sweep your lines clean in 60 seconds or less. Unless you have more baits to throw back in you are going to waste valuable time. Have spare rods ready and one or two set up for pitch baits to increase your chances. 

Tournament crews practice fish a few days before an event begins. It provides scouting time and lets you test techniques, hone teamwork, locate potentially productive water, and determine your strategy for the upcoming tournament. Lacking this opportunity, or other local knowledge, invest in a subscription to a reputable service that provides up-to-date information on offshore conditions including fishing reports, water temperature, and current movement. The mobile deep-water structure created by currents pushing up against each other and creating eddies, rips, and turbulence, cause bait to collect and attracts larger predators. Finding these areas and working them thoroughly is crucial to success—one hour in the hot spot can make all the difference. It is not enough to simply put in your time; you have to be in the right place at the right time and get the job done. 

You want to talk preparation? Try fishing a tournament where major prize money is on the line. Attending the captain’s meeting is imperative. This is where rules are discussed and changes are made public. Do not assume anything. Know about requirements for reporting fish and when you need to be back. Some tournament rules may state you only have to make the inlet, while a different event could require you to be at the dock. Ask questions—speak now or forever hold your peace. 

I once fished a tournament where a boat had a late hookup and tore up the river at full speed, throwing a tremendous wake through a few no-wake zones to reach the scales before the deadline. The boat had the biggest fish and won the tournament. But her skipper also earned multiple citations from the Coast Guard for recklessness, and incurred the wrath of numerous boat owners whose vessels were rocked and damaged from the winning boat’s wake. I guess there are some issues advance preparation can’t solve.

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.