Preparing for Tournament Time

KMT Tournament Journals


April showers bring May flowers… and with it, king mackerel tournament preparation! As the seasons change, Spring Fever becomes an epidemic. For most fishermen on our pristine coast, a little Saltwater Therapy is the most customary cure.

Daylight savings time has arrived, and as water temperatures rise, the enthusiasm that drives so many dedicated king mackerel tournament teams has returned.

Last month we discussed some of the reasons that king mackerel fishing teams subject themselves to the rigors and frustrations of tournament fishing. The unquenchable human desire to tame a wild creature in an uncontrollable natural resource seems to be the basis for most of the time and money we spend on the water.

In order for tournament teams to gain an advantage while chasing these fantastic creatures, much of the past few months was spent disassembling, cleaning and servicing our tournament equipment, tying rigs, sharpening gaffs, fixing broken boat components, discussing strategy for the upcoming season, and chatting on fishing websites. Basically, we got pretty darned bored!

Actually, it was a valuable time for our team. After a year of fishing hard and taking a beating in some of the inclement weather that we have to fish, it is a good time for reflection, preparation, and recuperation.

Since most tournament king mackerel teams "slow troll" with live bait, having a properly prepared "rig" is imperative. These rigs are generally made out of some type of wire leader material (Terminator Titanium, single strand, or stranded); Gamakatsu or VMC treble and / or live bait hooks, and a small SPRO barrel swivel. The sizes of the materials that make up rigs are left to the preference of the individual team members. Most tournament teams manufacture their own rigs; however, there are some pre-fabricated rigs on the market that are available and can save you quite a bit of time.

There are a couple of schools of thought about tying live bait rigs. Some teams wait until they catch their bait the morning of the tournament, while other teams tie rigs in advance. On the coast of North Carolina, the most plentiful and easy to find bait is menhaden; aka pogy or bunker. These popular, oily, golden shad generally travel in schools of fish similar in size. They range from "peanut" size, about three inches, up to the sought after "turbo," which is an eight to 12 inch bait. These flashy, smelly critters are like gold to king mackerel fishermen.

Back to tying rigs. The advantage of manufacturing rigs after catching bait is that the stinger hook can be made to the exact length needed for the bait caught that day. After placing the "nose hook" through the bait's nostril area, one of the hooks on the stinger treble is either placed in the pogy's skin just forward of the tail or left free to "swing." The other thought process is to have several different size rigs already tied. Therefore, once a team catches bait, it can immediately begin fishing after arriving at the targeted location of our often times obscure friend.

In addition to rig tying, our time is spent servicing equipment. We most often use some brand of high speed (5.0:1 and higher retrieve ratio) conventional reel with an outgoing alarm (clicker) that allows line to be pulled off freely by a speedy king. The importance of the fast retrieve is in case the fish turns and comes back to the boat as quickly as it left. These fish are fought with only about three to five pounds of drag; therefore, torque is not as important as speed when slow trolling.

During a tournament, the fish are allowed to run as much line off the reel as they want so that they become tired and more readily suicidal. In theory, this is supposed to lead to the ultimate goal of "putting a fish in the box" to take to the scale. However, sometimes theory just does not hold true in fishing. In this case, you hope that the maintenance you performed during the winter months by replacing drag washers, cleaning out any salt deposits, and applying new grease to the gears will be good enough to withstand a longer fight than anticipated.

Finally, a tournament team's boat often times may need some attention that it does not get during tournament season. In 2006, the Liquid Fire Fishing Team and I fished 19 tournaments in a six-month period. I am fortunate that we have a 10-member team, and each person contributes to preparation during the week. However, many teams do not share this luxury, and it is difficult to pay attention to every loose screw or scratch that a boat may suffer. So the winter months can be used to take the boat to its favorite maintenance and repair facility for a facelift. Many tournament anglers are capable, and do their own maintenance and repairs. The assurance that a team's equipment is in top notch condition is critical to fishing with confidence.

So as tournament season begins, realize that many hours during the "off season" were spent in preparation for an exciting opportunity to have the privilege of chasing the elusive "smoker" king mackerel. Until next time…


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