15 Ways to Improve Your Chances in Fishing Competitions
Day 4's 4th place snapper (left) and the overall winning snapper (right) from the Century Batteries Beach and Boat 2016 Fishing Competition.
For the sake of this article,we are talking your basic competition regarding the major NZ target species; snapper, John Dory, kahawai, trevally and kingfish. These species are on most prize lists in the area that the bulk of Auckland/Northland fisherman fish for. However, the same principles apply to a lot of other competitions.
Firstly, depending on the comp, you need to understand who you’re competing against. If it's a club comp, for example, you know you’re up against experienced anglers but you could also be competing with anglers who may (and I stress 'may') prefer calmer waters. If it's a big comp offering plenty of cash, you know you'll be up against all sorts. Hundreds if not thousands of anglers all with dollar signs in their eyes. Whatever the comp, you should hatch a plan that will put you in the top 20% of anglers that you think will be there.
The second thing to note is the entry form and rules. Read them and then reread them… then lastly, read them again. There's always something there to trip you up. It could be the old gem 'all kingfish must be over a meter' or the increasingly common ‘all fish weighed are kept for auction'. Most certainly, note cancellation clauses and time of the comp. Being back prior to the weigh in close time is simply mandatory. Don't be one of these anglers who blast the weighmaster because he won't weigh your fish. This could be because you were late or because you didn't look after your fish, e.g. being too cheap to fork out $10 for ice. You cocked up...own it.
Look down the prize list. What do you like the look of the most? Is it the big cash on the heaviest snapper, the big cash on the average weight or is it something else that grabs your attention. If you think you are going to win all the prizes, think again. Giving yourself the greatest chance of success means you have to target the prize you most like the look of. On some occasions on the day, your plan A comes together and you get your target early, allowing you to target another on the list.
There are two things that help your chances considerably. Good berley and fresh bait. Whilst lure fishing is productive for many anglers, catching big fish as a general rule means running big fresh baits. Unless you’re using lures to target 'average weight' sections which most certainly is valid, it is rare to see the majority of anglers in a comp fishing with lures. By all means take them as the 10% 'guns' will, but don't be surprised if they never get wet on comp day.
If you fish in the shallows, say less than 15 meters, depending on current, you may get away with surface berley only, but you'll also want to 'chunk' as well (throwing in small pieces of pilchard etc at 3-5min intervals). If you are doing this because the weather is dictating your day and any further out you deem uncomfortable, this is a great technique to put you ahead of the masses who could also be 'hiding'. Yes, they may have the berley bags out, but chunking is the real key to catching big fish... ask anyone who regularly targets big fish and they will all say the same. The berley bag stuff is useful in attracting attention, some wanted some unwanted e.g. Sharks, but the chunking brings the bigger fish out of their holes. If you’re fishing a deeper reef, berley will need to be deployed closer to the bottom to get the best use out of it. Shaking the berley bag every 15 mins becomes vital too as the holes in the bag can become clogged up. Depending on water temperature and current flow, the berley will need to be inspected at intervals too. This is especially important when you start fishing at 5am and decide to put bigger cuts in the berley bag due to slack tide being at 8am and you want to maximise the chances with the early morning bite. More berley will be used potentially but the rewards may just pay off. If fishing deep, berley becomes less important to many anglers. Take this into consideration.
A recipe for success - berley set and a bucket of bait chunks ready to flick out at intervals.
When berley is important, fresh bait is simply pivotal. The bait shops sell a wide variety of options of frozen bait. This stuff is fine for a basic fishing session but on comp day, you need to put yourself in that Top 20%. You are after a big fish. There's nothing a big fish like more than a struggling live-bait or a freshly killed one at least. Many comps have been won on a pilchard which would be a second choice but things like frozen squid, saurys, anchovies, trevally or any salted baits I'd leave at home or at best, use for chunking. Especially your old bait which you've taken out time and time again but haven't quite got rid of. Chunk it only...fresh is best for bait...full stop.
Fresh caught jack macs are just such versatile baits. They can be used to target kahawai, snapper, John Dory and kingfish very effectively. Whilst they are simple to catch when you have them below you, it's the having them below you that is not so simple. If you are overnighting before your competition starts at 5am in the morning, you have the added bonus of being able to target your fresh bait the night before. This saves time on comp day and gives you a better chance of catching them because they become more lively as the light in the sky fades into darkness. Having a live-bait tank is useful or you need to get wise and figure another way out for keeping your bait alive. There are options out there to explore. If you can't keep any alive, using them dead is fine too but you will not be targeting kahawai, John Dory or kingfish as effectively.
A live-bait tank is ideal for keeping your baits alive but for landbased anglers, a decent sized rockpool can work well too.
Kahawai is also an underrated fresh bait. When fresh, the flesh is quite firm meaning the skin can be cut away completely. Deploying the baits in this fashion means that as the fish bite it, it falls away easier than it does being fixed to the skin. This creates a ‘self-berleying’ bait which can really turn big snapper on. Fresh trevally can also be good. Used as live-bait for kings is probably where you'll get your best return, just make sure it is of legal size prior to deploying it.
Tackle choice - You've figured out where you’re going (make sure wind and tide are same same for best results), what you’re going to target and the bait you’re going to be using. Now it's the serious stuff. The connection between you and said fish. You are not out there to catch a 'feed' today, that's next week. Today, you are a bounty hunter. No place for knives at gun fights today...unless you are a very skilled angler that is ;). Do not skimp on quality tackle. You are after the strongest sharpest hooks you can afford and a balanced fishing system to catch this giant quarry. One thing ALL anglers have in common is the ability to blame the gear they use for the fish they lost...and by the way...it was always the biggest thing they ever had on their rod and reel! By all means, fish as light as you dare for your quarry, just know it's limitations. Fishing lighter gives a stealthier approach and therefore as a general rule, more hookups. Just remember though that when the monster hits, the fish will have things in its favour.
Here are just a few of the competition winning fish we have seen recently (all caught with Black Magic Tackle).
The rod and the reel are not so important but checks still need to be made. Check your mainline prior to comp day. Chop out the 'nicked' top 10 meters. Check the guides on your rod and make sure they aren't fraying your line. Check the drag on your reel and make sure it's in line with the breaking strain you are using. It should be set at 1/3 the breaking strain of your mainline. If you've got 'lumpy' drags, get it sorted prior to comp day!
Now, the day has come and all you caught were 6 fish and no monsters, so you decide not to bother going to weigh in...right?
Sadly, many including myself will tell you that on any given day, the fish simply don't bite. Everyone can struggle to catch and therefore small fish can and do take away big prizes. Sometimes you may even throw back a legal trevally because it was only just legal. You feel like the village idiot when you turn up to prize giving and find the $200 cash on the heaviest trevally isn't given out because no one weighed one! You can also feel stupid when you choose to weigh in three snapper you caught into an average weight section but keep those other three for dinner. Many comps these days put close attention on average weight, meaning big money as it is seen as a prize that can go to anyone. If that average weight closely resembles the three in your bin...well, just make sure you enjoy each of those $333.33 cent snappers! $1000 average weight snapper is not unheard of these days!
You never know for sure which fish is a prize winner, so join the queue and get yours weighed/measured.
When you’re fishing, the thing you don't know is how big does a fish need to be to win. If it's a 'heaviest fish' type of comp and the prizes up for grabs are small, there will be few who can be bothered to make the big effort. By all means, you can do it, just remember expenditure versus potential reward. On the other hand, if prizes are big and the field is big your best friend will likely be bad weather. This sorts the men out from the boys. Most of the field will dream of catching that moocher in close to the rocks…this of course can happen. The successful comp fisherman, however, will pound for hours putting him and his crew through some pain to position himself in a reasonably perilous area he has fished for years and simply knows holds big fish - the greatest reward comes from the greatest effort.
Money. It’s always a good idea to sort the money side of things out with your crew prior to comp day. Comps can be expensive. Tickets, tackle, bait and berley, ice, food and drink, and that's not even taking into account the weigh-in which can see another $30 each going west at the bar. If you’re the skipper, you must set the rules to make sure your crew is happy prior to the event. If a 'good mate' is not happy to go in on the expenses, find another one OR go with less numbers to give more comfort. Dividing up loot - it is also best done prior to comp day, i.e. an agreement on what should be done with any prizes the crew win. Catching big fish generally is a team effort. The skipper put you on the spot, you connected to the beast with a bait the buddy on the left caught for you and it was netted by the buddy on your right. No 'i' in team. Split the loot x ways and everybody will be happy!
Safety. As enjoyable as it is targeting big fish, the younger spritely guys are better suited to the pain that goes with the success. Just remember though, every now and then mummy nature at best can kick sand in your face and at worst, she will scoop you up and toss you on the rocks before you can say “I told you we ventured too far…”. Be sensible and know your limitations. Last time I checked, your wife's memory of you doesn't help pay the rent or mortgage.
Mother nature likes to throw surprises at us. Be prepared for the worst when you head out and trust your instincts. 'Safety first' .
Lastly and importantly, if you do manage to snare the big one(s), and end up taking away some great prizes, please thank the organisers and sponsors. Without these guys, the entire field that you managed to beat, wouldn't have had such a great time... respect.
Jeremy Troup is a rep for Black Magic Tackle and has had success at local cash/product comps in the Hauraki Gulf area but still loves to learn from the successes and failures of other angler’s. “John Dory fishing down pat” 😉
The Black Magic and Wasabi range of tackle and accessories is the result of years of research and development. With over 500 products, we have something for every angler whether you are “mad keen” or just like to get out when you can.