Maximising you fishing time - Tournament or not

Leroy Tirant
Tournament fishing can sound intimidating to the average angler, especially those who wish to enter the competition arena. However, when you witness the line up of boats at the start of an event it does become inspiring. To see the latest fishing rigs, gleaming paint jobs and major horsepower being run by tournament fishos-with household names and any budding angler will want to join their ranks.

Tournament angling for bream, bass, barra and even flathead has taken on huge proportions over Australia. There are huge prize pools, not to mention the fame for the lucky few who win these events. And then there is often lucrative sponsorship deals.
Any angler who wishes to test their skills against their peers can enter the fray. There are many rules of course, and conditions of entry that must be obeyed, but these are there to protect both the fishing resource and make it safe and fair for the angler.
ABT Australia are an organisation that took up the challenge some years ago starting bass and bream tournaments. They have developed tournaments to a very high level that has also taken fishing techniques to a new level.
Tournament fishing has forced tackle companies to expand their substantial range of merchandise to meet the growing demand of specialist equipment demanded by these modern day anglers.
This equipment, even in average hands, when fished correctly, can open up a new window of opportunity for anglers looking for new and productive ways to catch fish.
Whilst "soft plastics" are the rage hard-bodied lures are still used, and favoured by some. However there has been a revolution in the use of soft plastics and it is these that now win almost all tournaments.
Equipment, as always, varies, mostly in small ways. It is purchased depending on personal choice, style of fishing and budget.

For tournament bream fishing, such as we are about to see in Tasmania with an ABT Tournament, bream are the target. Rods between 6'6" and 7'2" with a fast taper are preferred-most common is 7'. These should be good quality and be able to handle 2-3kg braid that is pretty much the standard fare with competition anglers. A shorter rod is often called for around and under structure where the big bream often lurk. Long rods are most popular for fishing open water, and a longer rod helps when casting light jig heads long distance.
Rods to consider come from the premium makers such as Shimano, G Loomis, Daiwa, Innovator, Berkley and Okuma who all manufacture specialist rods top suit the soft plastic market.
And with the tournament market growing specialist rod builder, Ian Miller also keeps up with it. Not only does he fish the comps, he also designs the rods for Shimano and this keeps them at the top of the tree. If you want the best go to and have a look.
A relatively new player to emerge is Shakespeare/Pflueger who have just started to bring their Catera and Trion range of soft plastics rods in from USA.
Is one outfit enough though? Of course not, and there are a few reasons. A big tangle and you will be out of action. A bust off when there is a "hot bite" on will put you out of action temporarily, but if you have a rigged second rod you can continue without missing a cast. Rig one rod with a heavy jig and the other lighter for specific areas you will cover. The idea is to maximise your fishing time and to have your lures in the water as long as possible. The water is the only place you will catch fish.

Reels for tournament fishing vary more than rods. You can catch fish for sure on cheap reels, but like most things, if you spend more you get more. Fortunately a good reel is much cheaper now that at any time in history. All major tackle stores will be able to show you some excellent reels from less than $100. Top end reels run to about $1200. An expensive reel will feel silky smooth and will have a superior drag. This is not so important when using monofilament which stretches up to 25%.
This stretch puts less stress on the drag, but when gel-spun braid is used there is no stretch and the drag has to do all the work. If it isn't silky smooth you may well break a large percentage of fish off. Reel size range is generally from 1000 to 2500 which is how most reels are marked. A typical day at a tournament will see many hundreds of casts made and inferior reels will soon have drags, bail arms, bearings and handle wearing or failing-always at the worst possible moment. Buy the best you can afford the first time. You will never be disappointed at having good gear. A top of the range reel doesn't cost much more than an average week's wage and it will last many years.

Braid, gelspun or some sort of superline is the accepted norm when fishing tournaments with soft plastics. Bite detection and working your lure with finesse is very important and only non-stretch lines can offer this option. Bream can be exceptionally wary and detecting the bite (or nibble) is essential. With these non stretch lines anything that happens to the lure will be instantly transmitted to the rod and the angler. A split second saved in reacting could be the difference between hooking a fish or the fish spitting out the lure and you failing to score. A mono leader, usually of 6-10 lb fluorocarbon material is normally used of around half a rod length. Fluorocarbon is virtually invisible and is the ideal final connection. A heavy leader will be used around oyster leases and heavy snags. Some anglers are quite happy and have had good success with leaders of Maxima Ultragreen or other quality line.
This is not to say good quality mono is no good, it is, and especially so when using ultra finesse methods on super shy bream in gin clear, shallow water.

As mentioned earlier almost every competition is won using soft plastic lures. Some anglers will still use hard body lures from time to time, and some will use a fly, but the soft plastic users outnumber all other by 20 to 1 or even more.
There are a huge selection of soft plastics on the market today and nearly everything in the one to three inch range will catch bream when used with the appropriate weight jighead. Sometimes no weight is best. You can choose between minnows, prawns, grubs, wiggle tails and others. Don't let any angler tell you one lure catches better than any other either as you never know what they will take. Perhaps some are better, and maybe some colours work better on some days than others, but it is and will not always be the case.
Squidgies, Berkleys, Mojo, Storm, Ecogear, Manns, Firebaits and River 2 Sea are some of the major brands. I particularly like the Firebaits and River 2 Sea, but that is just a personal choice.

Keep your plastics in binders or tackle boxes, all separated in their own styles and colours as colours will bleed and different plastic will often mould together into a blob if you aren't careful. Some anglers favour a liberal sprinkling of salt. They claim this does two things; it draws out the scent and stops plastics sticking together. Ideally a soft tackle bag that takes several tackle boxes works well. This bag should also hold extra or spare reels, leader material, pre-rigged jig heads, scents, scissors, pliers and other odds and ends.
Some anglers also like a bum bag and at the start of the day load this from the main bag with their immediate and essential needs such as leader material, pliers, scissors, jig heads and their preferred plastics. This saves looking through the big bag and you won't have to move from your spot in the boat-everything is at directly at hand.

Boats you will see at some of these tournaments will blow you away. They are awesome. It is nice to have a flash boat, but hardly essential. The latest and greatest hull with 150 horsepower is great, but a 12" tinny with a 20 horsepower is all that is required to fish an ABT qualifier, and is at no disadvantage-especially in the smaller systems.
The most important thing is to have clear deck space and it is essential to have a live fish well. An electric motor is a huge advantage as well as this allows you to sneak into places without spooking fish. It also allows you to hold the boat in current or a breeze without anchoring and you can work a bank or snag moving quietly without firing up the main motor. There would not be a boat in a mainland tournament without an electric.

Live wells
Live wells, as mentioned earlier are a requirement in any ABT Tournament as fish can only be weighed in alive. They are then released alive back into the water from where they came. If your boat does not have one built in it is relatively easy and inexpensive to make a temporary arrangement. ABT does ask for them to be insulated, but it is probably less important in Tasmania. A live well can be as simple as a large plastic storage box and an aerator from a chandlery, marine or tackle store for $30. See more about live wells on page 36.
If you are entering a tournament, especially an ABT event you will need to ensure all safety equipment as required by Marine and Safety Tasmania and Fisheries is present and up to date. A lanyard to a motor cut-out switch is also essential for an ABT event. If your boat doesn't comply you don't fish.

The single most important part of an event is to know the rules - especially if there are some unique ones thrown in for a local event. This is often the case. For example there may be some speed limits imposed in certain areas. Break these and you could be disqualified. Organisers accept no excuse for ignorance of the rules.
 Obviously it pays to do your homework; fish the areas prior to the event and try and work out where fish will be holding - and of course what lure they seem to like.
Attend the briefing the night before the event and really listen to what's being said. If you are unsure of anything ask - and keep asking until you fully understand. All anglers are there for the same reason and with most you will find a good level of camaraderie. So if you see another angler who needs help, or maybe he is having trouble loading his boat or whatever, lend a hand. The favour will always be returned somehow. Some anglers will try the secret squirrel stuff, but you will invariably find they are miserable sods with few real friends at the end of the day.
Above all else enjoy your day, fish as hard as you want and you will get the rewards. It might not be a win in the event, but you will learn heaps and make some new friends.
Leroy Tirant.               

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