It's hard to deny the allure of fishing tournaments. While many anglers claim simply being out on the water and icing a few fillets -- or even playing catch and release -- is reward enough for their piscatorial pursuits, a little competition adds extra anticipation and excitement to just about any trip.
If you relish the thought of serious fishing competition, July and August are prime time. There are more than two-dozen contests scheduled for local waters and they range from snapper derbies, fluke and striper contests to big-money offshore tournaments for shark and tuna. Many are charitable events, so you can cast away while donating to a good cause.
But how do you tip the odds in your favor after you ante up? Local experts offer several suggestions.
"Most important," said John Mantione at J&J Sports in Patchogue, "is to make sure you are familiar with the waters you'll be working. That means pre-fishing an area or at least looking over charts to get a feel for where channel edges, bridges, reefs and other fish attracting structure is located."
Those who know the contest waters best, claims Mantione, start with a big advantage because they usually spend less time searching for fish on tourney day and more time with lines in the water.
"I'm a big believer in big baits for big fish," said Bill Witchey at Combs Bait and Tackle in Amityville. "Especially with fluke and bass, big baits bring the lunkers."
Witchey suggests fluke contestants move away from aggressive smaller fish to work deeper, swifter currents nearby. For fluke, he'll go with a larger bucktail than usual tipped with a long strip of squid, sea robin belly or a big Peruvian spearing.
"Large baits discourage smaller fish from striking," Witchey said. "Use them and you'll spend less time unhooking shorts, which leaves more time for your bait to be in the water tempting potential prize winners. For stripers, cut your bunker in half instead of quarters and use the head end."
Ashley Paradiso at Bay Park Fishing Center in Oceanside noted that little things mean a lot when big money is on the line in a shark tournament.
"I'd make sure your circle hook is fully exposed when rigging shark baits," she said. "That and a locked drag will create the perfect hook-up when a big mako or thresher picks up your offering. With circle hooks, you don't jerk the rod to set the hook. Instead, let the fish move off against a tight line and the point should set perfectly in the corner of its mouth. That's the perfect hook-up."
If you'd like to fish in a contest this weekend, fluke are the primary choice. The Freeport Hudson Anglers First Annual Frenzy Fluke Tournament (516-378-5181) is slated for Saturday. Also Saturday is the Creek Association 21st Annual It's A Fluke Tournament (firstname.lastname@example.org) and the Hampton Bays Fire Department 5th Annual Benjamin "Benny" Lupia Memorial Fluke Tournament (631-728-9191.)
Sunday will have the Captree Bait and Tackle Fluke Derby (631-587-4330,) plus the 21st Annual Duke of Fluke Tournament (631-264-3525.) The latter was originally scheduled for June 28 but had to be moved because of bad weather. Because of the date change, the weigh-in for this popular tourney has been moved to Babylon Town Hall, 200 Sunrise Highway, Lindenhurst.
Black sea bass season opens Wednesday with an eight-fish creel limit and minimum size of 13 inches.