The angler in the fighting chair or stand-up harness is the person directly connected during a tough battle with a big fish. But everyone else aboard the boat plays an equally critical role in the successful outcome too. Big-game tournament fishing is a team sport, without a doubt, and winning teams aren’t just thrown together randomly.
“The construction of our team depends on the type of fishing we’ll be doing,” says Keith English, owner of Click Through, a 68 Wanchese, and the current chairman of The Billfish Foundation. “If we’re in the Gulf of Mexico, the main tactic is live baiting. If we’re somewhere else like the Dominican Republic or Bermuda, it may be lure fishing or teasers and pitch baits. I have a full-time crew, but we add and subtract other members through the course of the season who have expertise in each specific type of fishing.”
English says compatibility is another important factor. During the extended Gulf tournaments the team is stuck together for three straight days, so getting along is crucial for on-board harmony. Working in concert with the crew is necessary as well.
“I’ve had the same captain, Matt Mauldwin, for the past nine years, so we have good communication and certainly continuity,” English explains. “And we make it a point to hire mates who are working towards becoming captains too. To be successful, everyone has to work in unison and be on the same page as far as rigging, bait deployment, fish-handling, etcetera. Good team communication is definitely a big consideration.”
Long-time Gulf tournament veteran Johnny Dorland has owned his 60 Hatteras, Cotton Patch, since 1999. During those many seasons, he has run the boat himself and hired full-time mates to help during tournaments. The rest of his teams have been comprised of family members and close friends.
“I have friends who have fished with me for years,” Dorland explains. “Some participate in the fees and calcuttas while others simply ride along and help with the fishing aspects. Everybody competes though. Our goal is always to go out and enjoy ourselves, have a good time and fish as hard as we can.”
Travis Dorland, Johnny’s son, joins him on a regular basis. Other team members include a veterinarian, bankers, insurance executives and those in the agriculture business. With the exception of the mate, however, all have other jobs so they can’t always participate in every event.
“It’s hard to keep the same group together every tournament. Guys sometimes have business conflicts, so we have regular fill-ins” Dorland explains. Many of his mates have also gone on to run their own boats after a season or two, which Dorland says is a natural progression in tournament circles. But everyone aboard has specific roles. Johnny typically runs Cotton Patch whenever the team is fighting a fish. Others serve as anglers, wiremen and gaffers.
“Having a dedicated and competent video cameraman is very important too,” he adds. “In today’s tournaments, video proof is critical and that can make you or break you in the final standings.”
Regardless of the sport, whether it is amateur or professional ranks, skilled teams that get along together and execute game plans are the ones that win championships. In billfish tournaments that’s especially true. Because when you’re 100 miles offshore, you can’t count on any substitutes coming in from the sidelines.