Stifling heat, slime, and fish stench! It’s the sign of a great day on Dauphin Island. Every summer, for as far back as I can remember, the joy of the long vacation reached its pinnacle in mid to late July. This portion of the year was marked by the arrival of the Roy Martin Young Angler’s Tournament (RMYAT) and the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo (ADSFR), two of the largest fishing tournaments of their kind. Fishing senses were heightened and extremely long, hard fishing days were upon us. Nothing was better than seeing your name on the leader board at the end of the day or printed for all to see in Mobile’s local newspaper. For a kid growing up on the Gulf Coast, a trophy solidified you among legends.
As a family, we have had our share of success in these events, with each family member winning multiple categories. And with the passing of each year, the Rodeo educated us further on how to maximize the three days (or one in the case of the RMYAT) to increase the odds of victory. Fishing in two of the biggest tournaments in the world teaches hard lessons on how to avoid the hazards and misfortunes that seemingly follow when thousands of anglers descend onto the small island.
Here are a few pointers to get you through these amazing events in July:
While some anglers have been hitting the water all summer, these crowded weekends in July seem to attract boaters who have been hibernating all year long. This can only mean one thing: their gear and boats have spent months marinating in corrosion and dust. So before heading down, make sure to check all your tackle and start your boat to make sure it runs. Nothing cheers up the line at the dock like a boat that is struggling, sending up plumes of black smoke in failed attempts to depart.
For the people-watchers looking to find a great source of exceptionally bizarre trailering at work, I would suggest joining the residents sitting in lawn chairs at the launches. There is no shortage of interesting dockside behavior that could easily trend on social media.
John Wooden put it best by saying, “Be quick but don’t hurry.” It turns out this advice is well heeded when dealing with an overcrowded boat launch. No one is more keen in thought and reflexes than a fisherman with two hours of sleep surrounded by waves and tons of mobile, metal-lined fiberglass. It’s equivalent to throwing a drunkard in a moving bath tub. It’s always best to be efficient with the trailer and boat, but when in doubt, slow down and make sure you do it in the safest manner possible. We have found check lists and following a routine invaluable in this setting.
Preparation is key. Before most big events, we always double check our line and tackle. This includes completing as much pre-rigging as possible in the weeks prior. This saves time wasted, and ensures we don’t lose a winning fish due to failed gear. Additionally, we double check our safety gear, licenses, and first-aid kit for anything out of date. With fast moving comrades on the boat and a higher concentration of traffic, it’s always best to be fully prepared for the unexpected.
Sleep is for the weak
The one aspect of these weekends I always dreaded was the early wake up. If we were commuting from Mobile, the best time to avoid Rodeo traffic was waking up at 3:45 or earlier. Bait is the main issue. Without a variety of dead and live bait in addition to artificial, the odds of meeting the day’s full potential are limited. This means racing to Jemison’s to be the first in line and setting out pinfish traps in the days prior. Some of the nearest and best spots fill up fast, so it’s imperative to get on your favorite fishing hole well before sun up.
Over the years, we have been fortunate enough to have rented places on the island or near the Rodeo site. With the boat in the water at all times, the worry of launching late and having an empty live well were dissipated. In time, we learned that a 12-14 hour fishing day for three days straight is almost impossible to maintain. Consequently, we adjusted accordingly and have made sun-up to 2-3 pm the ideal time to fish.
Know your limits
Over the years we have learned the hardest categories to win included the most popular game fish. As past results suggest, this includes any reef fish, like red snapper, grouper, and amberjack, and the major inshore fish, flounder and speckled trout. During the Rodeo, these fish become grocery bonuses, but they are not ever our primary targets. Out of the three thousand-plus anglers, 85-90% of them pursue these species. Unless you have access to a private reef or regularly catch monster trout and flounder, the odds are you will not come close to winning. Sure there are exceptions every year, but the chances are very small.
We spend all three days sweeping from the far east to the far west of Dauphin Island after other categories. There are plenty more species out there that have far less pressure and tend to get overlooked. Even if we don’t win at the end of the weekend, more often than not we come home with one of the daily prizes or spend the majority of the three days competing on the board.
Knowing your limits also means working with the weather conditions. On a typical weekend, it’s easy to choose not to fish if the wind or rain isn’t cooperating. But on these set dates, it’s sometimes hard to avoid. This calls for smart boating and finding areas that are protected, well within reach of safety. We don’t let our competitive drive outweigh caution. Lightning and storms are no joke. You may not get struck, but it only takes once to teach you a permanent lesson.
Regulations aren’t suggestions
Yes, we are all upset about the shortened federal snapper season. But ignorance of the law is still not an excuse. Know how to identify the local fish, and stay updated on all the size limits. Every year, fishermen are caught shamefully misidentifying fish or killing illegally. One good example is the identification of spanish mackerel versus young king mackerel. The both display yellow spots at similar sizes. But, close inspection reveals that the black dorsal fin and less angled lateral line sets the spanish apart.
It is also important to note that the ADSFR has it’s own set of limits to abide by. These can be found in the booklet they hand out each year with purchased tickets.
Like anything today, there is an app for that. Outdoor Alabama has its own app with updated laws and regulations. Furthermore, with the internet literally following you around inside your pocket, there is no excuse for keeping fish illegally. And of course, double check your boating registration and fishing license. Mine is always in on my Iphone downloaded on the Apple wallet.
Respect the fishery and other anglers
Overall, the people that arrive on the island on this special weekend make the ADSFR a spectacular event. Everyone shares in their passion for fishing, and viewers get to watch monster fish at the weigh-in. Families even get to witness the USA Fisheries Research team diligently dissecting colorful specimens. That being said, this tournament can sometimes bring out the worst in people.
No fish is worth risking a boating accident. No small trophy is worth cussing at anglers who get too close. Frankly, every gas platform and public reef will be crowded. There is no way around that. The best approach is understanding how to handle a very large congregation of boats. For one, most fishermen like to have a nice spread of baits. This means that their space for lines and anchor should be respected. Secondly, it’s considered an unspoken rule to avoid kicking up too much wake for a vessel, including kayaks. Overall, patience with other anglers and simple courtesy can go a long way in making the day enjoyable for all.
Above all have fun
All in all, great preparation and awareness pays dividends in making this tournament weekend memorable. The early morning rises, long lines, and hot summer heat are always worth the trouble. It’s a wonderful chance for families and tourists to learn about the local species, appreciate conservation efforts, and marvel over the impressive catches at the weigh-in. This event is a great cultural reflection of the region and a celebration of the fishery we hold so dear to our hearts. I hope to see you at this year’s Rodeo! Feel free to comment and share your experience below!
This year The Bonnie Fly is proud to sponsor the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo! Each of the first place winners are receiving one of our Inshore and Offshore Alabama State of Fishing prints. Decals and other original artwork are also available on our Shop through the link below: