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The best tip: be prepared

In fishing, as in all sports, there is no substitute for preparation and execution. Though a certain amount of luck plays a part, I've noticed that I create a lot of mine both good and otherwise. I get luckier when I do my homework and limit errors.

Seldom do we get many opportunities to make the leaderboard during a weekend kingfish tournament. With most of us using the same baits, similar tackle, the same locations and techniques, capitalizing on opportunities is often the difference.

Reduce bad luck by having reels serviced regularly, line changed often, rod guides inspected for grooves or cracks, bait-well pumps replaced, batteries charged and motors tuned.

Good luck is enhanced by patience. In eagerness to bring a potential prize winner to gaff, avoid applying more heat as it nears the boat. Less line stretch on light tackle usually creates disaster.

Gaffing a fish behind the leader may avoid problems. Using this technique, an unexpected burst of speed or tearing of the soft flesh allows you to harmlessly work the fish back to gaff rather than risk tangling in the line and breaking off.

A fish wrapped on a crab trap doesn't necessarily guarantee its good fortune. Put your reel in free spool to reduce tension, approach the trap and calmly figure how to unwrap it.

Some may note the same names on the leaderboard and measure their success as luck. Is it?

Although you can't control the size of fish that takes your bait, preparation and proper execution will catch more fish than luck ever will.

Elsewhere on the waterfront:

Plagued by high winds and rough seas, offshore fishing has slowed. Though the near-shore waters along gulf beaches have muddied, Bill McPhail of Pass-a-Grille Bait and Tackle reports mackerel being caught from the jetty, along with some grouper and macks from their pier inside the pass.

Local veteran angler Paul Eichler leads the Two Month Merry Pier Kingfish Tournament (which runs through Dec. 4) with a 24.28-pounder.

Alan Goodwin at Anna Maria City Pier and Dick Wasson from the Rod and Reel Pier on Anna Maria report good catches of mackerel during the days and snook at night. Flounder up to 4 pounds, redfish and grouper have also invaded their waters.

Larry Mastry of Mastry's Bait and Tackle says customers are catching mackerel and grouper from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, grouper along the edges of the ships channel, trout on the flats at the clam bar and Pinellas Point, and good numbers of sheepshead arriving at bridges and rock piles.

Expert angler John Young has been trolling up grouper using deep diving plugs in water as shallow as 13 feet inside Tampa Bay. And good luck!

_ Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg. Call (813) 321-2142.

_ Send information to Outdoors, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. All items must be typed and arrive 10 days before the event. Include event name, time, address and phone number.