Unsung Heroes

There is no denying that big-game tournament fishing is a team effort. It takes all hands on board to find fish, make the presentation, successfully fight and document the catch before landing the big one or scoring a successful release. Back at the docks, the angler and captain are typically the ones in the spotlight. But none of that would be possible without the hard work, skill and dedication of the mates. Seasoned skippers are quick to give credit where credit is due, however.

“We’re a little different as a charter boat,” says Capt. Arch Bracher on Pelican, a 56 Paul Mann based at the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center. “My mate, Jake Worthington, does the usual stuff in prepping bait and tackle for tournaments that he does for our charter trips. In tournaments though we tend to have more natural baits on the dredges so that requires more work. Most of my tournament anglers hook their own fish, so Jake is instructing on drop-backs, having a pitch bait ready to go right back out, the standard stuff.

“The big difference is the work involved,” Bracher adds. “It’s a 14-hour day, putting new line on the reels, checking the leader lengths, prepping the dredges. We don’t get a day off beforehand with charters, so he’s doing all that as we come in from trips and afterwards. Mates are the unsung heroes. Most people don’t realize the days and hours it takes for them to get everything in good shape and ready for a tournament.” Capt. Timmy Kidwell, who runs Stream Weaver, a 60 Spencer based in Dare County, agrees.

Joe Bonivetti is Kidwell’s full-time mate for the 2024 season. Bonivetti worked the previous nine years aboard Obsession, a 55 Sheldon Midgett. Stream Weaver plans to fish eight to ten tournaments this year.

“We are a private boat so we have designated anglers,” Kidwell explains. “Joe does the bait and tackle prep but he’s also a back-up angler with a pitch bait. He’s definitely a coach while we’re fishing. The mate is the captain in the cockpit and a great attitude is important. A positive mate can make all the difference. Everyone feeds off him and if he’s upbeat, the mood is fun and relaxed. If the mate is not happy, it’s bad mojo all around.”

At the awards ceremony this year check out the team alignment on the group photos. The mates are likely to be standing slightly off center from the trophies. But don’t let that fool you. The boat wouldn’t even be on the stage without the unsung heroes of the cockpit.