Last updated on October 11th, 2023
I have been fishing for over 40 years and love to sit with fellow fishermen and talk about fishing. Today I am fortunate to be able to sit down with the President of the International Game Fishing Tournament Observers, IGFTO Mr. Steve Hargett.
Billfishing Tournament Observer Introduction
Hello Steve, we appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to help me/us understand exactly what Billfishing tournament observer is all about. And I am sure some of our readers will have an interest in becoming an observer or at least knowing what it takes to become involved.
Hello, Paul thanks for having me in today. Crow Survival is a great publication and we are glad to be part of it!
Steve can you tell us a little more about yourself and how you got involved in this worth wild organization.
I am a previously-licensed United States Coast Guard Captain, I am a Veteran and I am an avid outdoorsman; fishing both inshore and offshore and big-game hunting.
Since I became certified by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) in 2004 as an Observer, I have observed regularly. I am a strong advocate of Billfish conservation and I have observed in the U.S., Venezuela, Turks and Caicos, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua just to name a few.
Wow that’s impressive. Can you give us the history of The IGFTO.
Founded in 2009 by former IGFA Observers once IGFA dropped the Observer program. The International Game Fish Association with the support of the National Marine Fisheries Service adopted the Certified Observer Program which trained experienced captains, anglers and crews to become official Observers aboard tournament boats.
This program reduced and prevented rule disputes and infractions and changed the direction of tournaments from killing billfish to one that releases the billfish to preserve the species. Since our creation, our observers have witnessed the safe release of more than 47,000 game fish while participating in tournaments throughout North America, the Caribbean, US Virgin Islands, and South America.
What is the purpose of observing a boat at a tournament?
To level the playing field by confirming everyone is playing by the same rules-IGFA and or tournament rules, ensure the safe release of the fish and accurate record-keeping as to species.
Does IGFTO observe tournaments for other types of fish?
At this time No, only Billfish but if there is a need for the observation of other types of tournament fishing we are here to help.
How does IGFTO support the billfish industry?
We donate to and support like-minded organizations. We practice and encourage catch and release for all Billfish.
What are the requirements to become an Observer?
Have some experience with billfish and offshore fishing, Take the ½ day training course, and maintain membership by paying the annual $100.00 dues.
What will I learn from taking the Observer Training Course?
• Boat Safety and Etiquette
• IGFA angling rules for saltwater fishing
• Billfish identification
• What is the IGFTO
• Best practices for Observers
• Photos and videos of Sailfish and various species of Marlin; and
• Insightful/helpful information from other directors, observers, and/or guest speakers that may be in attendance
Do you have women anglers?
Do you recommend women for observers?
Do women have there own tournaments?
Yes take a look at the video below
How do I know what’s expected of me if I sign up for a tournament?
You will learn everything you need to know during the Observer Training Course
Where can I take the Observer Training Course?
We conduct OTCs in various locations both in the U.S. and abroad. We post the schedule and location for OTCs on our website (www.igfto.org). Visit our training schedule calendar”
Is there a fee to take the Observer Training Course?
Yes, there is but it is a nominal fee of $250.00. For this fee you receive the following:
• IGFTO membership for the year
• One Observer dress shirt (to be worn at dinner)
• One Observer work shirt (to be worn when observing)
• One Observer logbook (to record releases)
• One Observer buff (facemask to protect you from the sun)
• One Observer lapel pin
• OTC notebook
• Internet access to Billfish Identification and IGFA Rules downloads
• Continental Breakfast
What types of billfish are caught during a tournament?
Atlantic and Pacific blue marlin, black marlin, white marlin, striped marlin, Atlantic sailfish, Indo-Pacific sailfish.
Is there a waiting period after taking the course before I become an official Observer?
At this time there is not.
Is there a age limit to observing?
What is the future of billfishing tournaments?
Are all tournaments catch and release?
Not at this time.
Who are some of IGFTO partners?
International Game Fish Association, Gray FishTag Research, The Billfish Foundation, Stuart Sailfish Club Foundation.
Does IGFTO support tagging billfish for studying?
Absolutely and have been involved just this past year. It is interesting to see how far these fish travel on an annual base.
Is IGFTO charity and is a donation tax-deductible?
Yes, we are a 501(c) 3 nonprofit
How much can I donate?
As much as you like.
When tournaments are in international countries does IGFTO help teach the locals what the industry can do for their community?
Yes, we do. Most understand it adds thousands to the local economy per tournament.
What does a typical day of observing consist of?
• 5:00 a.m. boat assignment and breakfast provided by the tournament
• 5:30 a.m. report to your boat
• 6:30 a.m. boat departs the dock to fishing grounds
• 8:00 a.m. lines in
• 12:00 p.m. lunch provided by boat
• 4:00 p.m. lines out
• 5:00 p.m. boat docks, turn in your scorecard
If you don’t mind I would like to ask some questions about the tournaments themselves and their requirements. I am sure there are some readers interested in finding out about entering a tournament.
Are there local fishermen in the tournament locations that I can hire to fish during and after the tournament?
Are all tournament participants local fisherman?
No, many are from the U.S.
In your opinion what are the best billfishing waters/locations?
Central America, Australia, Cape Verde.
Will they cancel tournaments do to harsh weather?
Not usually, for the most part its up to the individual boat captains if they want to fish in inclement weather.
Are there limits to equipment a boat can use?
Must use IGFTO and must conform to tournament rules.
Are there boat limitations?
Not at this time.
What are some the most used reels and tackle brands?
Accurate, Penn, Shimano
What is a typical reel size?
20, 30, 50 or 80’s
Can I hire a Local fisherman and enter the tournaments?
Yes you can, in fact that’s the least expensive way to enter a tournament. I suggest knowing the local fisherman before hiring.
What type of vessels are used in tournaments?
Is there a fee to join/participate in tournaments?
Yes there is and its up to the tournament hosts to decide.
How much does a tournament typically pay to winners?
80% of the tournament entry fees.
What are some the categories a participant can win money?
Daily is most fish for the day, various other categories may exist. Depends on the tournament.
How many days is a typical tournament?
Can the observer mingle with the captains/boat owners?
Do observers get to fish also?
Sometimes we are asked to be an angler.
Is there a newsletter I can sign up for?
Yes, sign up at www.igfto.org
Do Observers get paid? If so, how much?
We provide our expenses for airfare, and in some cases local transportation, to the various locales. Some tournaments provide housing and others provide offset monies for housing expenses. As an example, the Los Sueños Signature Triple Crown Billfish Tournament supplements an Observer $500 for three consecutive days of observing.
The majority of tournaments include observers in all tournament activities such as kickoff parties, dock parties, and awards banquets. Many observers make arrangements to fish in the pre, post, and lay-days of the tournaments.
Can I donate to the observers as a whole or IGFTO directly?
Yes, to IGFTO directly.
- DONATIONS: To make a tax-deductible donation to the IGFTO, please click here:
- You can also mail us a check to: IGFTO P.O. Box 7333 Gainesville, GA 30504-0017. Thank you in advance for your generosity.