Tales From The Top

Native Son’s Captain Art Sapp is leading the way among South Florida’s most successful tournament competitors. Florida Sport Fishing was granted a private face-to-face to learn how his team consistently ends up on top.


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Captain Art Sapp (top center) and his crew with a fine set of kings. Photo:

A ninth generation Florida fisherman, Captain Art Sapp has solidified his place in tournament fishing history books, guiding Native Son fishing team to an astounding five Pompano Beach Saltwater Circuit Showdown victories, in addition to three 2nd Place finishes. Two Showdown victories are impressive—five is simply unprecedented. If you have a dream of racking up a prestigious win than you better take notes. Arguably the most dominant meat fish (kingfish, dolphin, tuna, wahoo, cobia) tournament competitor in all of Florida, we were ecstatic when invited to sit down with Captain Sapp. And don’t think he’s limited to just meat fish. With 1st Place finishes in nearly every arena, Sapp is a serious threat and an extremely well rounded captain.

…take mental notes and realize what’s happening around the boat. Pay attention and take any and all opportunities to read the water. That’s part of the addiction—you’re always fishing in your head.

FSF: Tournament fishing is nothing new. When did it all start for you?
Sapp: I grew up fishing dead bait tournaments with my father. We also did a bit of commercial fishing so my passion for the ocean developed at a young age. While we caught plenty of fish, our competitive fishing career really started in 2000. We finally got a vessel that gave us the range, speed and livewell capacity needed to be successful. We thought we were good recreational fishermen, but we quickly learned that live bait tournament fishing was a totally different animal.

FSF: How did it click?
Sapp: I started to realize the type of mindset and the kind of decisions that needed to be made in order to be successful. We won a tournament early on, The Ladies Fish Off, and realized maybe we can really do this. The competition factor was what really set us off. It has never been a goal to make a living off fishing. It was more about the fun of competing and striving to get better. As the seasons continued to progress we started to find some real success and from there competitive fishing was an absolute disease. I couldn’t get away from it now if I wanted to. I’m totally hooked.

FSF: Tournaments have progressed since the early days. How has that influenced your approach?
Sapp: When we first started tournament fishing live chumming was allowed. Because of this you could win without targeting smoker kings. You could do it with tuna, dolphin and maybe even a cobia. A few snake kings in the low teens were good enough to go with everything else. Since live chumming has been eliminated from the equation we’ve evolved into a much better team because it has forced us to look more at prevalent conditions and what triggers big fish to bite. Looking back, we really came along at the right time.

FSF: Do you believe pre-fishing is beneficial?
Sapp: We do very little pre-fishing. The problem is that fishing one, two or three days in advance really doesn’t do a whole lot of good. Fish are unpredictable and move great distances overnight, so developing a pattern is difficult on such short notice. One tip I can give is that the closer to a full moon, the less advantageous pre-fishing will be. Under this scenario things change from hour to hour, let alone day to day.

FSF: Is it safe to assume your game plan for tournament day is based on prior experiences?
Sapp: Absolutely. Time spent on the water and recognizing patterns is more important than anything. I remember late summer 2004 when blackfin tuna typically aren’t too prevalent. There were loads of sargassum mats with tons of triggerfish and small finfish mixed in. Every time we drifted into the sargassum we found blackfin. Recognizing the pattern that made the fish bite is what it’s all about. The more you do it the more you learn and we use prior experiences to find success today. In fact, my most successful days are when I’ve come off past events and recognized the winning conditions. With enough time on the water you can see seasonal patterns progress throughout the year and speculate where bodies of fish should be. When deciding where to fish I’ll go back to previous records and my memory. If you don’t already do so it is in your best interest to keep a detailed log book.

FSF: During sailfish tournaments captains are calling in releases over the VHF so you have a general idea of where you stand. How is it different in meat fish tournaments?
Sapp: In meat tournaments the competition is intense, but you’re really competing against yourself. You could be having a great day but you don’t really know exactly what’s going on around you. That’s exciting in its own right and because of this, you can’t get down if you lose a fish. Things happen, you just can’t let it happen because of carelessness.

FSF: How important is teamwork?
Sapp: It’s definitely one of the most important aspects. Over the last 10 years my crew hasn’t changed much. I’m thankful to have Brad Fitzpatrick, Jimmy DeMarco, Jason Dean and my father Lamar Sapp on my team. Still, no matter how good your crew is you’re going to have a bad tournament every once in a while, and is it painful when it happens, but you have to keep battling. I say it all of the time on the boat. It takes an hour or less to win a tournament and I’ve seen it happen many times before. There have been several tournaments where we had nothing by 2:00. You can’t catch yourself sleeping at the end of the day and you can’t let your crew get down. If you get a couple shots late in the afternoon and you miss those fish, well you may have just lost the tournament.

FSF: Everyone knows a solid supply of live bait is crucial. What else can you tell us?
Sapp: I’m constantly staring at my bottom machine. I fish out of the back corner so I can keep my eye on the display and I’m able to recognize species by how they appear on the screen. Raymarine’s new touchscreen is incredible. Besides action below the surface you have to keep your eye on activity taking place directly on the surface. We’re always trying to recognize patterns with predators that feed on particular baitfish and trying to learn exactly how they feed without always seeing the fish doing so. This is extremely important, because if we have a giant spread out with three kites in the air and have to bring it all in to make a move only 200 yards away, it better be for the right reasons.

FSF: When competing in meat fish tournaments, what do you find to be the most challenging conditions?
Sapp: When the ocean is slick calm. You can work around it but it is difficult to get bites. I hate slow trolling with a passion. There are guys who are really good at slow trolling but to me there’s nothing like seeing the bite on a kite bait. Slow trolling is so hated on my boat. One event we battled the downriggers in the morning and then went back to them in the afternoon to try for wahoo. Not 10 minutes into it one of my guys took the downriggers and literally tossed them overboard in 300 feet of water! Since then I haven’t put a downrigger on the boat. No matter what, we won’t do it. For one I don’t want to buy them again, but I also think it’s best to stick with what you are most comfortable with.

While calm days are tough, it’s even more difficult to put together a solid catch during post spawn conditions. Big kings are there but they are feeling weird because they just released all of their roe. You know in a day or two they are going to feed like maniacs again, but at the moment it’s real tough. When you do catch a fish and it has a concave gut you can almost guarantee it’s going to be a slow day.

FSF: So you’re flying kites through thick and thin?
Sapp: That’s what it is all about for us. I truly believe that well presented kite baits outfish downrigger baits 90% of the time. While lots of anglers theorize about the type and size of baitfish, a small bait presented properly will always outfish a big, poorly presented bait.

FSF: Any secret rigging tips?
Sapp: I prefer the newest titanium wire and my rigging techniques are archaic. We use big hooks, heavy drag, and 25 lb. mainline. If you’re going to fish traditional wire I leave you with this advice; don’t use #5. Try to fool them with lighter wire or go heavy and don’t worry about losing big fish to cut offs.

FSF: Advice for crews just getting into the game?
Sapp: More so than anything spend as much time on the water as you can. Anytime you are offshore take mental notes and realize what’s happening around the boat. Pay attention and take any and all opportunities to read the water. That’s part of the addiction—you’re always fishing in your head. If you want to excel your skills I highly suggest you participate in local tournaments. Competing will make you a more productive angler. Go to kickoff parties and mingle with experienced crews. They’ll tell you anything. That’s why we go to the kickoff parties, because we want to talk fishing. We’re totally into it and local events are great venues to feed our addiction. Last but not least I would like to thank SeaVee and Mercury for making this all possible.