Historically most of the locations where the sport was developed, such as Avalon, California; Florida; Bimini in the Bahamas; northern New Zealand; Wedgeport in Nova Scotia and Kona in Hawaii, benefited from the presence of large numbers of gamefish relatively close to shore, within range of the boats of that era.
As the vessels used for sportfishing became larger, faster, longer-ranged and more seaworthy, big-game species are now pursued on grounds ranging from 60 or 70 miles' distance from port, such as the submarine canyons of the United States continental shelf, to hundreds of miles as in the case of the San Diego long range fishery, where large live-aboard vessels range far out into the Pacific searching for tuna schools.
Today big-game fishing is carried out from ports in tropical and temperate coasts practically worldwide.
The United States has the world's largest saltwater fishing industry and along the entire length of the East Coast, from Key West to the Gulf of Maine, big-game anglers pursue a variety of tropical and temperate sportfish ranging from sailfish and dolphinfish in the Florida Keys to giant bluefin tuna in Massachussetts and in Canadian waters. The West Coast lacks the influence of the warm Gulf Stream current and most big game species are mainly confined to California, a birthplace of the sport. Some of the same species that were fished for by the pioneers of the sport - Pacific bluefin tuna, broadbill swordfish and striped marlin - are still fished for today.
Latin and South America
Billfish and tuna are pursued in almost all the Latin American coastal nations, many of which are renowned for the excellence of their fishing. Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Ecuador and Guatemala have the largest fleets of sport fishing boats.
Land-based game fishing
In some areas big-game species can be caught by land-based anglers, with the rock platforms of Jervis Bay in New South Wales, Australia being probably the most well-known. Black marlin of up to 200 lbs have been caught here by anglers floating out baits on balloons.
Big-game fishing requires a boat of sufficient seaworthiness and range to transport the crew to the fishing grounds and back. Boats that fit these requirements may be as small as the 18 to 21-foot trailerable boats commonly used along the Australian coast, in New Zealand and on the lee coasts of the Hawaiian Islands where they are known as the "mosquito fleet". At the other extreme the 100-foot and larger vessels of the San Diego long range fleet and similar, although less refined "party boats" operating from New England, transport 25, 30 or more anglers in search of yellowfin, bluefin and bigeye tuna.
The cost of a suitable boat, electronics, tackle and the operating costs (fuels and other consumables, insurance, mooring fees and maintenance) can be very substantial. Consequently, many big-game anglers prefer to use charter services where they hire the use of a boat and equipment, and the fish-finding expertise of a captain, in preference to maintaining their own. Either way, big-game fishing can be an extremely expensive pursuit, and one in which the wealthy have tended to feature prominently.
The classic sport fisherman
Most of the features of the classic sport fisherman were gradually developed in the 1920s and 1930s as existing motor cruisers and commercial fishing vessels were adapted for fishing with outriggers, fighting chairs and other ancillaries such as bait boxes and flybridge helm stations. These boats, though crude by modern standards, scored many pioneering big game catches of huge bluefin tuna, broadbill swordfish and marlin. Through the 1930s and 1940s sportfishermen in Florida, amongst them John Rybovich and Ernest Hemingway, continued to innovate and refine, and in 1946 the Rybovich yard launched the Miss Chevy II, a 34-footer that crystallized all the innovations that had gone before into a design whose features - raised foredeck, flybridge controls and roomy cockpit - are still closely followed by today's leading sportfish builders. The need for greater range and speed as anglers sought gamefish further and further offshore resulted in the development of bigger boats powered by larger engines, but the basic layout of a dedicated big game fishing vessel has remained largely the same since the late 1940s.
Smaller sportfishing boats
The development of outboard power opened up many big game fishing grounds to smaller craft in the 18 to 25 foot range.
San Diego Long Range fleet and other partyboats
Electronics technology developed for commercial fishermen has become increasingly used by recreational anglers. Fishfinders, also known as bottom machines or echo sounders, are now commonplace. Other electronics used to narrow down the search for fish may include radar, forward or side-scanning sonar, water temperature sensors and sea surface temperature imagery obtained from satellites.
Fish are enticed by trolling fishing lures (designed to resemble squid or other baitfish) or baits behind the boat. Multiple lines are often used. Outriggers were designed to spread the lines more widely.
Chumming, or chunking, is the process of throwing pieces of bait fish overboard to attract larger game fish.
Once a fish is properly hooked on a line, a somewhat tricky task as often initial nibbles only partly hook the fish, one of the fishermen attempts to reel it in. The captain assists by maneuvering the boat so that the fish remains astern (behind the boat), while other members of the crew race to reel in the other lines so as to avoid tangling with the angler reeling in the fish.
Most of the time, the fishing line used for sport fishing has a breaking strain less than the maximum force the fish can apply to the line. The fishing reels therefore have sophisticated drag mechanisms which allow the line to escape if the fish pulls on it, but keep the specified tension on the line. When hooked, most fish will circulate in different directions, and when they are not pulling away from the boat the fisherman can take the opportunity to reel in some of the line. Eventually, if the fish tires and has not broken the line, they will be reeled in; however, the challenge does not end there. Hauling a heavy, powerful, and still very much alive fish on board the boat represents a considerable challenge, unless the fish is tagged and released. Strategies include: gaffing, pulling it in with ones hands, and if it is a smallish game fish, a net
The fish can be fought with or without a game-chair. With a game chair, the angler sits in a specially-designed chair at the stern of the boat, and places the butt of the rod into a gimbaled mount. Most rods used in this manner are quite long. The older and more classic models had straight rod butts. More contemporary models have bent rod butts, which give a more convenient angle for fighting the fish when the rod is placed in the mount. With large fish, this can still represent a considerable challenge, but "stand-up" game fishing, without the assistance of a chair and with the seat mount replaced by a harness, requires a good deal of strength and endurance, as well as body mass.