There are certain tactics that give a tournament fisherman an edge over the other competitors, and produce a win. Sometimes just doing a little extra homework and preparation is all it takes. Planning, practice, and confidence are the keys factors that helped us win local, state, club, and regional tournaments consistently while working our way up the ranks of competitive bass fishing. Here are some of the most important things to do to prepare yourself mentally and physically for the challenge.
MENTAL AND PHYSICAL PREPARATION
Before you even can consider embarking on a tournament trail, or even local, and club events, you must be in good physical condition. This involves being able to lift, bend, twist, and move in a variety of positions, without getting injured. Many people think that fishing is a leisurely sport, but in order to be in top shape for winning tournaments, you must prepare ahead of time. We not only eat and sleep properly, but do regular physical workouts, to get in good shape to lift equipment, jump from the front and back of boats, maintain good balance, have quick reflexes, and be able to go long periods of time, without wasting time eating and drinking. Being able to jump down to your knees quickly, and maneuvering many directions efficiently can mean the difference in winning or losing. One lost fish can mean the difference in first place and last place many times. Not only do we work out physically to prepare, but we practice our techniques in the off season as well.
In the winter, and all times of the year in between tournaments, we practice our flipping, pitching, and casting techniques. In the colder months we set up boxes, simulate docks to practice pitching and flipping, and cast to targets in the yard. Knowing your equipment like the back of your hand, and being able to quickly execute a maneuver is critical in a tournament. Practicing all techniques constantly is vital in giving you the confidence that you need to win when you get to the tournament. Being able to control your emotions, and relax in the prior days and nights can give you an edge over the more inexperienced anglers. Most tournament pros even at intermediate levels are at the top of their game, and take it very seriously, so a slight edge can mean a great deal. The people who can maintain their composure and confidence, and can stick to their game plans under pressure, are the ones that consistently place in the rankings.
STUDYING THE COMPETITION SITE
Before we even start to prefish the lakes or rivers, we obtain all the information we can in the way of lake maps, topographical maps, baitfish, and lake conditions from a variety of sources. Talking to anglers at the lake and local tackle shops can sometimes reveal some interesting information. By no means, do what they say dictate what our plans will be, but it is another tool to use in planning a strategy for the lake. Knowing the lake age, composition of the bottom, structure, both natural and manmade, along with water quality, fertility, and oxygen levels, all come into play when deciding how to start pre-fishing the lake. Contacting local guides, and having some experience on the body of water all help, although sometimes this is not always possible.
When we start to prefish the lake before a tournament, we break the lake down into sections. We eliminate the unproductive water for that time of year, and then section it off on maps. We pick the most likely locations where the fish should be holding for the water temperature and lake conditions, and then make a complete run around the lake to view it physically before fishing.
We start by looking for sandbars, points, humps, structure, laydowns, grass beds, etc., all the time watching the shoreline in the area for contours to indicate dropoffs and other structure. After surveying the lake, we then section off several of the best possible locations, and start fishing there. First starting with a search bait, such as a spinnerbait, buzzbait, and a crankbait for active fish. We mark the locations of where the active fish are on the GPS, and move on to the next spot. We never stick more than two fish in an area. Sometimes we fish the baits without any hooks in them, and when they hit you just pull it away from them. Try to find three good sections of the lake with decent fish first, before exploring further for the kicker fish. You can go back to these areas later the next day, and slow down to find the fish that you need to win. Sometimes early in the year bass will stage on a single piece of cover as small as a stick or blade of grass. It does not even have to be real structure sometimes, they just hold next to it. Most of the time, the larger bass, five pounds and up, are alone. They occupy the structure in the area by themselves, rarely schooling with fish of the same size.
Most pros will not reveal what they really catch the larger fish on. Most of the fish in lakes that are highly pressured by recreational and tournament anglers for years and years, become conditioned to certain baits. There are always fish that can be caught on conventional baits such as spinnerbaits, worms, and jerkbaits, but these generally are the fish that do not win tournaments. You can come in with a decent bag of five fish weighing ten to thirteen pounds, but it generally does not get you a check except in some local and club tournaments. The larger fish, the from five and six pounds up, are usually caught on baits such as "Snag Proof" frogs, prop baits, walking baits, and other types of new freak baits, such as a "Sweet Beaver". Jigs will always take some of the better fish, but will not always win. Old style topwaters, such as a Devils Horse, Dying Flutters, and others, take many large bass. Let me emphasize though, that I like to get a limit in the boat first before pursuing that big "kicker" fish!
Creek Chubs, Zara Spooks, Lucky Craft "Sammy's", Jitterbugs, and others, take more quality fish than you can imagine, due to the fact that they are fooled by the baits they just do not see. Of course, there are specific ways to work these baits, that will produce the better fish, even if you are using the same baits as another angler, and that is the trick.
Recent studies just out this year in 2005, indicate that bass may learn and remember lures they were caught on much longer than previously thought. The new research indicates that bass can remember up to six weeks, so this really comes into play when fishing heavily pressured lakes.
When casting to structure with a topwater bait, dead sticking, and casting directly to the target, and not past it, can be critical. Patience and steady nerves are required to do this properly. Deadsticking a bait is an extremely effective way to win a tournament on highly pressured waters such as Table Rock Lake and many other highly pressured impoundments. In colder water, this is extremely important also. You should let a Senko or other bait such as a fluke or "Sizmic Flugo" fall weightless for a long time by the structure, without giving it any movement at all. Suspending Jerkbaits worked in this manner also produce the bigger bass in pressured waters. Do not give the bait to much action, and let it sit for a long time in between movements. This is the key.
You must learn how to manage your time properly also, as you have to be thorough with the baits, but know when to switch and when to move. Plan this out in advance and be able to adjust to the water conditions and mood of the fish that day, as things can change rapidly from one day to the next on a body of water, especially when a clod front moves through. Practice at all times of the year, when the weather is bad, and cold, odds are, that many tournament days will be in the rain and wind. You need to know how to catch these fish under adverse conditions, not just fair weather. Plan your trips when the weather is poor. It's the only way the learn what to do. You must get practice in real tournament conditions. Make sure you time your run to the spots, and spend your time wisely there. Make as many casts as you can until the very last minute, and then open it up and get back as quickly as you can. You need to practice driving your boat in bad weather, under rough conditions, and at high speeds, if you really want to win.
PRACTICE LANDING BIG FISH
You should try to join a private lake and a club, or make trips to Mexico, Texas, Florida, and wherever else you can experience fighting and landing a lot of larger fish. Confidence is the key to success in this business. You must have the confidence in your ability to land big fish without getting overly excited. This is hard to do, so as much practice as you can get doing this before entering major tournaments is a definite plus! A big part of this game is mental. You must learn how to to maintain a high level of concentration also. Do not pay attention to other things other than your line, the lure, and the fish. Ignore other anglers and spectators that are close by. Keep your focus, and stick to your game plan. Do not try to show off. That comes later at the weigh in with a twenty pound bag!
Maintain and use the best quality equipment that you can get. This plays a big part in confidence also. It does not always have to be the very highest quality equipment, but you must have confidence in it, and in your own ability to use it properly. Sometimes I go through thirty crankbaits and jerkbaits before I find the best ones. Do not neglect the basics either. Learn how to tie all the proper knots for the baits you are using, and use the highest quality hooks available. I can not stress this enough. Follow these guidelines, and get out and practice as much as you can, and your recreational fishing as well as tournament fishing will improve drastically.