I'd rather be lucky than good! How often have you heard that statement? Enough times to believe it, I'll bet. When most of the participants in a bass tournament catch a good limit of fish what is it that sets the winners apart from the pack? Usually a couple of big fish or kickers as they are sometimes called. And it's not unusual to hear those fisherman say that they were catching fish but got lucky and landed one or two good ones. Sure there are those anglers whose skills are such that they can catch big fish every time out or at least that's how it seems. But for most of us the opportunity to catch the big one rarely comes around. So why not do as much before hand to assure that when opportunity knocks you're ready? The following ideas will help prepare you to take advantage of good luck when it comes your way.
Do your homework. Eliminating unproductive water is as important as finding productive water. Buy a contour map of the lake and narrow down the areas that you want to fish before you hit the water. Talk to local fisherman or tackle shops before going to a lake and find out which areas have produced big fish in the past.
Talk to people who have caught big fish and learn from their experiences. There is an old saying that says: if you want to become good at something, learn from people that are already successful at doing it. Why start from scratch when you can learn from others? Attend the weigh-in at a local tournament and find out what worked for the participants. Most anglers are quite anxious to talk about how they took the big one. You will usually find that there is a pattern to when, where, and how big fish are caught. It is also a good idea to talk with your local Fish and Game personnel. When a big fish is caught and the angler wants it documented they normally need a Fish and Game official to record their catch.
Think about joining a local bass club. There are many different types of clubs and you can probably find one that will suit your interests. If you join a club start a network with the other members that will keep you up to date on what the fish are doing and what is working day to day. You will also get an opportunity to fish with people that are better fisherman than you are or that know different techniques that you haven't tried before. In any event, you will pick up a lot of useful information from your fellow club members.
Get to know your prey. Big bass don't act the same as small bass. Learn the habits of big fish in your area. There are certain times that you are more likely to catch big fish. The seasons, time of day, tournament pressure, water skiers and personnel watercraft traffic all have an effect on the fish population. Being in the right place at the right time always helps.
Prepare your tackle.Don't start your day with a rod that has a cracked guide, a reel that needs lubrication, or line that should have been replaced a year ago. Check your equipment each time you go out and perform preventive maintenance to keep things working properly. It is relatively inexpensive to have your local tackle shop clean adjust and lubricate your reel if you're not comfortable tearing into it yourself. You will be pleasantly surprised what a good cleaning, a few drops of oil, and a touch of grease in the right places will do for that old reel.
Having a correctly balanced rod and reel for the type of fishing you are going to be doing is essential. That old two piece trout rod isn't going to do a proper job of splitshotting at 30 feet deep when the bite is hard to detect. It also doesn't help if you are casting some old rod that weighs a ton and your arm is worn out from casting before the day is half over. If you can't afford new top quality rods and reels consider buying them used instead of buying lesser models.
Put a high quality line on your reels before a tournament or going out fishing. High quality line will cast better and has more resistance to wear than cheap line. It usually has less memory than the less expensive brands as well. Having your spools full makes casting easier and also keeps the retrieve ratio where it is supposed to be. It is important to use the correct test strength of line for the type of fishing you are doing. While there is some latitude in what should be used, some test strengths just don't work for a certain applications. When flipping, for instance, eight pound test just won't cut it. And seventeen pound test won't work for finesse worming or throwing darter heads.
Learn to tie a knot.This almost seems redundant, but it is surprising how many times an angler will set the hook on a fish that makes a couple of sharp, hard lunges only to come back with a broken line and nothing else. Wetting the line before pulling the knot tight helps increase the breaking strength. I would suggest that you learn a couple of knots such as the Palomar and Improved Clinch and practice them until you can tie them in your sleep. Once you have mastered them you must still pay attention each and every time you tie on a lure so that the knot is tied correctly. Also check your line frequently for fraying or nicks. Take off a couple of feet of line and re-tie before the big one picks up your bait. This is especially important when fishing lures in and around rocks, stumps, docks or other abrasive cover.
Use sharp hooks.Many times a good fish will come off of the hook right at the boat or the hook will fall out right after the fish is in the net. Bigger fish have tough mouths...the bigger they get the tougher their mouth. There are several schools of thought when it comes to hooks. Some anglers like to buy a good grade of hook and then spend time honing them to perfection. These days there are hooks available that are so sharp that you would only dull them or compromise their integrity if you were to try to sharpen them. Which ever way you choose to go make sure every hook is sharp every time you cast. Also use the right size hook for the job. You must match up the hook to the worm or put the correct size replacement hook on a crankbait to keep it running true. This can be a trial and error method to get it right but it's worth the effort.
Learn to cast precisely. Big fish can be spooky. If your first cast isn't on the money you may not have a second chance at the biggest fish on a spot. A well placed cast that doesn't spook the fish can often trigger a strike from the largest, most aggressive fish on a spot. Take time to practice with your tackle in advance either on the lake pre-fishing or in your yard. Put out a couple of buckets, bowls or even some magazines on your lawn and practice until you can hit your target at will. And don't forget to put some of these targets under branches or where they are partially hidden. You will be sure to run into this type of situation on the water.
What do you do when you finally hook the big one? Unfortunately most of us don't get a lot of practice fighting big fish. We all can winch in a 2 or 3 pounder with ease. But what do you do with a lunker? First off remember that a truly large fish will head straight for deep water when hooked. And if that happens and you are directly between the fish and deep water he's going under the boat. Practice getting out of the way and letting him go deep. Move your boat deeper and away from the bank where there is less chance of him getting tangled into cover. Also after assuring that you have made a good hook set, back off the drag a little. You're going to need the drag set rather tight when you set the hook to drive it home but once that's done let him run a little and wear himself out. Let the fish do his fighting out, away from the boat. His best chance of getting away is close in to the net. Also don't stab at him with the net. Lay the net in the water and drag the fish into the net, then pick it up.
What do you do when you get him in the boat? Once you have your big fish in the boat you should act quickly to assure his survival. This fish, and you, have expended a lot of energy and quick handling on your part can be the difference between his swimming free or floating belly up. If you're in a tournament get him into the live well immediately. Make sure that your water is fresh and put in chemicals that are commercially available to prevent shock, oxygenate the water and promote slime growth. Watch the water temperature in your live well during the summer months. When the water temperature gets warm you should consider adding ice to the live well to help keep your fish alive. I have found that freezing water in one quart plastic drink containers with screw on lids works great. Use them to keep your food and drinks cold and then add one an hour to the live well to help cool the water. This way you don't need to worry about chlorine or other chemicals that are found in drinking water that might affect the fish.
If you are just fun fishing have a camera ready and take as couple of quick photographs and return him to the lake. Also, remember, if the fish came out of deep water you may need to release pressure from the fishes' air bladder. There are many sources for instructions on how this is done.
So now when you finally hook up the big one, you will have hopefully done your homework and are ready to take advantage of opportunity when it comes knocking. As in all aspects of life, being prepared is your best guarantee of success. Keeping mistakes to a minimum is critical. And as with everything, practice makes perfect.