My tournament starts the minute I decide I’m fishing an upcoming event. Once I’ve committed to an event I begin to gather information. I will start by considering the season the event will take place. I will use all of my notes and memories from past experiences during a given season to determine my approach. Probably one of the most important things I do is try to put a percentage of possible success for different techniques I could use during the event and each technique’s possibility of generating the quality bites I will need to win. The example I will use for the purpose of this column is as follows; If I am fishing a spotted bass lake such as Lake Oroville in a pre-spawn situation, I feel that a suspending jerk bait like the Lucky Craft Staycee 90 or a 3/4 oz. spinnerbait, will have the highest percent chance of producing the kind of fish to win the event. I may not catch my whole limit with these baits but these are proven techniques for putting the one or two big fish in the boat that will anchor my limit. I will spend the majority of my practice time trying to find bites on these baits. Under the same scenario I feel that a darter head worm or drop-shotting will have a much lower percentage chance of producing the winning bites. This doesn’t mean it cannot be won on a worm or that a worm won’t play a major part of the winners bag. It is just that personally, I believe the reaction baits will catch the bigger fish it takes to win an event the majority of the time.
As the event draws near I will pay very close attention to the local weather patterns and try to get on the water in as many different scenarios as possible. Roughly a week before I leave for the event I will begin to prepare my tackle, and make sure I have the baits I will need and enough of them for the entire trip. This way when I get on the water I will be spending my practice time fishing and not getting my tackle organized or trying to find a particular bait at the bottom of my storage locker.
Staying with the same setting as mentioned before, on my first practice day I may be faced with conditions such as little to no wind and clear blue skies. In this case, my percentages will go way down with the jerkbaits and spinnerbaits. However, everyday there will be windows of time when your percentage for success will increase. Under these conditions my best chance to catch fish will be first thing in the morning when there is a low light condition on the lake. I will have two rods on the deck, one with a spinnerbait and one with a jerkbait. I need to move as fast as possible when trying to locate and pattern the morning reaction fish. I begin by hitting the points and cuts that will receive sunlight first alternating baits and retrieves. As the sun begins to rise I will switch to the banks, points, walls, and cuts that still have shade on them. To be successful you will need to have several days of practice time available, because you need to take on the lake one section at a time. Once the sun is overhead, I utilize this time of the day to find my limit fish or backup fish, primarily on dropshots, darter head worms or jigs. If I am unsuccessful at getting the reaction bite going these fish will become the fish I target in the event. As the day progresses shade lines will develop on canyon walls or in wooded coves, or from pretty much any other overhead cover. I will then go back to reaction baits and look for the bigger bite. Sometimes a 5 degree increase in the water temperature is all these fish need to move up into ambush spots and position themselves to where they can be easily caught.
After each day I will return to my motel room and evaluate my day. Did I catch any reaction fish? If I did then what time of day was it? What type of structure? flat points?, sloping points?, boulders?,red clay or sand points? Any in cuts? Cuts lined with boulders or clay and scattered rock? Did they have fresh water running into the cut or not? Then I will ask the same of my worm and jig fish. I hopefully will be able to narrow down when and where the fish are feeding. This will enable me to cover more water efficiently on my remaining days of practice.
Hopefully you have learned enough in your practice and in pre-fish time to help you make good decisions during the tournament. Pay close attention to where you caught your biggest fish and what time of day. If it was sunny and you caught two big fish on the side of a point on a dropshot, and the weather is the same during the tournament your in good shape. However if a storm rolls in those fish will most likely reposition, now you need to use your knowledge from practice and adjust with the fish.
You will always hear that so and so is going to win, he is on some giant fish, man has he got em figured out. How many times has that person actually met his or your expectations? Almost never! It will serve you well not to get too caught up in how you caught them in practice, but rather use this as a starting point for your competition days. Remember you don’t get to weigh ‘em in during practice. Your goal is to gather as much information as you can in practice. Then in the tournament, use that information to adjust with the fish and/or weather changes. If you didn’t catch ‘em very well in practice, don’t be discouraged sometimes more is learned from not catching them (process of elimination). Some of my best tournaments have been following a disappointing practice period.
Go for the “W”!!!
WIN!!! I tell myself every tournament if I’m not fishing to win, I’m fishing to lose. My goal is to win every tournament I enter, but at the same time I’m realistic in knowing that could never happen. I can drive home satisfied with a middle of the pack finish as long as I did everything I could to win. If you set out the majority of your practice time to finding fish that are going to give you a chance at a check and keep you in a points race, more often than not you won’t have enough time left to find