If you have ever read a press release or one of the many articles written immediately following a BASSMASTER Classic, you probably noticed (or should have noticed) that almost every Classic champion had at least one thing in common with their predecessors. Although there may be other common things (for lack of a better term) that this elite group may share, the one sure thing is that rarely, if ever, did any one of them win the Super Bowl of bass fishing utilizing one single bait or one single technique. In nearly all of the thirty-four BASSMASTER Classics held, the winner used a variety of baits and techniques to capture their crown. If you don’t believe this, simply take a quick glance at any Bass Pro Shops catalog and see just how many different lure companies lay claim that the Classic was won on one of their baits in any given year. Taking into account the number of new sponsors that every Classic champion secures after their win, the more time that passes after their victory, the more baits were involved in their Classic victory, or so it seems (said tongue in cheek, of course).

Years ago, I took a good friend of mine bass fishing. He was brand new to the sport, thus making him very impressionable. We had several successful days splitshotting plastic worms. (Dropshotting hadn’t even been “invented” yet). A few months later, we went fishing again and my friend only threw a splitshot (with marginal success) while I was clocking ‘em with a crankbait. I eventually convinced him to throw a crankbait (he had to borrow one of my rods since he brought only his splitshot rod). After a few world-class backlashes (and a few near misses to my head), he finally started catching fish on the crankbait. A few months later, we go again and he brings only his crankbait rod, and it’s a wide-open jerkbait bite. I finally convinced him to throw a jerkbait and he is successful. It was only then that he finally realized that no one bait works all of the time and that you have to be able to throw different baits under different conditions. Armed with this knowledge and experience, my friend went on to become a successful bass angler and had a couple of great finishes in the U.S. Open on the amateur side. If it were as easy as using only one bait and only one presentation all of the time, there wouldn’t be any bass tournaments because there wouldn’t be any bass left to catch. But, as we all know, it’s not that simple, not by a long shot. To be a successful angler, you must be versatile.

From our earliest days as bass anglers we have always been told that to be successful you must be versatile. But what exactly does this mean? Webster defines versatile as “Having many abilities.” This certainly fits the bill when it comes to being a successful angler, but there is a lot more to it than just that. Not only must you have many abilities, you must know exactly when to use each one, or perhaps even more important, know when to change from one to another when the conditions change. How often have we seen a tournament angler tearing ‘em up for the first two days of a three-day tournament, only to fall flat on the final round? Was it their lack of ability that caused them to fail? Probably not. With today’s elimination or “cut” type tournaments gaining in popularity on the professional level, you simply do not make it to the final round on luck, at least not on a consistent basis. It definitely takes versatility. That’s why the ability to detect a change in conditions and to adjust to these changes accordingly is as much a part of being versatile as being able to skip a finesse bait under a dock or flip a jig into heavy cover without so mush as a ripple.

During the 1996 BASSMASTER Classic, George Cochran of Hot Springs, Arkansas had a very good pre-fish using deep diving crankbaits and spinnerbaits fished along deep creek channel drop-offs. His pre-fishing pattern dropped off rapidly during the first day of competition and was completely gone by the second day. Sensing that the conditions had changed, Cochran drastically adjusted his game plan and discovered that the same quality fish that he had found in deeper water during his pre-fishing had moved up into extremely shallow water and were right on the bank. While the rest of the Classic field kept trying to force the deeper fish to go, Cochran was able to catch his sunbathing bass on small tube baits in less than a foot of water and he won the tournament by exactly one pound over Davy Hite of Prosperity, South Carolina. It was Cochran’s second Classic victory and everyone applauded Cochran for his ability to locate fish that no one else could find and his ability to catch them on small finesse baits that required a very subtle presentation. This was versatility at its very best.

A bit closer to home and on a much lesser scale, I was fortunate enough to win the California B.A.S.S. Chapter Federation Region-7 Angler of the Year title this past season and I attribute my success to the will of the Lord and to being much more versatile than I had ever been in the past. I can certainly dropshot, splitshot, and shake worms with the best of them here in Southern California and did so during the 2003 season. Although I did manage to win one tournament this way, I finished second in the Angler of the Year race (by a mere five points) to my good friend Sean James of Simi Valley. Even though Sean did not win any tournaments during the 2003 season, he won the Angler of the Year title because of several second place finishes, all of which were accomplished by throwing trout imitating swimbaits.

With the approach of the 2004 season, I had made the decision to “not fish chicken,” as my good friend Gary Dobyns would say. I made the decision to put down the worm rod and pick up the Pig and Jig rod (not a “chicken” bait by Dobyns standards). I managed a fourth place finish at the season opener with the Pig and Jig. I continued on my trek to become more versatile and, by the second tournament of the season, I had becoming a full-blown swimbait fisherman; something that I had only toyed with in the past and with very limited success. My swimbait of choice was the eight-inch Huddleston Deluxe Trout.

Through the course of my tournament days, I would find myself growing tired from casting these heavy swimbaits and I would consider putting my big bait rod down and picking up a worm rod. But every time I would seriously think about doing so, I would hear Dobyns’ voice in the back of my head saying “Dude, don’t you DARE pick up that worm rod!” and I would keep on “Hudd slinging” (as I call it). I have to admit that I did give in to the worm rod in one tournament and I paid dearly for it. I had caught three good fish on the Huddleston, but when my partner filled out his limit dropshotting a worm, I got caught up in the livewell count and started dropshotting. Although I did catch one nice keeper and broke off another on the dropshot, I seriously believe that had I continued throwing the Huddleston Deluxe swimbait all day, I would have filled out my limit on it and I would have won that tournament. Instead, I finished in tenth place, my worst finish of the season. I finished out the remainder of the season throwing Huddleston swimbaits and I am absolutely convinced that I would not have won the Region-7 Angler of the Year title had I not done so.

Throughout the five-tournament season, I weighed in a total of nineteen bass; thirteen of them caught on Huddleston Deluxe swimbaits, five of them caught on a Pig and Jig, and one caught on a dropshotted Roboworm. I won two of the five tournaments, had a second place finish, a fourth place finish, and a tenth place finish. In the two tournaments that I won, my margin of victory was 15 1/2 pounds and 4 pounds respectively. The total weight of my nineteen bass was 70lb 8oz, nearly thirteen pounds heavier than my nearest competition. I attribute my success during the 2004 season to being more versatile. I owe a great deal of gratitude to Sean James for opening my eyes to the incredible world of swimbait fishing, and to Ken Huddleston of Huddleston Deluxe Baits for his endless support, confidence, and belief in me. I am now a devout (and versatile) “Hudd Slinger.”

There is no real magic to becoming a more versatile angler. You simply have to venture out and try new techniques until you become more successful at them. When you have a good day with a new or different bait or technique, evaluate the conditions. Why did I catch fish here, but not there? How come the crawdad colored crankbait caught more or better fish today than the shad colored crankbait? Why did a fast retrieve with a swimbait generate more strikes today than a slow retrieve? Why did I catch fish shallower in the morning and deeper in the afternoon? These are the types of questions that you need to ask yourself after every outing. When you learn the answers to questions like these and you can duplicate your successes on the water again and again (especially during tournaments), you have achieved versatility. And that, as we have always been told, is the key to success.

Thanks for your time and always remember: “The shortest distance between two points is a reef!”