It would be hard to dispute that many of the products used by casual kayak anglers got their starts in the creative mind of tournament anglers trying to outdo their competitors. So, like it or not, tournament angling deserves not only a place in kayak anglers’ hearts, but respect as well.
This is the first of a four-part series directed at tournament anglers, but should be beneficial to anglers of every type looking to get the most from their fishing adventures.
If you are considering entering a tournament for the first time, doing so for the right reasons is important, but having the right mindset will make the venture all the more enjoyable. Many anglers fish tournaments “Just to have fun,” or to support the charity or group that is putting on the show. This is certainly the beginning of the right attitude to ensure you maximize your enjoyment. Rather than debate the what’s and why’s of getting into tournament fishing, let’s just agree that being well prepared and putting some effort into it will likely increase what you get out of it.
Before getting into the details, I have the most incredibly important piece of advice to convey to potential or current tournament anglers: Read the rules - twice. Know what you can and cannot do. This may seem obvious, but I have seen anglers miss out on big prizes because they made a mistake and broke a rule. Some have also missed out because they didn’t realize they could have done something to improve their standing. Ask questions. It hurts no one, and could help you and other anglers. I ask questions in nearly every series I enter. Often, rules have been changed or updated from the questions I have asked.
There are obvious bullet items that need attention before and during the tournament day, which will be highlighted throughout this article series. The first is prefishing.
It’s a common idea in all facets of professional angling that up to 90% of all prefishing is done before you arrive at the tournament location. With the advances of the interweb, prefishing from the desktop has become almost routine for tournament anglers. With a myriad of forums, websites like YakAngler, online charter captain’s reports, and even online news articles, there are plenty of sources for collecting data. But it’s not just the recent reports that are helpful. An incredible secret used by successful tournament anglers is to look at historical reports, too. Again, a quick search of the internet will reveal those archived reports from the same month and even same week, from last year and the year before. Trends are not hard to decipher. Take that data you’ve collected for each spot or location, and compare a little with the tides or conditions you are expecting on tournament day (some anglers will even consider the moon phase) and you could have a handful of spots that warrant some man-hours on the water.
What a tournament angler is really trying to do with on-the-water prefishing hours is identify places the fish are not. There are likely many square miles within your tournament area that might be holding fish. You could spend every hour of every day searching all the spots you ‘heard’ about, and still not cover them all.
With perhaps only a few days or precious few hours to spend on the water before the event, the idea is not necessarily to find those fish, but find out where the fish are not. Of course, if the angler pushes up the Holy Grail of flats, or a rock pile with fish so hungry they are crawling out on the bank to eat walnuts, then all the better. But for the most part, if the angler can identify areas where fish are sparse, much wasted time can be spared on tournament day. Time management is a huge concern on tournament day, and culling that fish-less water beforehand can make the difference between “I had fun,” and ”It sure is fun to do well!”
When fishing a new area, or an area not often visited, many tournament anglers will only schedule one day for actual on-the-water prefishing. They have already done hours and hours of investigation from the laptop and telephone. This certainly saves time, money and energy.
Along these same lines, it often happens that someone from out of the area will score big in the event. A fresh look at the area, as opposed to being in the rut of only hitting the favorite holes, is incredibly important. Just because you want fish to be in your favorite spot does not mean they are going to be there on tournament day. Look at even your own local waters with scrutiny and criticism. If your fish should be there, but have not showed up yet, it’s time to take a page from the successful tournament anglers’ handbook and read the water and conditions like it was a distant locale you’ve never visited. Dissect the map with fresh eyes and attitude.
Doing the prefishing chores not only includes the water itself, but baits to be used on game day. Again, a fresh look at what everyone has been using might lead to greater success than trying to crank and grind with the same old routine. Reports on what colors have been working, what the guides have tied on their rods at the dock, and ultimately what the guys at the tackle shops recommend are incredible sources of information. I have a box of favorites, but if I am hearing the buzz of a different technique or color, you can bet that’s what I’ll have on at least one of my rods when the sun comes up. Don’t discount anything from popping corks to spoons to a color you would not usually throw. If it’s what’s working, it really doesn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel. Something as simple as clear, instead of clear with flakes, can be the difference in worst or first.
In the next installment, we’ll discuss lures in more depth, along with tournament rigging vs. everyday rigging, and pre-event equipment prep.