As discussed in the first installment, prefishing is a huge part of being successful on tournament day. It’s not only the water and conditions that should be fully studied; lures and techniques are a huge part of what make a successful, consistent angler.
We all have our comfort baits, confidence baits, and favorite techniques. When fishing day in and day out, this collection is what we each depend on to round out our days. Even if our successes are limited with those comfort baits, we can usually find another reason we didn’t put the fish in the boat. The weather, the tide, too much water, not enough color in the water—there is always something.
A successful tournament angler has that bag of confidence baits and techniques as well. One of the things that separates the top places from the other finishers can be the ability to put those lures and techniques away as second choices, while going the way of the locals for tournament day.
I mentioned in the first installment that part of successful pre-fishing is taking special note of what guides in the area have tied on their rods when they return to the dock. These ladies and gents make their livings putting fish in the boat. They communicate with each other, and depend on each other to keep clients on the fish. Utilizing this professional knowledge to narrow your bait selection is a golden opportunity.
I’m certainly not trying to inspire anyone to toss out their tried-and-true techniques, and focus on lures or colors they are not comfortable with. The point I am trying to convey is to not be stuck in that rut. If you love tossing a jig-and-pig, but everyone has been hammering the fish with creature baits—it might be a good idea to spend some concentrated effort on riding the wheel that has already been invented.
Even something as simple as a color pattern can make a difference. In some areas, fish can be as fickle as a prom date. If you have fish feeding on a certain color, but they’re lacking in number or size, it might be wise to consider the color the guides had tied on, or the color the tackle shop operator mentioned everyone was pounding them with. I nearly always show up to a tournament with a few extra dollars budgeted to pick up a color or bait that seems to be the hot ticket in that area lately. It’ll be tied on at least one of my rods when dawn breaks on tournament day.
Preparation of tournament equipment should be systematic and thorough. NASCAR crews don’t usually just ‘show up’ and start doing laps. In order to capitalize on the luck I hope to have, I focus on preparation. One of my favorite lessons to convey is that I cannot control what the fish are going to do, but I can control every aspect of my equipment. I have seen anglers show up to events with spools half full, rods a tangled mess, and a confusing concoction of lures in disarray. Clearly these anglers are here to have fun, but are counting on sheer luck, above any preparation.
I’ll state it again—I want to have fun at each event, but it is so much more fun to be successful and to know I actually did give it everything I had. The fish or the other anglers might beat me, but I don’t want to beat myself before the event starts. Simply going through tackle a few day before an event to ensure there are no cruddy hooks or tangled messes among your baits can save time on the water. Checking guides on rods, and putting a few drops of oil in that reel you have been meaning to clean. are simple but sure ways to be prepared.
The day before an event, I pull maybe 50-75yds of line from my reels, and drag it across the lawn or hotel parking with nothing tied to the end. I’ll reel it up and pinch the line or braid between my fingers to ensure there are no bad nicks or knots. This process will help remove any twist in the line. Fresh leaders go on each rod, for those events where I use one.
My kayaks are set up like my business office. I have my pliers, snips, net, and all my equipment laid out in the boat in a manner that makes sense to my angling - not unlike your mouse, stapler, pens, or other items you have in sensible places on your desk. When I reach for my pliers, I know right where they are going to be. When I need my net, my hand knows where to go. This is all about preparation and efficiency. Nearly every tournament is timed, so being efficient is incredibly important.
One very important lesson I try to convey to tournament anglers is a very simple idea in efficiency. Many anglers chose to use topwater lures or plugs with multiple hooks, or even lures or baits that are simply not ‘weedless’. In the event of any sort of weed cover, if you find yourself clearing a weed or grass from your lure just one out of five casts, you just made yourself less effective by 20%. In simple mathematics, in an eight-hour tournament, you may be wasting an hour and a half of that day picking weeds off your bait. A simple change to a similar weedless lure can allow a greater number of productive casts, which could translate to a few more fish.
Being efficient is all about managing your actions against time. Time management is an incredibly huge tool on tournament day. With traversing great distances to and from our selected spots and making the most of our time while we are looking for those fish, we all must watch the clock and plan our day around the few hours we have. In the next installment, I’ll touch on time management where it relates to travel and tournament angling.