If I’ve done my pre-fishing properly I have, in effect, culled fishless water. My time spent online and networking should have prepared me for where I don’t want to fish, so managing water and time from this point should be easy, right? Well, not as easy as that, perhaps. But from the time I pick up my token to the time I pull in at the check-in, I will keep as close an eye on my watch as I do my electronics.
Actually, my time management begins well before I even show up to the captains’ meeting. From my research, I will have read and understood the rules and all the locations involved. I will know if I have to check out at a single point, or if I can launch at the proper time from another location of my choosing. This understanding of where the boundaries are, where I’ll pick up my token, where I can launch, and where the check-in will be all relate to the locations I’ll fish - and even where my hotel booking will be.
As an example: if a tournament will hand out tokens the evening of the captains’ meeting and I can launch at any public, convenient location within the tournament boundaries, I’ll most likely book my hotel near my launch location. This will save me some sleep time, or allow a few extra minutes for any hiccups prior to go-time. Conversely, if there is a check-out from a central location, I’ll book near that location so I can be there in a flash once the alarm goes off. Further, if there is that central early-morning check out, it might make a difference in choosing my fishing locations.
Time management of my driving to my actual fishing location can be a great part of the whole system. In my pre-fishing, I’ll certainly take this drive into consideration and weigh the value of those precious minutes with the inches gained. Honestly, if I’ve found decent fish close to the check-in and feel that I can pick through those fish to find my money, as opposed to swinging for the fence with a long drive and a potential problem on the road, I may take the easy route.
Along with my pre-fishing on the computer and selecting those specific areas where I will spend my on-the-water time , I take weather into account. Not just if it will be clear or overcast, but any tide and wind with regard to my traversing bodies of water. If there is to be a light wind in the morning and a breeze midday, my plans should include which area I’ll hit first, and work with the wind to cover other areas. Of course I want to be on my prime water at the peak of when I expect my bite, but I cannot forget the return trip to the truck with plenty of time to get back to the check-in. This can actually translate into a long paddle early in the morning to get to that premier spot, and working with the weather to get me home in time for the show.
I’m asked quite often how many spots I plan to fish, and how long do I give each spot? Man, what a difficult couple of questions. The politicians answer would be something like, “Each day is different, and conditions change, so you have to just read the water…” etc. While that is completely true, I actually have a bit of a recipe. I typically select three reachable areas within my fishing boundaries. I’ll have my premier area—the place where I expect to do everything I need to do, within the time I need to do it. I’ll have a couple of backup spots in my pocket, in case the bite is off or the weather turns upside down unexpectedly. There is nothing wrong with making an aggressive move if the bite is not happening. This tournament is about putting inches on the board, not spending the day figuring out why these particular fish are shut down.
What about the question of “How long?” This is certainly the magic question with the perfect answer, or no right answer at all. Just as many times as I’ve heard, “As soon as I switched spots, I started catching fish,” I’ve had anglers tell me, “As soon as you left they turned on like a disco ball!” I wish I could give that perfect answer to everyone reading, because then I’d have that perfect answer for myself. But that is really not the case. If I were forced to answer - and you cannot blame me if it doesn’t work - I’d say to stay on the number one spot until you expected the bite to die anyway. That’s written in chalk, not cast in stone.
As part of managing our time on the water, we have to give great consideration to loading and unloading our gear. More times that I care to admit I’ve spent more time than I should have pitching to fish I thought I needed. Then I found myself humping it back to the ramp, frantically loading my gear, and driving like a madman back to the check-in. The best practice (one I need to practice myself) is to force yourself to have a drop-dead time limit. Calculate your trip back to the launch and your travel back to the check-in, add some fudge to that, and generate a time that no matter the bite or conditions you must be headed back. I have adopted an even greater buffer if I have what I feel is a potential podium bag of fish. Too many stories end with, “I had the winning fish, but couldn’t make it back in time.”
In the next and final part of this series, I’ll open up my private bag of tricks with some secrets that have helped me gain the successes I’ve enjoyed.