Tournament bassing - The grand plan

Prep work

Preparation for an event starts the moment my last tournament concludes. I don’t have time to dwell on my last result or even bask in the glory of a win. After an event I will do some quick note taking, what I used and where, what the winner utilised to get the fish, then I am focused on the next round. I believe to be consistent at any sport you need to put in the time and effort, this doesn’t mean you have to live on the water. Time on the water is often expensive and hard to come by, so to maximise the effectiveness of my time on the water I start with a plan. There are numerous ways to find out what could or is working on the fish at the time of your event. A fishing diary is a great tool for establishing a starting technique, this requires you to have initiated one in the past for this to be effective. The internet has unlimited options of which to gather vital information, with past tournament results a great place to start. Google maps, past articles and even sites about the location itself will all hold valuable information. It is when you collaborate all this information that a pattern or technique will start to emerge.

In the early days I used to fish with two rods and had to burn valuable time swapping lures and retying different leader strengths. I now run with at least 6 rods per event, this allows me to run 6 different techniques in pre fish without costing me time. I find at times people will miss out on a bite technique because they didn’t bother to re rig due to the time and effort required. If a rod is rigged pre event you can switch baits or techniques every ten minutes or so throughout the day in a hope to crack the pattern early. Once a technique is established I will still run 6 rods during the event having 2 of each of the key lures rigged, this allows a quick rod change if the lure is snagged or damaged by a fish minimising loss of critical minutes.

TIP

The internet is one of the most powerful pre fishing tools available to the modern tournament angler.

Setting goals, I was told once that if I write it down it will happen. I didn’t write down exactly what I wanted to achieve but I did write down lots of information about locations, techniques and what worked for me and why. Having goals is important to set a driver within yourself, if you are not sure what you are chasing then how do you succeed. I didn’t aim to win the grand final, but I did aim to finish in the top ten maintaining my Bass Pro Rankings for Series 11 AFC qualification. I cracked a pattern pre fish day that I found particularly difficult in comparison to other competitors whispers.

Pre fishing

Subconsciously everyone has a plan prior to going fishing, even if it is only to catch a fish. The effort put into the plan is not always shown in the results, I have fished locations up to 5 times continually frustrated by the results until on the last trip everything appears to fall into place. I don’t always plan to catch fish, often I spend most parts of a pre fishing day scratching out areas or techniques to hone in on the ones that do work. The idea is that those techniques won’t enter your mind during an event as something you should waste time experimenting with. I like to enter an event with one or two lures and a couple of go to spots with some wild card spots for big fish if I have the time. Often high numbers of fish don’t result in quality, if I am given the opportunity I will fish wide of the pack. There are a couple of reasons for this including less pressure and bigger fish. Big fish typically don’t hang out with small fish, if I am on a school of bass and I catch a couple of 35cm bass on the bottom I will try a suspended approach on the mid water fish to see what size they are. You often don’t need to search far to find the bigger fish, at times they can be above or below the smaller ones.

TIP

Take notes, if you have the facility take notes whilst fishing, if not then recall the day with half a page of what you think was important.

Build a mental log when pre fishing, try to remember most things that happen throughout the day and recount them later with a fellow angler. If you don’t want to discuss techniques with anglers in the event, ring a friend that has a passion for fishing and recall the day to them. You will be amazed at what you will work out after discussing the day’s results. At the end of the pre fish day it is decision time, now is when you want to add the final parts of your plan ready for session one in the morning. Make yourself a day box, pre rig or collect a small amount of key lures in the one box, that way you aren’t searching the boat mid event when you need a certain lure. If I am catching fish on an eel coloured power shad in 3/8 ounce, I will have two pre rigged on rods and a further four or five in the day box ready to go. It pays to have some wild cards in the tackle tray but not too far from the pattern, try rigging a couple of ¼ ounce and some ½ ounce heads with the same plastic for example.

Core strengths

As with any sport there are “core strengths” that see certain competitors do well when the conditions suit. The key is to be able to fish all techniques well enough to catch fish whilst maintaining your strengths. My core strength would have to be soft plastics, they are versatile and successful at all times of the year to some extent. Soft plastics as a technique offer me an unlimited number of options and styles, bass could be tapping curl tail grubs in 70 feet or engulfing paddle tails in less than six inches of water. People that focus on one technique are often confident enough in it that they know they will get the two bites for the session that they need to make a limit. Catching a bag on your core strength is often all it takes to get the confidence up to try other techniques to get a bigger limit for the session. Some events are all about consistency and catching six fish for the event whilst others like Somerset 2013 I needed almost 12 kilos to take the win. I won a pro round, the Grand final and a Mega Bucks event in 2013 all of which I used my core strength to get me across the line. The Mega bucks and Somerset event were purely plastics fishing although I ran two to three different techniques during the events. One event we were slow rolling plastics close to the bottom in the morning and ripping them through the mid water column in the afternoon.

TIP

Find your core strength and work on it, better to excel at one technique then be jack of all trades and master of none.

A confident angler is a dangerous competitor, when the pressure hits in a deep bite you will notice the lesser experienced anglers start running around trying to find active fish. Whilst that may be possible it is typically the anglers that tough it out until the death staying focussed on the techniques that get the results. It is not to say that the experienced anglers don’t move around when the pressure is on, they will but they won’t move far and will remain focussed on their sounders pre-empting a different response from the fish close by. Fish won’t abandon an area altogether overnight but may go into submission and only bite twice in the session sometimes only once. When this happens it is important to still be focussing on the proven techniques in order to capitalise when the fish do finally play. It pays to network during the event but beware to listen to too much information, at most events fish can be caught on all of the classic techniques. What you don’t know is, the guys perfecting each technique may spend two or three hours between bites. If you’re not confident in a method you will find yourself doubting it and fishing incorrectly. I find it is more important that I fish a style I have faith in then one that the general pack of anglers is doing. This is not to say I don’t always follow suit, as the saying goes “when in Rome”.

Maintaining focus in the final moments

Fishing any event is daunting and the grand final creates some tense moments and sleepless nights. The effort required to maintain focus in an event is the first challenge in an event especially if you are leading in the final session. From when you crack the pattern Friday to when you need a bag of bass Sunday a lot can change. Weather patterns or even just the pressure of fifty boats running to and fro on the water is enough to shut fish down. You may find they change lures altogether or they may just require your intense rips of the blade to be slowed down to a subtle hop. Pay attention to the bite as the fish will tell you what is going on, I don’t know how many times guys have told me they caught a fish as they had finished the retrieve and cranking it in yet they continued to slow roll for the rest of the session. There is something to learn from every bite, it is those that work out what information to retain and what to ignore that end up consistently on top. Tournament fishing is all about confidence, have confidence in a technique or a spot and you will do better than trying to work out what everyone else is doing.

TIP

Listen for information about what is happening during an event, if it can be incorporated in what you know then use it.

As the event unfolded so did my technique and I found it easier to nut out exactly what the fish wanted. I had a small area to myself and needed to manage the area in order to ensure fish where available the following sessions. I noticed the fish wouldn’t take to my technique until after around 8am, this was due to the fact they weren’t hard on the bottom and I was hopping blades deep. I waited them out in the first session whereas in the third I switched to a plastic to target the suspended fish early. The 3rd and most vital session I had my bag and upgraded twice with suspended fish prior to the 8am bite that I was confident in. Having a full limit takes away the pressure even if the fish aren’t the size you need they are still two bass that the rest of the field has to catch to stay in contention. Depending on the event I find it is often possible to use the first and second session as a pre fish once you have a limit. I do this for a couple of reasons, one is to find the kicker fish I need to put me in front and the other is that it allows my bag filling spots some time to rest. The decision of do I stay or do I go is often the one that makes or breaks an angler’s event. In the first two sessions I will choose to leave quicker than I will in the third. I make the call whether I think I have the bag to keep me in contention without sacrificing the fish in an attempt to crack the winning bag in session one.

Grand Final Gear Box

Rod Dobyns Champion Extreme 701

Reel Quantum EXO 25 Spin

Mainline Sunline Rock Fish 0.8 P.E

Leader Sunline Shooter 8lb

Lures Ecogear ZX40 blade

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