Stop Losing Fish!
By Bill Wilcox
When it comes to tournament fishing we are all bombarded by a countless amount of information. You read and hear about lure patterns and locations. You've put in the right amount of practice time, have the bass locked in on what lure and pattern that they are in. You have the bass so "dialed in," you can actually call the shots on when and where the bite will come.
This is what we all dream about and push for in every tournament. But then it seems the bass won't stay hooked. We've all had this problem. You had enough fish on to win the tournament by several pounds, but didn't get them in the boat. I've noticed over the years it seems the same people come up to me at weigh-in and tell me about the ones that "got away." Of course we all have had this problem at one time or another. I used to have the same problem. There is nothing more frustrating than to lose a bass in a tournament.
Lets look at the problem and see what can be done about it. There are a lot of different aspects we can examine. Some of the more simple things would be to make sure your hooks are sharp. In this day and age this should be the least of your worries. There are so many good quality super sharp hooks on the market today that my hook sharpener is one of the least used tools I have in my tackle box. If one of my hooks is dull, or gets rusty, I just simply change it out. In fact if I know which cranks I'll be throwing in my next tournament, I change the hooks just to make sure that they are sharp. So if you lose a bass because of your hooks, it's a poor excuse.
The next thing to look at is your lure selection. The biggest mistake I see is people using the wrong hook size for the lure. When anglers use a 2/0 hook in an 8-inch lizard or tube, they're asking for trouble.
When I talk about lure selection, I mean using the most effective lure for the conditions. Now there's a fine line to be drawn here. Sometimes the bass will be finicky, but if they're not, use one with the best catch ratio for the job. For example if the bass are schooling and biting just about anything, why use a lipless crank or topwater when they'll bite a spinnerbait or worm? Bass have a much harder time shaking loose from a spinnerbait than a topwater lure.
The next aspect to look at is line selection. Sure it's fun to fight a 3-pound bass on 6-pound test line, but in a tournament it's more fun to play with the bass in the livewell. You need to use the heaviest line you can possibly use. There are very few instances when you would ever use less than 15- or 20-pound test line on a spinnerbait. If you're fishing heavy cover, or muddy water, always go up to 25- or even 30-pound test line. When using a buzzbait, go with a heavy line. Why take a chance on losing fish? I'm amazed when I hear that somebody is using 12-pound test to flip. Of course there are always exceptions to every rule, but use common sense and use heavy line. When flipping thick grass, go with a braided line. Truthfully I'm not a big fan of braided line, but in this one instance I'll make an exception. You just need to check the winners reels at the final weigh-in when flipping grass was the dominate pattern, and you'll see braid almost without exception. Then on the other hand when a Carolina rig is the pattern of choice, the winners will not have had anything but mono on their reels. I've proven this from my guiding days and from several trips to the winners circle. You will definitely get more bites, and lose less bass, if you'll abandon the use of braid on your Carolina-rigged rods.
Let's hope at the next weigh-in you're not one of the anglers that's talking about the one that got away. Don't let that win get away from you. We all need to take a moment to examine the aspects in our fishing that we can control. Look at your hooks, your lures, and check your line. These are simple things to do and if you do them, hopefully I will see you in the winner's circle more often.
Good luck and God Bless.
Bill Wilcox is sponsored by Ranger Boats, Yamaha Outboards, MCMC, BG Products, Pro Rule, Johnson Fiberglass, Brown's Automotive, Continental Batteries, Kistler Rods, Swamp Hog Lures, Strike King Lures, and Fun-n-Sun Sports Center.