Preparation and coaching techniques for tournaments and new bodies of water.
The best way for me to coach myself for an important tournament is to prepare myself for a tournament. Preparation has always been one of my strong points. By using a two-step preparation method I have developed, I enter new bodies of water and tournaments with extreme confidence. My two-step preparation method is as follows:
(1) At Home Research + (2) On The Water Fine Tuning = Sweet Spots
At Home Research
This part of the preparation stage happens way before the tournament and happens before you ever get to the lake. This is a very important step in preparation. In over half of all the tournaments I've ever won, I've found the winning spot or pattern at home.
The first part of this step involves historical research on the tournament location. I review old bass fishing magazines (Bassmasters, Bassin, Bass Fishing, In Fisherman, BASS Times, etc.), libraries, and the Internet, to find information on the lake. I am looking for what I call "buzz words." Buzz words are facts or information that keep coming up in reference to a particular lake. For example, if after researching 3 magazines, a newspaper article, and an Internet article, I keep seeing the word "Pink Worm" come up, I will consider this a buzz word. I will write down these buzz words and other facts about the lake in a notebook. I will keep several pages open in the notebook, so I can continue to add notes during the next part of the at home research stage.
The second part of the at home research stage, involves getting more current and up to date information. I do this by contacting local anglers or by calling local tackle shops or marinas. In this stage I'm looking for general information ONLY! No specifics! I never try and get exact information in this stage. I instead gather current, general information, like lake level, water temperature, water clarity, etc.
Finally, the third step of at home research, is map study. Map study, is the most critical aspect of home research. During my map study phase, I can usually eliminate over half of any given lake and point out key areas that will hold fish. I start by ordering as many maps of the lake as I can find. I do this because no two maps are usually exactly the same. If I can gather 5 different maps, I can use all of them to cross-reference each other. After I get the maps, I begin breaking the lake down into manageable sections. I do this by thinking about seasonal patterns and bass migration routes. By understanding the universal seasonal migrations of bass, you can usually pin point potential fish holding areas. In the most general of terms, the universal seasonal migration of bass is as follows:
- Bass will winter in the deepest, most vertical break areas in a lake.
- When water temperatures start warming up in early spring, bass will start migrating toward potential spawning areas, stopping first on main lake points, then on secondary points.
- During the spawn phase, the bass will seek out flats and coves with the correct bottom composition to spawn on.
- After the spawn, the fish will start heading back out toward deeper water, staging on the same points they stopped at during pre-spawn.
- Summer time heat, finds most of the bass in deeper water main lake areas or in heavy cover areas. Current can also be very key during the summer.
- The fall transition, finds the bass following bait to feed up before the winter. Fall areas include the same flats and coves the bass used to spawn.
Again, that was the seasonal migration in the most GENERAL of terms. But, even in general terms, it lets you establish key areas on the map. I mark these key areas with different colored pens. I circle deep wintering and summering areas with a blue pen. I circle spawning flats and coves with a red pen. And I circle transition points between deep areas and spawning grounds with a black pen. Now, when I get to the lake, I have it sectioned off and have key areas identified.
On The Water Fine Tuning
This is the pre-practice stage, where you actually go to the tournament location and start checking out the potential areas I have circled on my map. This is especially important when visiting new lakes. I use a combination of sonar work and search baits to try and find tournament winning locations called sweet spots. During this stage, I am looking for key areas and concentrations of fish more than specific patterns. As a general rule I like to spend 4 to 6 days pre-practicing for a big tournament. Once I get to the lake and get into areas I have circled on my map, I use two methods to try and locate concentrations of fish. The first method involves studying my sonar unit. With my Lowrance X-85, I fast idle in a zig-zag pattern around the area. I am looking for anything out of the ordinary. I am specifically looking for things like subtle points, humps, depressions, drop offs, and the presents of baitfish. Once I see something different or something that catches my eye, I will drop a marker buoy on the spot. I will then idle some more trying to define the boundaries of the spot. With the marker buoy out, I am ready to use the second step to on the water fine tunings.
Finally, this second step involves getting out my rod and reel and using search type, transmission baits to get more information about the area. Generally I use three types of transmission baits: crankbaits, Carolina Rigs, and heavy jigs. These three baits let me cover a lot of water and feel exactly what is on the bottom. With these transmission baits I am trying to do two things, I am trying to make contact and find isolated cover and I am also trying to catch a few fish. I will fan cast in the area all around the buoy trying to locate that isolated piece of cover. The isolated cover I'm looking for are objects like a rock, or a stump, or an isolated patch of grass. Usually when you can find an isolated piece of cover on some form of structure change (bottom change), you have located what I call "sweet spots." Sweet spots are the kind of areas that win tournaments. They are the kind of areas that tend to hold large concentrations of fish. Once I have located a potential sweet spot and have hopefully caught a few fish, I will mark the area with my GPS unit. This will enable me to get right back to the exact area come tournament time.
After all this preparation, I am ready to fish the tournament. Again, for me the best form of coaching myself and confidence, comes in preparation. By the start of the first day of the tournament, I have a solid game plan and back up plans. I always try and put myself in a position to win the tournament. I put all of my faith in God and all of my confidence in my ability. If by the end of the tournament, I've had a bad tournament and did not catch the fish I wanted to, I have no regrets. I gave 100% during the tournament and in my preparation. I try and take failure in stride and learn from my mistakes. I will make notes on what I did wrong and on what the winners did. When I come back next time, I will be better prepared and I will be ready to fish again.