Getting Started in Tournaments
By Scott Nielsen
I am often asked what does an angler need to do to get started on the road of the professional bass angler? It's an interesting question since the answer varies from angler to angler. Each angler has his individual strengths and weaknesses, each person has his own goals and dreams. It's really a very personal thing, but, there are a few steps each and every angler dreaming of hitting the tournament trail should take.
Initially, I suggest taking time to fish the amateur side of the tournaments. This will give each angler the opportunity to learn from a professional in a tournament environment. It's vital to understand the pressure anglers can feel when there is money on the line. In a tournament, you are dealing with the clock, weather, partners and fishing conditions. By fishing the amateur side for a while you can get a better understanding of how the professionals handle the pressure and work conditions, instead of letting conditions work against them. As a non-boater, you can gain many benefits from the pros with whom you fish.
You will learn what to and many times, what not to do. In certain cases, such as in a draw team tournament, the non-boater becomes an essential part of the team. I have known of many instances where the non-boater was the key to a professional angler's success.
To begin with, I suggest starting with your local club tournaments. These are inexpensive to compete in, closer to home, and they only have four to six tournaments each year. What a great way to get started and you usually don't even need to own a boat. This will "get your feet wet" so to speak. You can get some experience fishing tournaments without breaking the bank or spending the mortgage payment.
The next step would be to graduate to the B.A.S.S. Federation level. Here you will have the opportunity to fish against some pretty high-caliber anglers. You can get a good look at what these anglers are doing. The beauty of this level is that you still don't need to have a boat and can continue to fish as a non-boater, learning all you can prior to making a healthy investment in a new bass boat.
When you are fishing as a non-boater, take full advantage of the school you are attending. You are in position to learn more about fishing here than anywhere else, and at a much faster pace. Pay close attention to what the various anglers you fish with are doing. More importantly, learn "why" they do it.
Being successful in tournaments is based more on "why," rather than "what." Why a lure change was made, why a color was changed, why depth has changed? "Why" is much more vital. Set aside the " what" and "where" and continually focus on the "why."
Prior to heading out on the water as a non-boater, spend a few minutes with your pro and ask what type of techniques or patterns you can expect and adjust your tackle accordingly. Make certain to ask the pro if they think the same pattern will hold up all day or if there could be changes as the day progresses. There isn't room for you to bring every lure, rod and reel you own into the boat, so cut your tackle down to the bare minimum.
Once you're out on the water, a little common courtesy goes a long way. Take advantage of the time running from spot to spot. This is a great time to retie your lures, make lure changes, have a drink or a quick snack. Don't waste precious fishing time with such matters, you're not driving the boat, so why not get a step ahead of the game?
Many anglers let out a deep sigh when they have to fish from the back of the boat. Believe me, many times, that's the best place to fish from. I have learned many things from my back-seater. Unless your partner has a proven pattern that is consistently work- ing, try to do things a little bit different from your pro. Don't attempt to copycat the pro. You can pick up fish behind anyone and many times you'll be the one to discover the winning pattern.
When you decide you're ready to head out on the lake in your own boat, here are a few tips which will benefit you.
The biggest mistake new - and many experienced - tournament anglers make is, letting the pressure get the best of them. Just like any other sport, it's important to develop your game plan. How many times have you watched a basketball or football game and watched a good team get a little behind, abandon their game plan and then cornpletely fall apart? Fishing is the same way.
During your pre-fish is when you develop your game plan and you need to stick to it during the day. If the tournament is longer than one day, you may change your strategy prior to the next day, but not in the middle of the day. While there may be times you will get away with it, overall, you tend to falter when you change. Don't allow the pressure to alter your game plan. Focus the game plan development the night before and stick with it.
One of the greatest downfalls of a tournament angler is "dock-talk." Don't allow talk to change your strategies. The only thing that really counts is the scoreboard, it will let you know if you need to rethink your strategy.
Of course, the most crucial element for the tournament angler is to keep it simple and fun. It's far too easy to get caught up in the pressure and lose sight of the wonderful experience you are having. If you keep it simple and make it fun, you'll find yourself enjoying a higher degree of success. Good Luck and maybe I'll see you on the water.
Reprinted with permission from Bass West Magazine