Tournament Strategy: Decisions, DecisionsTournament Strategy: Decisions, Decisions
The ability to make instantaneous on-the-water decisions can be the difference between a trip to the winner's circle and a long ride home.
By Frank McKane, Jr.
One of the key characteristics of the nation's top professional bass anglers is years of on-the-water experience. They have fished all types of water under all kinds of conditions. Through this experience, professional anglers learn how to catch fish using a variety of techniques.
This extensive fishing experience gives professional anglers a distinct tournament advantage over weekend tournament anglers. Most anglers fishing the Wal-Mart BFL realize that they need to gain hours of fishing experience before they can move up to compete at higher levels.
Yet, when we examine lists of winners from BFL, EverStart and Wal-Mart FLW Tour events, a small, but elite, group of anglers repeatedly rise to the head of the class. There is something special about these anglers. That some thing is the ability to make instantaneous adjustments to their fishing tactics.
Being able to recognize when and how to make an adjustment really separates the good fishermen from the great fishermen, say most professional anglers. When fishing a tournament, nothing ever really goes the way you plan it. You need to be able to change to meet the situation.
The ability to know when to make an adjustment is crucial to winning a tournament. Many of these on-the-water adjustments are in response to climatic changes, such as a passing cold front or a subtle shift in water current. These conditions will alter how bass behave and strike.
"The key to any on-the-water adjustment is recognizing change," says professional angler Terry Baksay of Monroe, Conn. "This requires you to be very observant. You need to look at what the fish are doing, how the bass are relating to structure and how the weather and water are changing. Each change forces you to make changes in your fishing patterns."
Experienced anglers can often detect these environmental changes as they occur. Cold weather and wind are obvious changes that most anglers sense, but water current changes and more subtle weather changes will often fool the weekend angler. Baksay relates a tale on how he was forced to make change in his fishing tactics because of a subtle, seemingly insignificant weather change.
"A few years ago on Lake Seminole, I was catching fish on a gold-colored Rogue around some trees. The day was sunny and the fish were active," he said. "The next day was partly cloudy and the fish stopped biting. But then the sun came out and a bass hit the Rogue. After that, I watched the water and cast toward trees when the sun hit them. That was enough for me to take a check."
In multi-day tournaments, anglers often go out at different times each day. One day, an angler will go out in the early flight when the lighting is dim. But another day, the angler will find himself in a later flight when the sun is higher. A common mistake inexperienced anglers make is to fish each starting time identically.
Perhaps you start early in the morning before the sun gets up and you are catching them on poppers and light colors, but the next day, after the sun gets up, you don't catch them. It's not that the fish aren't there. You need to change to catch them.
Every tournament angler has felt the frustration of watching a bass follow his lure to the boat without biting it. These fish casually swim behind the bait, glance up toward the boat, and then slowly turn away.
The same story fits the tournament-fishing scene. If the little train engine didn't believe it could pull the boxcars up the hill, it probably wouldn't. Likewise, the tournament angler that questions his ability to win the tournament is doomed to failure.
Many inexperienced anglers continue down the bank casting and hoping one fish will make a run toward the lure. That, unfortunately, doesn't usually happen, so most anglers contently throw up their hands and begin making excuses as to why the bass aren't biting.
What it should tell you is that there are bass in the area. It should tell you there is some level of aggression because the bass followed the lure. Something about your lure aroused the bass' curiosity. But it also tells you your bait isn't doing its job.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make an educated adjustment to your fishing approach that will entice the bass into striking. You could change spinnerbait blades or crankbait color. That could be enough to trigger a strike. Sometimes a major shift in approach is in order.
Baksay says he would make two lure adjustments to catch trailing bass. He would either change lure color or lure size. Baksay would first reduce the size of his bait. But in the end, he would eventually catch the bass because if his first change didn't work, he would switch over to the other option. Within a few dozen casts, he would be casting a different size and color lure.
Baksay also alters his standard procedure to meet environmental conditions.
Notice Your Changing Environment
Many on-the-water adjustment decisions are based on non-fishing observations. Water rises and drops should give you an indication on how bass will alter their feeding positions. Current, whether dam or wind driven, can often push fish into different stations. Your fishing experiences will help you adjust your tactics to match the bass.
But Baksay believes there are more telltale signs to indicate bass activity.
"You have to be aware of your surroundings and aware of the conditions at all times," he says. "But you need to watch the activity on the shore, too. Fish are like the animals up in the woods. If they are active, the bass will be, too. If not, slow down and use a smaller bait.
"If you see a lot of bait on the surface and all of a sudden the baitfish aren't around, that may indicate that the bass aren't moving around. Then it's time to pick up a jig and go tight to cover," he says.
Sometimes the opposite will happen. In the morning, all is still. You begin the day by flipping the lay downs then, all of a sudden, the baitfish will begin moving about. You need to immediately respond to the change by switching to a lure that matches to activity level of the bait.
Making The Move
During practice, you located an area loaded with bass. But as luck would have it, a cold front moved in and the fish simply refuse to bite. The fish are still in the area. You know it. You feel it.
But what can you do?
Perhaps the hardest on-the-water adjustment you can make is to leave an unproductive area to find another area. It takes confidence in your abilities to find fish. And a confidence in yourself that you are making the right move.
"Many anglers are scared to move," Baksay says. "But you can't be afraid to just go practice during a tournament. Some of the biggest stringers I've caught were during tournaments when I was practicing."
Baksay says that when he loses confidence in an area, it is futile for him to continue casting away. In his mind, he knows he can't catch a fish in the spot. When that happens, he will move on to look for new areas that may just produce the winning creel.
"You can sit on a dead horse all you want, but you are not going to win the race," he says. "Sometimes you have got to get a new horse."
And sometimes, you need to switch to a new tactic or pattern. In time, and with experience, you can learn when and how to make those crucial on-the-water adjustments.
Content provided by Bass Fishing Magazine, the official publication of FLW Outdoors
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