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From A Partnership To A Championship

From A Partnership To A Championship Discover how individual tournament strategies and big picture planning decisions can turn into a championship season.

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Partner Selection

From the very beginning, the partner selection process is one of the primary issues to concern yourself with when fishing a buddy tournament. You have to ask yourself "who do I fish with". I have many friends in the industry to whom I could turn, but would we be able to work with each other for 8 plus hours a day in the confines of a bass boat?
   As it turned out, my partner chose me, and I still consider myself very fortunate to find such a first rate angler and friend.
   We first met via e-mail and soon after on the telephone after he had read some of my articles on turning professional back in 1998. We never met until he came to my rescue on another tournament in July of 2000 where my previous partner at the time, canceled at the last moment. My new and current partner Swift Spaulding, of Germantown, MD drove several hundred miles from his home to upstate New York to fish the Hudson River with me and I never forgot it. This unselfish act of friendship, from a man I had never met, left me with the feeling that I had found a true friend and a first rate fishing partner. He was the obvious choice for me. However there are many things to look for in a partner, but often your gut will tell you, if you have the right person for the job.
   A plus in this relationship is that our fishing styles also compliment each other, so we don't waste time both fishing the same lures, or the same techniques. Both of us have mastered the suite of riggings and set-ups used on the professional circuits and have (over the years) fine-tuned them to suit our thinking and confidence levels.

Pre-Tournament Preparation

Priority number one is accommodations and food. Both are as vital as clothing on a cold day, as you need your rest and to eat wholesome food, ensuring your body can cope with the demands of the tournament day/s ahead.
   When I fish trails on my own, I usually bring home cooked food which has been frozen to cover me for the week and bring a small microwave oven to cook for myself. It saves money and time, plus I get to eat Linda's home cooking, even when I am over one thousand miles away!
   Early in the planning stages, decisions between Swift and myself have to be made as to who is bringing their boat (distance and home location play a role here) or do we use both boats and "double up" on practice time? Personally, I like to bring mine with me, I guess it is a confidence thing.
   With these matters settled, we can concentrate on map work and locations. As I mentioned before, Swift is in Maryland and I am on Long Island in New York, so we "snail mail" each other information, talk on the phone and e-mail each other ideas, information, rumors and gossip!
   We do not necessarily believe all we hear, but we put everything we have into the mix, stir it up and see what falls out! Once we have chosen the locations, we then decide (if we have two boats) who is going north, south, east or west.

Practice Days

I have mixed emotions over practice. If I have had good practice I usually have a bad tournament and vice-versa. But whatever happens, practice never (at least for me) seems to hold up for the tournament. I still do practice and I still do it with conviction, without that, it would be pointless. The problem for me is trying to believe that just once, the weather will cooperate and both the practice and the tournament days will be identical and the fish will stay put! (Dream On!)
   So to get back to the story line, Swift and I keep in touch throughout the practice day/s with mobile phones and walkie-talkies so we can keep up on each other's progress, discovery and problems. A vital piece of information is the time of day when you catch your fish. Swift and I have often compared notes and discovered "optimum feeding times" which prove very useful during all the tournaments.

Tournament Eve

Well the practice is over, and we will now look at the Weather Channel as if it were the Playboy Channel, hoping to see something worthwhile before we go to sleep! This will be repeated nightly for the next two or three days (depending upon the tournament trail). Now all we have to do is pray that in the morning the weather improves or stays identical to the day/s of practice where (if we were fortunate enough) we caught numbers of keeper sized fish. I am sure some of my colleagues on the pro circuit are by now sympathizing with me about watching that damn "Weather Channel". Why is it that during practice the sun stays behind the clouds? Or there is no breeze and the sky is just nicely overcast? However, when tournament day arrives everything changes, usually to one of the following:

  1. it will either snow so heavily that you can't see your hand in front of your face.
  2. blow a "force ten" gale with hailstones the size of truck tires.
  3. pour with rain similar to standing in the shower fully clothed.
  4. or, you end up with blue bird skies, Go Figure!

   Usually in a larger tournament situation, you will have received your flight and boat number that evening so you can make adjustments to your game plan should you get a good or bad draw. For our readers who may not yet have fished in a tournament situation, I should explain. When a large number of boats are brought together for a tournament, controls for a safe departure and sensibly spaced weigh-in procedures are required. On the evening prior to the start of the tournament, all anglers will assemble at a pre-determined location to receive their boat and flight number. As an example, if there are 300 boats in a competition, the tournament director will usually split the boats into "flights".
   Flights are made up of an equal number of boats that will be inspected and allowed to depart in an orderly manner. The inspection will include, checking that your life vests are zipped, snapped or buckled, livewell lids open and operational, plus running lights front and back in the "on" position. If any of these items are found to be inoperative or incorrect, it will result in your removal from the line and you will be the last boat to depart! So each flight is called and the boat number drawn by you or given to you by a computer drawing will be called. As the flights depart and time elapses, additional time will be added to those in the later flights making it a "fair days fishing" for everyone.
   Upon returning you will be logged in as having returned safely and then given the necessary weigh-in bags to bring your fish to the scales. Just imagine for a moment if everyone were to return at the same time! What chaos would ensue, and many hundreds of fish would perish. It is important to note that failure to return at your scheduled time will result is disqualification for that day and you fish will be returned to the water without being weighed. The bringing of undersized fish to the scale will also penalize you with weight reductions. Rule of thumb READ THE RULES!

The Road To The Championship

Our four tournaments this year took us to the great states of: Connecticut, Maryland and New York.

CANDLEWOOD LAKE, CT

Our first stop was Candlewood Lake, near Danbury, Connecticut. I fish Candlewood often during the regular season and have a lot of success during the warmer months with both large and smallmouth bass. However, the early season has always been tough for me and I knew that this tournament would be no exception. The prior year I had blanked on the lake and felt as if I had forgotten everything I had ever learned about fishing! This two-day event put both of us to the test. To cut a long story short, we caught undersized fish every day however; we did make it with one keeper fish each day for our trouble. Not a great start to the 2001 tour! Final weight and standing: 2 bass, 2.16lbs, 115th place. Baits: Jerkbaits and Yamamoto 4 inch cut tail worms.
   I had to fly to Miami, Florida that night for a three-day exhibition and I replayed those two Connecticut days over and over again in my head. My conclusion was we did nothing wrong, we just did not find the quality of fish required.

POTOMAC RIVER, MD

The second venue on the FOXWOODS trail was the Potomac River, near La Plata, Maryland. This is Swift's backyard and we expect to do very well here. Swift had done his homework and located several areas for us to practice on.
   We had decided to go with one boat and that proved to be very sensible. There are many treacherous areas on the Potomac that only a seasoned angler would know about so I put myself entirely in Swift's hands.
   Well we caught nine keeper sized (15 inches and above) bass in two days. We consider the value of points and a healthy weight a good omen as we move onwards. Final weight and standing: 9 bass, 18.63lbs, 29th place. We were now in the 47th place overall for the Classic and it felt so close we could taste it! With just two more events, could it be possible? Baits: Mann's Baby-1 Crankbait, the Gary Yamamoto 4 inch cut tails and of course the mighty Senko.
   I should point out at this juncture, I was thrilled, but this was not what Swift had expected. He is often very hard on himself as a professional angler (as he was in his prior life as a professional cyclist) and in my humble opinion for no good reason! He is a damn good fisherman and always does his very best. More than that is in the hands of the Lord! I too used to beat myself up, but you can only do your best. If you do and it does not work out, then you should be able to walk away with your head held high, knowing you did your utmost! Only experience will give you that ability and it's a tough lesson to learn.

LAKE GEORGE, NY

I had never fished this lake before and due to prior commitments and I had no time to practice. Swift had traveled there earlier in the week with his wife and daughter and practiced for two days prior. When I arrived with my wife Linda, we all went over my notes from mutual friends and his own findings and literally threw together a plan for the next two days. What transpired was that we fished on one private dock, which produced over 50 fish in the two days and a tree that had only recently fallen into the water. Add to this an audience of about 20 people who owned the dock and who clapped each time we caught a fish! It was a very special time and the people of Lake George are to be commended for their encouragement, hospitality and friendship.
   Well we caught a limit, each day with a kicker fish of just under 4lbs. Final weight and standing: 16 bass, 22.73lbs, 66th place. With this weight we slipped from 47th into 53rd place for the Classic. We were now going to play all our cards on the Hudson River in two weeks. Neither of us ever discussed this, not even now as I write, but I think Swift and I were so determined to make the Classic, that we mentally made a pact with ourselves to "go for broke" on this last tournament of the series.

HUDSON RIVER, NY

Well, I never thought I would ever have been able to say this, but the Hudson River was calm and flat as a pancake during practice and on the first day of the tournament. Day two would be windy but the major problem was boat traffic on the main river. Caution was the key word and "reading the water" would be vital in staying dry and safe. During practice, Swift had traveled south to fish the famous "chestnut beds" and I had traveled north to fish my favorite creek and some other main river point locations. We both found fish and after comparing notes, we realized the tides were going to play a vital role in our decision making for both days of the tournament. Swift had found quality fish in the morning, and I had a strong afternoon bite in the creeks. As those of you who fish rivers know only too well, the tides change dramatically within a 3 days period and so backup plans had to be made sure our patterns did not fall apart. Day one we caught only 3 fish but was enough to bring us around 6 lb. When we saw the standings after day 1, we realized we needed another 6 plus pounds on day 2, to make the Classic. We were very nervous as our first day fish were not where they were supposed to be and it looked like time was running out!
   On the final day, we threw caution to the wind and ran the 45 miles south to a chestnut bed that had produced well in practice but had done nothing on day 1 of the tournament. Little did we know that by 11am the four fish we caught would be all we would catch. Would it be enough? What made things worse, was that I had lost a fish at the boat around the 2lb mark that would have been (I thought at the time), a "kicker" which would add to the weight we were looking for. I kicked myself for the rest of the day thinking to myself that "I had lost our place in the Classic" because of that one fish.
   Was it enough? Had we cut things too close? A million questions surged into my brain and I had to walk away from the weigh-in site and try to clear my head. Returning about forty-five minutes later, we discovered that there was a delay in the final place standings for the Classic. Of course I thought, " Its us. I lost that fish and now we are going to get bumped by an ounce "!
   The tournament director (Lee Bailey Jr.) began reading the list and started at the 50th place. 49, 48, 47, my heart sank. I said to myself "there is no way we were higher than 47th". Lee continued to read the 46th place, 45, 44, 43 "Charles Stuart and Swift Spaulding". Oh my God! I jumped into the air as if I had scored a grand slam at Yankee Stadium and began hugging anyone within a thirty feet radius! I kissed total strangers and "hollered" like an over zealous cowboy on a cattle drive! WE WERE GOING TO THE CLASSIC!
To be continued...

Stuart is a pro angler who fishes the B.A.S.S. Invitational circuit, the RED MAN Northeastern trail and the FOXWOODS trail. He is sponsored by Bullet Weights, G.Loomis, Gamakatsu, Lake Hawk, Chevy Trucks, Hawg-ly Lures, Uncle Josh, Ike-Con Fishing Tackle, Snap-Set Spinnerbaits, Map-Trap, Stamina Components and Power Troll Batteries.

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