Professional Guide and Tournament AnglerIf you are like most fisherman who work full-time during the week spending lunches and any chance they get to daydream and do research for their upcoming weekend tournament or fishing adventure then you are part of the bass fishing and tournament society known as the “weekend warrior”.

Being successful in tournaments can be a challenge since you have had no or limited time on the water. Typically, you are arriving at the lake late the night before or early the morning of the tournament or fishing day. You have ideas as to what you are going to do, but will end up spending the first half of the day trying to quickly put together a pattern for the day. So how do you consistently compete? Part of the challenge is the average angler does some, but not enough pre-planning for the day of bass fishing.

I have found the following steps to be necessary for consistent success:

One- If you can get to the lake the weekend before your tournament or the day before, known as “pre-fishing”, it will help you a lot in the tournament. Most likely, it will not help you establish a pattern for the bass because this will change as fast as the day or weather changes. What it will do, is help you become familiar with the water and eliminate water based on seasonal movements of the bass and locate structure and cover that you like or don’t like to fish. Since time is of the essence in tournament fishing, you don’t want to waste it trying to figure out how to run a lake or find a particular area of the lake.

Two- you have to understand the bass. You have to know the creature you are pursuing, their habits, and how they relate to their environment. By knowing this, you can put together a likely pattern before you even get to the lake that will take only minor adjustments during the first part of the day.

Third- putting together a preliminary pattern for a tournament feeds off the two points above. Hopefully you have had a chance to get on the lake prior to the tournament. If not, or even if you have, you should have a detailed contour map in your possession and get access to the internet. From the internet you can gather some important data as follows and set yourself up for a successful day:

  • Find out what the current conditions for the lake are; water color, rising or falling water, schedule of water releases from the dam, tidal fluctuations, water temps going up, down, or stable, and the weather patterns in the area for 3 days leading up to the tournament and during.
  • Find a history of fishing reports for the lake you are going to. Match the report history to the current conditions. This will give you a starting point.
  • Lay your map out flat and begin to eliminate water based on the reports and conditions you are facing given the seasonal movements of the bass. This will help you isolate some areas of the lake that should have active bass.
  • Pick one area, like the lower section of the lake or a section of a river arm feeding the lake. By breaking the lake down into smaller chunks, it will be less overwhelming and will keep you focused on fishing rather than “running and gunning” all over the lake. Within this area, look for smaller areas and special contours on your map that would be overlooked by the average angler. Learning how to read a contour map is very important in your tournament success.
  • Based on the forage base in the lake, the report history you have, and the current conditions, you can pick some lures that will allow you to cover a variety of structure and depths in the area you have mapped out.
  • Make a mental or physical list of an action plan. This will usually have you fishing fast at first to find active bass. You may then plan on slowing down or using a different approach or changing locations in the area based on what this initial strategy tells you. By having an action plan, you won’t have to do a lot of thinking on the water and your changes will allow you to capitalize on catching bass faster.

Minor adjustments for success will be second nature to you as you gain more and more experience.

Tournament angling or just having successful days on lakes takes a fair amount of study prior to being on the water if you want consistent success. Nobody is very successful at anything without putting the time in on the fundamentals. The level of competition is getting tougher every year as more and more information is shared. Just know that most anglers won’t put in the time to plan and prepare. This will allow you to have an edge over 50% or more of the field as soon as you hit the water. Your skills and experience will allow you to beat the rest.

Being a successful “weekend warrior” requires you to take more action off the water if you want consistent success. Become a student of the water you are fishing and the behaviors of the bass. This will put you ahead of most of your competition and with time on the water, you will quickly advance well beyond the competition. One last point I would like to make is this: NEVER get sidetracked from your planning by listening to the “dock talk” that takes place by the water’s edge or at the place you are staying. Have confidence in your abilities and the information you have gathered. Most of this talk is B.S. and half truths anyway. If you are going to listen to it, just file it away in your brain to use as an extension to your current plan, but don’t let it sidetrack you.

Best wishes –

David Burlington
Bass Fishing? Ask Dave…
Professional Guide and Tournament Angler – Lake Havasu

– Lake Havasu

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