Pre-fishing is an often misunderstood part of the sport of tournament bass fishing. Most of the people that I know who don’t fish (admittedly a small percentage of my acquaintances) think that it’s just an excuse to spend more time on the water, but the reality is much more complicated than that. It’s a time to figure out exactly what the fish are doing and how you can catch them during the actual competition hours.
Sounds pretty simple and logical, doesn’t it? Well the truth of the matter is, there are several ways to go about it and know how to approach this practice time can make or break you out on the tournament trail.
This past week at Table Rock, I made a conscious decision to vary my practice routines and I have to say that I was surprised with the results. In the past, I’ve tried to locate a pattern and area that was producing. Then I would stick to that area and try to expand it to places around the original spot. This works well at some times, but when that area dies for whatever reason, it’s much harder to adjust during the tournament.
I’ve also noticed over the years (and this year in particular) that I almost always catch them better during practice than I do during the tournament. In part, it’s because of the way I fish during practice. If I’m not catching them pretty quickly, during practice, I move to a new spot. During the tournaments, I stay put and grind it out. There are lakes where you have to do this, Lewisville comes to mind, but Table Rock is full of fish and I’ve always felt like you can catch them anywhere up there.
With these thoughts in mind, I decided to totally forget about areas during the practice time and only worry about patterns. I’d fish the tournament just like I normally practice, making the decision on where to start and fish anything I see that looks like it would hold a fish. I had 3 ½ days, so I divided the lake into 4 areas (James River, White River, Main Lake & Long Creek) and spent a day in each.
Practice went pretty well with two main patterns developing. I could catch plenty of fish on bluffs with a shaky head rigged Zoom Trick worm and I could catch bigger fish using a Skinny Dipper in shallower areas of the lake with any brush in the water. My biggest problem was that the two best areas that I’d found were about 12 miles up the White and 10 miles up the James, so it’d be tough to fish them both on the same day.
On the first day of the tournament, I stopped on a main lake bluff and caught two quick keepers on a shaky head and then decided to run to my better fish and throw the swimbait. I caught a third keeper right off the bat and started running pockets figuring I could pick up 2 more keepers without any problem. All the time I was doing this, my brain was screaming at me to leave those fish and head up the James to my bluff fish up there.
Well, as it turned out, catching those other 2 fish didn’t happen. I caught plenty of smaller fish, more in fact than I’d caught all 3 ½ practice days combined, but I ended up finishing the day with 3 fish for 6-8 and was in 115th place. Obviously, Day 2 would call for a new approach.
On Day 2, I decided that I was going to go back up the White and make one pass through my swimbait fish and then I was going up the James, no matter what. So 30 minutes after take off, I shut down on my area up the White River and picked up the Skinny Dipper. In about 45 minutes, I had caught 7 fish but only one keeper, so I told my partner to strap everything down and we made the 25 minute run to my bluff up the James.
Have you ever had one of those dreams where you find yourself in a public place and realize you are totally naked? Well that’s exactly how I felt when I made that run and saw 3 boats fishing my bluff. There was no way I could fish where I wanted, so I turned around and ran about ½ mile downstream to a bluff that I’d graphed during practice. I hadn’t fished it but I’d seen fish on the Lowrance StructureScan and it fit the pattern.
I dropped the trolling motor and in the first 100 yards or so caught 2 short fish. Then in the next 100 yards, I caught a 4 and a 5 pound largemouth. By the end of the 1.5 mile bluff, I had a limit weighing about 15 pounds and decided to grind out the rest of the day right there. I ended up with 5 for 17-1 and moved up to 57th place, out of the money but one of the best adjustments of my career.
Now I can’t say the change of pre-fishing style was an outstanding success. But it did enable me to adjust better than I’ve been able to do in the past and opened my eyes to the possibility that this style of practice could step up my game in the future.
Thanks to the sponsors who make this all possible: Scoutlookweather.com, Lowrance Electronics, Phoenix Bass Boats, BoatUS Angler, Power Pole, Costa del Mar Sunglasses, Bass Angler Magazine and Mississippi Van Lines. Without all of you, none of this would be possible.