We’ll start where most start. I’m talking about getting your “stuff” ready. Organizing your tackle. It’s probably the best part of bass fishing, at least when it comes to bass tournament preparation. But should we start with it?
What do you need?
Most of us start with too much stuff. Too many rods, too many baits…too many options. It’s hard to leave something at home, because “you never know”. So while many tournaments start with this equipment phase of preparation, it really needs to be moved down the list. Not in importance but in order. To focus on what to bring we need to start with how we plan to fish.
Time of Year
The best place to start is with the simple question, “what time of year will the event be held?” If it is a regional/local event then spring, summer or fall may suffice. It’s at least a starting point. I would recommend you narrow things down to the month. Banks Lake in March is not the same as Banks Lake in April – even though both are in the spring.
Once you’ve got things narrowed down to the time of year, narrow them down some more. Early April is not the same as late April. That goes for any body of water anywhere in the country.
So let’s say the Body of Water is Banks Lake in eastern Washington. I’ll start with a general idea of what the lake is all about. How big is it? What is it’s classification? Natural Lake or is it a reservoir? What is the source of its waters? I’ll come back to this topic later in the process, but for now, I’m just getting an overview of the body of water.
It’s a springtime tournament. Springtime bass are going through a series of transitions. But not all at the same time. While one group of fish is in a pre-spawn mode, others will be ready to spawn. Simple biology plays a big role here. Metabolism is low. Feeding is not the priority. Springtime is about identifying migrations, transitions, routes, holding areas (staging areas) and spawning areas.
It’s a multi-stage process and not all groups of bass will be at the same stage at the same time. The takeaway here is that one tournament team may be catching bass that are in a late-winter/early pre-spawn mode, while another team may be catching staging bass in another part of the lake. Both teams are fishing different areas, in different depths using different baits. Both teams are doing well.
So you can see that any preparation about a body of water quickly evolves into a study on bass biology. And here lies part of the beauty and attraction of bass fishing. As a tournament angler, you get to identify what population of bass you want to target using what baits and equipment you want to use in the parts of the lake or river you want to fish.
Unfortunately, many tournament participants don’t approach it that way. For many, it’s about going to these spots, and fishing these baits. Period. They go where they caught them last year, or during practice, or where they saw someone else catch them. They struggle when the venue changes or the conditions change or the time of year changes.
“Map Study” is a phrase I am using in a general way. It would be more accurate to characterize it as “geography” study or “topography” study or “botany” study. The goal is to identify and understand what is below me. What is the lay of the land? Where is the deepest water, the steepest break lines, the flattest contours? What types of submerged vegetation are available and where is it at? How about emergent or shoreline vegetation? Where are the specific, unique pieces of structure and cover and how will/do bass relate to these?
Keep in mind that rock, weed, and wood must serve a purpose or have a spawning, feeding or shelter function for bass. They aren’t sightseers or tourists. It’s all about reproduction, feeding and being safe. The cool rock pile you found has to satisfy one of those three things, otherwise, it’s just rocks.
Past Tournament history of that body of water
Have an idea of what “doing good” means on that body of water at that time of year. This means studying past tournament results. If 17lbs is doing good at Banks Lake in April, then use that as a baseline to help you evaluate what you find in practice and how you are doing on the day of the event. I need an idea of what I should expect. If I go out and practice my golf game, it’s helpful to know if this hole is a par 3 or a par 5. There is a big difference between wailing away on the driving range and playing a round of golf. It is just as big of a difference between going out and fishing and competing in a tournament.
Study of what is “normal” for that body of water
Even if you don’t have any past experience on a body of water, you should try to find out what is normal for that lake, river or reservoir. This is one area where talking to “locals” will be helpful or getting a seasoned angler on that body of water to at least answer a few questions. You can reassure them that you aren’t going to ask any questions about spots or baits.
When it comes to weather and weather patterns you are looking for trends. Last week was colder than normal or last week was warmer than normal. Those trends and deviations from “normal” are more important than what the weather is doing today. Too many great days are had on terrible weather days, and conversely, too many lousy days happen on beautiful weather days.
Also, too much emphasis is placed on water temperatures and air temperatures. While these things are a factor, a 65-degree day in early March will not be as productive of fishing as a 45-degree day in late March. When you add the previous week to 10-day trend to that picture, things will change even more.
Instead of “what is the water temperature?”, the first question you should ask is about water clarity. If they don’t know, then that’s the end of the conversation for me. While water temps are quantified (nobody would except a simple “cold” or “warm” as an indicator) you should also want water clarity to be quantified. Two feet of visibility has a whole lot more meaning than simply “stained”. What’s “clear” or “muddy” to one person is just all “stained” or “dirty” to another.
While bass metabolism is controlled by water temps, bass behavior is most affected by water clarity. Water clarity should be the number one lake, river or reservoir condition you seek to understand.
Related and not factored in enough are water levels. In many lakes, rivers and reservoirs water levels can fluctuate wildly in the spring. In some places, changing hourly, while in others they only change when you were on a good bite in prefish. On rivers and reservoirs, water levels and water clarity will often go hand in hand. If your game plan involved accessing or fishing shallow water, then you don’t want to be surprised by a foot drop in water levels on game day. That same drop could have happened during your prefish and now on game day, things are back to “normal”. The anglers who understand this will a have a huge advantage over the rest of the field.