This article contains pre-tournament tactics used before a bass fishing tournament to help an angler locate the best areas which hold not only good numbers, but also big quality largemouth or smallmouth bass. This article also reveals strategies that I personally use to prepare for an upcoming event. I purposely write it to be short and to the point, filled with only useful information that you can refer back to when needed.
1. Gathering Information
In today's world of "gotta-have-it-now", one thing we are not lacking is information. Even this article is a good source of information. The following sections will take us on an in depth journey to some of the best ways of finding good information required to have a successful tournament. Over the years I have learned that one of the most important places to find the best information is from your own documented notes. As you read your own notes, memories start to unfold, telling the story of the day's events.
The brain is a very powerful tool, which, when reminded, can bring back a whole day of bass fishing in vivid color. Such details, like what the area looked like or even smelled like, will help you regain a clear picture of what worked and what didn't work for that day of bass fishing.
2. Season, Season, Season
When doing your research on a particular body of water, make sure the information you gather is for the same season the tournament will be fished. Countless articles, blogs, reports, and videos are great at telling you all about what works. However, if the information does not pertain to the time of year you are fishing, it's like looking for spawning bass in the winter.
It is just not relevant! If an article or video does not state the time of year, look for clues like the color of the leaves on the trees. Is the water drawn down for winter? Are the people wearing jackets or shorts? Are there signs of spring, like certain flowers? As bass fishermen, we need to be aware of every detail the environment shows us.
3. Topographical Map Study
Especially on unfamiliar bodies of water, a good topographical map can help you locate potential high percentage areas. This is a topic all on its own that we could cover for days. One thing to keep in mind is that during those first years of organized big bass tournaments, many anglers relied mainly on topographical maps since the GPS was not in use at that time.
Even today with all of our electronic gadgets, apps, and 360 degree sonar, a good map is still a very important part of locating big fat bass! Good sources to find topographical maps are local tackle shops, rest stops, local convenience stores, or the division of fish, game, and wildlife in that area.
4. Satellite Map Study
This is one of the best ways to find great cover for bass! Hop on the big earth satellite map and take a virtual pre-fishing tour of every nook and cranny a bass might be hiding. Depending on the quality of the image and clarity of the water, you can see things in the water like shallow tapered points, sandbars, underwater stumps, roadbeds, etc. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, right? Well, a satellite image must be worth a million, because there are so many clues to find with these images that we could not possibly cover them all. Here are just a few of the things to look for when cruising around on your virtual tour:
My favorite: "Matted Grass". These areas change depending on the time of year, wind, current, etc. I'm mainly looking to see if an area has them. I will search more for them during actual pre-fishing. These areas can hold big quality bass!
I punch these mats with a black and blue soft plastic bait made for punching mats, (the kind without a lot of tentacles to get caught up in the grass,) pegged with the appropriate size weight to punch the mat. Usually a 1 or 1.5 oz. weight works, but the density of the mat will determine the weight used.
Overhanging branches: I love to skip 5" plastic stickbaits under overhanging branches. The bass get way back in these areas due to the shade they provide.
Lay down logs: I will mark all laydown logs that I can run a crankbait or spinner bait down. Also, look for trees with what I call good "Y's" coming into the water. You know, when the tree splits off with two main branches in the water? I will flip right into that "Y." This is where I find I get most of my bites when jig fishing this type of cover.
Drain Pipes: Mr. Bass will often hang in or in front of these.
Bridges: My personal favorites to look for are low overpass bridges to skip baits under.
Lilly Pads: Hint- on a calm day, be still and stare at a small section of pads. Study and stare at the pads for a while. (I know this is tedious, but it has produced many big bass for me.) A lot of times, a bass will give away his location by moving one of the pads. As soon as you see it, cast directly to it with a soft plastic.
Mouths of In Feed Creeks: During tide changes, these can be like highways for bass. Many times, I have picked up numbers of bass going through these sometimes narrow waterways!
Docks: Locate the right docks with the satellite image, then use your topographical map or sonar to find docks with the right water depth. This is critical for tidal water.
Use your imagination and find key areas others will not think of. One day, I found a wall in front of a marina used to block the wakes of other boats. The one side of the wall was straight; I could maneuver my boat down it. The other side of the wall was full of junk metal, eye beams, and other stuff to hang you up.
Most guys wouldn't even think of casting here, including myself! Because I was on one side of the wall and the bass were on the other in all that gnarly stuff, I was able to just drop a jig down over the wall and pick off a couple really nice keeper bass. My point here is try to think outside the box when looking for areas bass might hide.
5. Body of Water History Research
Although some of this may seem pretty boring, and to me it is, because I just want to go out and fish!!! Right? Well, sometimes it is the little things you find out about an area that help the most. On man-made reservoirs especially, you can find information that can help you. Your local library can be great for this—having guide showing old pictures of what the area looked like before it was flooded. Look for old road beds or bridges that used to be there.
Stuff like that is great bass holding areas. In this section, I won't go into all the scenarios you might find as you never know what you will find... I once found an old cemetery in a reservoir. As gross as it may be, tombstones make great bass cover. Come on now, tell the truth, you are not throwing that winning bass back in a tournament just because it came off a tombstone? You may consider to bring a water testing kit.
6. Creating Hot Spots for a Run
First, find out what you are allowed to do regarding this in your area. Check with local fish and wildlife divisions or anyone necessary to get permission. The idea behind this is to create or find underwater structures that will attract baitfish, which, in turn, will attract the elusive Mr. Bass we all seek. Some common bass structures are old, weighted down Christmas trees, bundled branches, purchased bass structures, or even piles of rocks dropped in the water for small mouth bass.
Whatever the structure is, make sure you can locate it either by GPS, a map or some other means. Just make sure other anglers cannot find it! Do not use float markers, ribbon, or flags to mark these or every angler in the tournament will find them as well. Yes, we all know that floating plastic bottle has a Christmas tree tied to it! As is, some may be found just from the sophisticated sonar units out there today. The idea here is that, in a tournament, time is everything. Every minute that goes by is another minute you don't have to catch that keeper bass.Knowing ahead of time exactly where you will run and stop to fish will give you more time to cast and figure out the pattern for that day. "Time is of the Essence!" With that said, there is one way to sort of get some time back! What I mean is more time fished at the tide you want to fish. When fishing tidal water, as the tide moves in and out, you can run your boat to follow the tide. Let's say you are doing well fishing the high tide. Once the tide starts moving out, run your boat up or down until you get to a higher tide. This will give you more time to cast at that tide
Pre-fishing is a must if you are a serious competitor in any bass tournament. Pre-fishing works like this... "you have to find what works for you". This is a time to locate bass and try different lures that may give you that winning edge! Some anglers will remove the hooks, so not to sore mouth bass they may potentially catch during the actual tournament. The idea here is to locate the bass, not necessarily to catch the bass. Once an area that holds good quality bass is found, it can be used to try different techniques to see which ones will produce successful results.
8. Keeping a Journal
This is something I started when I was younger, just starting out in bass tournaments. I am so glad I did!!! Even today, I still look back at some of my old notes, and guess what? They still produce. I have locations marked from thirty years ago that I can go right to and catch bass. It's amazing how bass follow the same patterns year after year.
Sure, there are things that may change, (like weather, flooding and other factors,) but overall bass are bass and bass do what bass do. They move to different areas depending on the time of year, seasonal pattern, baitfish movement, tide, etc. Keeping a good log with the date, location, weather, water conditions, water temperature, map showing locations of where bass were caught or not caught, structures, and any other pertinent information will be very useful when preparing for your next tournament.