Make tough tournaments work in your favor

Gary Clouse

Some tournament anglers like slugfests. You know, where the fish are biting everywhere and everyone is catching them.

That’s great when I’m fishing for fun, but not my preference in tournaments. I seem to do well when the bite is hard to come by, which is probably why I typically have more success in postspawn and fall tournaments when the fish are scattered.

Those conditions can freak out an angler unless he or she prepares wisely for such a grueling test.

You do that by adopting a pre-practice mindset that you’re probably not going to get many bites and, when you do, each bite is a clue to piecing together a workable pattern.

Once competition begins, you basically have two choices – either hunker down in an area or do a lot of running from one spot to another.

On lakes I’m least familiar with, I prefer to pick an area where I have had a couple of bites and one that has the cover and structure that fits the seasonal pattern. That might be a big grass flat, river ledge or dropoff with some cover.

I’ve learned that I’m better at putting the trolling motor down in a potential area, keeping the rod in my hands and being prepared for long periods of not getting a bite.

The danger in that is that it’s easy for the mind to drift and diminish your focus. The best anglers out there seem to be very disciplined and treat each cast or flip as if it’s going to produce the next bite. That’s a huge key to succeeding in tough conditions.

Now, I will use the run-and-gun pattern if I am extremely familiar with the body of water and have several specific spots that historically hold a fish or two. A good example would be Old Hickory near my home, a place I have fished for years. I know enough of those little places that give me a chance to catch one and run to another.

Lure and presentation choices can be a factor when faced with tough conditions. Oftentimes it’s best to narrow it down to one or two different baits that produced bites and keeping those in the water.

Downsizing your lure and fishing with a spinning rod also can get you more bites in tough conditions. If you watch Bassmaster LIVE during some of this year’s tournaments, you probably noticed that several anglers did just that.

Conversely, a frog or a big topwater may be a good option. Again, you may not get as many bites, but chances are they will be big ones.

I’m not saying that tough tournaments are fun, but if you accept the conditions, maintain focus and keep your bait in proven areas, you will have an advantage over those anglers who got psyched out before competition began.