There are those who fish for bass, and then there are those who consistently catch largemouths.
It’s tempting to contribute the latter to pure luck, but how lucky can one angler be? Think of Kevin VanDam, who is a four-time Bassmaster Classic winner, has won 16 other Bassmaster events and earned more then $5.6 million in tournament earnings.
Is VanDam just lucky?
So what separates guys like the Kalamazoo Kid from the weekend warrior who feels lucky to bang out a few bites? Here are some thoughts from touring pros.
Slow your roll
California’s Jared Lintner said speed is an important factor to fishing success because lack of focus can lead to abandonment of patterns learned during practice for a tournament.
“A lot of anglers fish too fast,” Lintner said. “You get on something in practice and rather than locking in on it, if the bite gets tough you get in a big hurry and fish the baits too quickly.
“The more you do that, the less you’re going to capitalize on your pattern.”
“I tell myself, ‘Slow down and make one cast at a time. You can’t catch five fish at once,’” Litner said. “It’s a nine-hour tournament day, and you don’t have to catch five fish in 15 minutes.’”
Limit pretournament time on the water
Practice makes perfect, right? Well, Arizona Bassmaster pro John Murray said there is a balance that helps him key on one or two patterns instead of being overloaded with information.
“Guys spend four or five days practicing for a one-day tournament, and they get everything in the lake going,” Murray said. “They’ve got a shallow-water bite over here, deeper fish over here, topwater fish over there. There’s just too much going on.”
So he spends no more than two days practicing for a one-day event.
“You have to have five good bites to win a tournament,” he said. “That’s the goal of practice: to find good fish and get them to bite.”
Stop fishing spots
You won an event in the spring fishing a line of stumps in a particular bayou in September. So you should spend time on that same stretch every time there’s a tourney held on that water way, right?
Maybe not, former Bassmaster pro Kevin Wirth said.
The problem is that fish move, and conditions change.
“They fish in the past,” Wirth said. “If they caught fish in one place four months ago, they go back there instead of figuring out what the fish are doing today.”
Instead, anglers who consistently catch fish are those who take the time to figure out what fish are doing every time the fish hit the water — instead of relying on past experience to dictate where and how to fish.
Knowing fish’s seasonal patterns is one of the most-important keys to narrowing down practice areas, he said.
“Learn how they migrate,” Wirth said. “Look at the weather, at what you had the last two weeks and what’s going to happen the next two weeks. That gives you an idea of which direction the fish are going.”
Don’t box yourself in
What happens if you catch fish in an area during practice but show up on tournament day and find an apparent wasteland? Many of us give up on the spot and move around trying to duplicate the pattern somewhere else.
But Texas’ Todd Faircloth said the fish are probably right where you left them.
“If you know there’s fish in an area, try to have as much of an open mind as you can,” Todd Faircloth said. “You might have to be versatile and change lures from day to day to get the fish to bite.
“If it’s cloudy, the fish are probably not going to be as tight to cover, so you can use lures like spinner baits, crank baits and even topwaters. If it’s sunny, you know they’re going to be tighter to the cover, so you’re going to have to use a flipping stick and present the bait closer to the cover.”
Don’t be pushed around
It’s always amazing how you can have an area all to yourself during practice, only to show up the next day and find a line of boats working your water.
Oklahoma’s Edwin Evers said that’s when you put your head down and go to work.
“There’s an obvious reason there are so many boats there,” Evers said. “You’ve just got to get in there amongst them and out-fish those anglers.
“If you leave that area, you’ve lost that confidence. You’re starting from ground zero again.”
Don’t go native
When you head to an unfamiliar lake it’s normal to stop in at the local bait shop and ask about the patterns that win tournaments.
By doing so, you learn that drop shotting a 3-inch pink-spotted purple worm is the way to go.
Problem is that you have never fished a drop shot.
Gonzales’ Greg Hackney said the solution is to stick with what you know.
“(Anglers) go to a place and read what everybody (locally) does there, and they try to do something they’re not used to,” Hackney said. “But the first thing you should do is fish your strength. You need to fish something you’re confident with.”
You can always fall back on the local patterns if your go-to approach simply won’t work.
“At least look for that same deal you’re used to fishing at home before you try something different,” the 11-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier said.
It’s all about five fish
Spending hours at a time without a bite is a lot like hard work, so we all can get caught up in fishing in areas that produce a lot of bites — even if the fish are throwbacks.
But 2012 Classic champ Chris Lane said that approach should be scratched off the list.
“If they get in an area where there are a lot of 2-pound fish, they’ll sit there and catch those fish because it’s fun,” Lane said. “But in order to win a tournament, you have to catch bigger fish.”
Sometimes targeting bigger fish could mean moving to a different area. Or it could be as simple as changing baits to something the smaller fish ignore.
“Sometimes you have to change up and do something completely different,” Lane said. “You have to search for five bites instead of 25 bites.”