In tournament bass fishing, eliminating nonproductive water when prefishing is just as important as finding productive water. Once you establish a bass catching pattern, anglers cannot assume every like spot on the lake or river will be holding bass. These common pattern locations need to be inspected to verify not only quantity but also quality of bass.
As an example, if you have determined bass are holding to points with sharp drops into a creek channel, it’s a safe bet bass throughout the lake are as well. However, to assume every such location will be holding bass can get you into a time crunch on tournament day. Think of it in smaller terms, does every tree along a bank line produce a strike. You may have to cover several trees to get a strike, but you know that if you fish enough trees you’ll get a lot of bites. Many patterns are the same way; rarely does a pattern develop that is absolute.
In practice, after you’ve determined a solid pattern, scan the lake to discover as many potential locations as possible. Use electronics, a good topography map, or simply drive the lake. Then, test these locations until you find several places that are holding bass large enough to win the tournament for you.
The great thing about eliminating water during prefishing is dialing in your pattern while doing so. If a seemingly productive area is not holding bass, make some mental notes to use later. Before leaving, spend some time determining what is different about the location. Using this information will help eliminate other unproductive locations before making a cast. Learning all the specific details about a pattern can shrink a lake into a very manageable size. The more details you learn about the pattern, the fewer locations will actually hold up to the criteria.
Sometimes even with a repeatable pattern developed, bass are nowhere to be found. In this case, it’s time to look at current, wind directions, sun position, or anything different about the area.
Don’t overlook bait fish when developing your bass patterns. I’ve seen areas that met my pattern criteria perfectly; however, the bait fish did not agree. No bait fish, no bass. Bait fish are very nomadic, and wind or current play a big role in where they travel. Another factor is sunlight, if cloud cover blocks the sun, plankton will not flourish. If the shad’s food source is scarce, shad will travel looking for food. Have you ever found a school of bass that seemed to come up in the same spot day after day, and then the weather changes from sunny to cloudy and they disappear? This change is a perfect example of weather affecting the very beginning of the food chain and changing bass behavior throughout the rest of the day. Without the sun, the plankton never develops. Without the plankton, the shad don’t have a food source worth congregating on, so they scatter. The bass will scatter as well.
When prefishing for a bass tournament, not catching bass is just as important as catching them, but only if you can discover why. If all conditions seem right, however bass are a no show, then there is something missing. It can be very simple, or very complex, none the less it’s our jobs as anglers to figure it out. As anglers, we must avoid the conditions that scatter bass populations, and fish only those areas that hold bass. It’s a big puzzle that changes daily, sometimes hourly, and makes bass fishing so challenging yet so rewarding at the same time.
The next time your pattern fails, it may not be the pattern but something within the pattern. Be sure to examine as many details as you can before giving up on a spot. Knowing why your patterned failed can lead you to more productive waters.