Bass fishing confidence is hard to obtain and even harder to keep. Very few times can you pre-fish for an upcoming tournament and find a bunch of bass that are ready to jump in your livewell. If and when you do find a solid pattern, chances are that weather, fishing pressure, or a host of other things will change what the bass are doing. It’s the angler’s job to identify the changes and adapt to the situation. When you get proficient at adaptation, that’s when you become a threat to win tournaments.
I recently fished a two day championship bass tournament that gave away two boats. Needless to say, I was pretty excited at a chance to win a fully rigged bass boat. This was a team event; both my partner and I pre-fished the lake and had come up with separate game plans that easily fit together. Tournament morning, day one, we hit our first spot. The game plan was to have a limit by nine o’clock and then adjust to catch kicker bass. Well like many game plans for this tournament, that failed miserably, and we only had one keeper. Off to our second spot. While it was a little more productive, it was not what we needed. Scrambling the rest of the day to scratch out a small limit, we were proud to be on the board after such a tough day of fishing. Most of the tournament field had trouble catching a limit, but, like in any tournament, there were those few anglers that adjusted properly and brought excellent bags to the scales.
That evening we had to come up with a new game plan, and it had to be strong so that we could get back in the hunt for the prize boats. Taking weather, water conditions, and fishing pressure into consideration as well as throwing out all the dock talk we heard; we came up with two ideas .
First was to hit the day one areas where we caught the most bass. Trying to maximize a location; however with a different approach. Using different baits and presentations we attempted to coax finicky bass into striking. Second was to mix up our timing. We were confident the areas still held bass. The problem was that our pattern for catching them was not working. Believing the theory that, “bass may not feed all day every day, but they will feed sometime every day”; we moved our locations and timing around. We fished our morning water in the afternoon, and afternoon water first thing that morning. While this has worked for me in the past, it failed this time.. We only had two small bass in the boat by eleven o’clock. We needed to best yesterday’s leading stringer by at least 4 pounds, and hope that the anglers that did well yesterday didn’t do better today.
As day two progressed, my frustration grew. It wasn’t long before every cast was off target. It seemed like if my bait even got near a piece of cover I was guaranteed to hang up. Worst of all, I had lost three bass on the way to the boat. Even when I hooked a bass I had no confidence I could get it to the net. This event was lost, and it was all in my head.
After I had a hissy fit in the boat, my partner smacked me around a bit and demanded I get my head back in the game and help him figure out what these bass wanted. Like I always say, “it only takes 5 casts to win a tournament.” In a team tournament that’s 2 for your partner and 3 for you. Well, this almost became a reality.
I sat in the boat retying lines (I didn’t want to lose a fish because I was lazy too) and thought about what we could do to turn this around. We have 3 hours left and a long way to go. I have an unorthodox confidence presentation that has put some quality bass in the boat for me. It doesn’t normally get a lot of bites, but the ones you get will be quality. My partner has seen it work in previous tournaments, so he was up for the challenge. I think he put it like this, “We can keep pitching plastics and not get bites or we can try something different”. If I am fishing a cypress tree lake and have mostly cloudy skies, water temperature above 70 degrees, and enough wind to create a ripple, not waves but a ripple, I can catch bass on a hollow body frog in the middle of the afternoon. I know most of you will agree that a frog can and often does work best on grass mats after the sun gets high; however, it also works in open water.
After switching baits it only took two casts to boat a keeper; a few casts later I caught a 5 and half pounder. Over the next hour, we caught several three pounders. Fishing as fast as we could cast, down to the last minute, we covered as many cypress trees as possible with two rods. Literally our last five casts put two culling fish in the boat. Through the course of that last two hours, we boated several fish and pulled from the middle of the pack to a sixth place finish. Not strong enough for a boat, but highly respectable for the event. A tournament of champions is, well, the best of the best, and we came in sixth place; I can live with that after such a horrible start.
The point to this is that it’s never over until time has run completely out. If you have time to cast, you still have time to catch a quality bass. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve finished off a winning stringer in the last minutes of a tournament. Or didn’t have a keeper bass in the boat at noon, yet still take a check at the end of the day. Confidence catches bass; if you are not confident in what you are doing, you won’t catch bass. So when it’s been one of those days, put on the bait that builds your confidence just because you tied it on. Then get to work, you’ll see your casting improves, your outlook on the day improves, and you will start catching bass. Catching that first quality bass can change a whole day.
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