No matter what the bass tournament size and creel limit rules are, you have to catch a limit of bass to be competitive in a tournament. I recently fished a tournament on a lake that has a slot limit. By now, most states have a slot limit on certain waters or for certain species and anglers are familiar with them and how they work. However, just in case, I describe ours. The slot limit is 14 inches to 17 inches, all fish at or between this must be released. On this particular lake, the state limit is 10 bass with only 4 over the slot. For tournament purposes, directors allow anglers five bass in any combination of over the slot or under the slot as long as the bass are at least 12 inches and you don’t exceed the state set limit. So you could have 5 under the slot as a minimum or 4 over the slot limit and one under the slot (but at least 12 inches) as a maximum.
I had done very well prefishing for this tournament. I had a patterned dialed in and was catching bass over the slot with confidence. I was excited to get this event under way and fill the livewell. The day started off in typical fashion; a couple missed opportunities to test your confidence. However, after I settled down, I started catching fish. At first it was a couple of fish that fell in the slot and had to be released. This hurts as some of the fish in the 16-17 inch range are three pounds or better, very hard to let go during a tournament. However, they do build your confidence and remind you that your pattern is working. Everyone plays by the same rules, so you just have to think of a fish that falls in the slot as a short fish. It didn’t take long after I started catching bass to increase the size and quickly put four bass over the slot limit in the boat. By 8:30 A.M. I had four bass over the slot in the livewell that weighed nearly 16 pounds.
Now I have two options, either cull my current four fish over the slot to bigger fish over the slot or find a bass that fits the 12-14 inch requirement. If I can catch a bass under the slot, I will add at least a pound to my total weight. You wouldn’t think catching a 12 inch bass would be so hard on a day that you can catch 7 bass that are over 17 inches and 12 bass that are between 14-17.
As the day progressed, and try as I might, I just could not find a bass that was under the slot. I did manage to cull my 4 bass over the slot to a total of 16.56 pounds. This is normally pretty strong on this lake, however, back to the title of this piece. You must catch a limit. As it turns out, I did have a very strong finish, second place. First place had four bass over the slot and one under the slot and a total of 16.62 pounds. Yep, that’s a difference of just .06 of a pound. Do you think that 12 inch bass I was unable to catch would have weighed at least that much?
While prefishing for this event, I spent all my time ensuring I had a solid pattern to catch bass over the slot. After all, if you can’t get the 4 over the slot limit, your total weight is going to suffer. However, on a lake with these kinds of regulations it’s also important to pattern the under the slot bass in your game plan. This is a case where you want a very fast pattern, the ability to catch a bass under the slot limit quickly and get that part of the limit out of the way, so you can concentrate on the over the slot fish you will need.
We hear it all the time, catch five and then upgrade. In doing so you have to look at the creel limit and adjust your game plan accordingly. In my case, one could say that a bass under the slot would have won the tournament for me, one could also say that culling up just one more ounce with my over the slot fish would have won. Potato Patatoe…
Enough with the whining, there’s no crying in Bass Fishing. Just remember, You must catch a limit!
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