The torment of bass tournament failure can make an angler want to sell it all and start golfing. Rarely do we get to fish bass tournaments where we are confident in catching a twenty-pound limit of bass. As anglers, a twenty-pound limit is a solid goal but rarely is it a foregone conclusion. I recently fished a tournament where I truly believed I could catch a twenty-pound stringer. During blast off, I thought to myself, “All these other guys better have brought their ‘A’ game because I’m about to put the smack down on some bass.”
Confidence is a huge part of tournament bass fishing. We spend time on the water to find bass, determine food sources, and dial in travel routes so we can catch these bass on tournament day. On competition day, we know where they are, what they want, and where they might go. But, what happens when this all falls apart?
Back to blast off. I arrive at my hot spot, and it looks great. I have a big grin on my face as I walk to the bow and drop the trolling motor. My first cast is always out in the middle, and I burn the bait back to the boat. I can be a little superstitious, and catching a bass on the first cast of tournament morning is a death sentence. The second and third casts with my frog didn’t produce. However, my fourth cast was engulfed by a nice three pounder. Halfway to the boat, it jumps free, and my frog comes flying back almost as if to tell me it’s probably not going to be my day. No biggy, this proves the bass are still here, and this bass isn’t one of the four pounders I’ll need to make a twenty-pound stringer. It would have been nice to put my hands on it though.
The morning proceeded to be a torment of bass tournament failure. Bass after bass coming off in the slop I was fishing. Six strikes later I had only boated one two-pound bass. After verifying the hooks were sharp multiple times, I started analyzing the mechanics of my hooks set. Too fast, too slow, too weak, sideways versus vertical? Everything was going through my head, and my confidence plummeted. I continued to miss strike after strike. Changing frog color, style, or actions did not matter. These bass wanted a frog and didn’t care what it looked like. I just couldn’t keep them buttoned.
The sun is high, and my confidence shot. Four hours into the tournament and I have one small bass in the livewell to show for two limits worth of hook ups. Time for a change. I spent too much time on a failing hollow body frog bite and my options were quickly dwindling. Now I needed a viable pattern to cover a lot of water and find four hungry bass to at least fill a limit. It’s fall, and bass are feeding heavily on shad. I picked up my favorite squarebill crankbait and started covering shallow water ambush points. Adding to my torment, I quickly hooked three quality bass and lost all three before I could get them in the net. At this point, I honestly feel the only person to beat me in this tournament was myself. Again, a hook sharpness check, verify I am using the proper equipment, the only thing left is fundamentals.
During my prefish, I found a small area holding several two-pound bass. As a last-ditch effort, I headed across the lake to see if they were still available. Per my luck for the day, they were not. This was not a secret spot and it’s very popular among tournament anglers needing a couple of quick bass. More than likely I was the fourth or fifth boat to pound this school of bass.
Now it’s 1 PM and I still only have one bass in my livewell. I’ve exhausted my fall patterns for this lake and have only two hours left. I decided to trust in my prefishing and head back to my starting area. I know bigger bass are using this area, after all it’s the reason I started there. If I can manage to hook just a couple of them I can salvage the day and have a showing at the weigh in.
Once there, I immediately fell back into my old bag of tricks. The first bass to strike my frog hooked up just long enough for me to know it was a quality bass and then pulled free from the frog. Two casts later I hook up again. For whatever reason, I landed this one; a solid three pounder. The quick strikes sent my confidence back to the ceiling. However, I didn’t have time to risk losing more bass to poor hook ups, bad hookset timing, or rod position. All these strikes were coming from specific locations in the slop. I picked up a punch rig and started punching the slop in areas I would expect a hollow body frog strike.
With renewed confidence and a technique I was born to fish, I proceeded to catch a bass every 10 minutes for the last two hours of this event. Culling several times, I managed a decent stringer and a 4th place finish. I never did find the four pounders I was looking for, but three pounders were enough to make a check. In fact, the day was tough for everyone and 17 pounds was the winning stringer.
I don’t know what the lesson is here other than never stop trying, analyzing, and casting. I haven’t been on the water much due to a back surgery and four months’ recovery time. I’m sure my fundamentals are lacking. I know at the beginning of this event I was amped because I had found quality bass and it was my first tournament in quite some time. To say I was a little pump up with excitement would be like saying the San Andres fault line is a sidewalk crack. So, I can easily attribute the first couple of missed bass to being anxious, the rest of the day I attribute to fundamentals. When I conceded to just catch a couple of bass in the final hour, it all came together.
Get the Net It’s a Hawg
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