When What You Know is Not Working

All of us have been in that situation when it is late morning and we have nothing in the live well to show for our best efforts. It is a frustrating situation to be in during a tournament or recreationally. You exhaust everything you “think” you know and may even take a few moments to just sit down and collect your thoughts about what you have and have not tried.

It comes down to what you did before ever hitting the water that can now make or break the bank! This is the moment where the prepared shine and the unprepared start “fishing” for a clue as to what they should do. “Well this bait worked here 4 years ago so let me try it…” is what the unprepared may resort to doing.

Being prepared for a moment like this starts long before you ever leave the house. This includes map study, book study, networking, tackle preparation, organization, and practice.

Map Study:

Map study can even be a valuable asset on a body of water you may think you know like the back of your hand. A body of water you have fished all of your life. Map study is a way to learn intimate subtleties you may miss when flying to your favorite spot, the spot you have fished all of your life. There are several good map references online such as Google Earth and a Garmin GPS program that I use called MapSource.

When available, utilize lake contour maps to find points, drop offs, shallow water flats in relation to deep water escape routes or transition areas, as well as back up areas you can utilize in the event of poor weather and wind conditions. If you are not comfortable fishing in the wind, then look for sheltered coves, and look for attractive areas within that cove you can fall back on should you need to escape the wind.

Book Study:

Get your hands on every piece of material you can get your hands on. If you are serious about finding fish then you need to be reading like it is a matter of life and death. Even if it is something you feel you may never do or try, read it anyway because something within that article is going to be applicable to your situation at some point. It may be an angler stating the way he retrieved a lure in a post spawn situation. Not the bait you will ever use, but a cadence you may add to what you are doing that triggers fish in your particular situation, because the conditions happened to match those in that article you read.

My own personal regimen includes the “Ultimate Bass Fishing Library” produced by B.A.S.S., as well as various other monthly publications. I read them over and over and over again until I can just about recite them page by page and word for word. I reside in central Florida, but yet I read everything from smallmouth tactics to spotted bass tactics because there is something within those articles that will apply to any given situation I may face when pursuing largemouth.


Talk to your friends, fellow club members, tackle shop owners, and if there is another club launching at your ramp the morning of your own tournament, then do not hesitate to strike up conversations with them as well.   Don’t be afraid to share information either because in most cases if you are willing to share a little, you will often get into a situation where you begin to compare notes with others. You are not out to get someone’s deepest darkest secrets, but rather tidbits of information that you may be able to integrate into your own presentations.

Your purpose is to gather information and when you talk to others, you gain a different perspective on a common goal.

Tackle Preparation:

As a compliment to your confidence baits that you normally have at your disposal, it is also a good idea to have a basic stash of what I call “round table” go to baits. I call it a round table because it refers to having at least one of every major bait category that to me is much like having your four basic food groups served and ready for consumption via a lazy Susan.

My confidence baits are spinner baits, Texas Rigged worms, top water frogs, and top water prop baits. But, in my boat I have a single clear tray bait box for my “round table” baits. I have a clear tray box with mid to deep diving crank baits, lipless crank baits, a spinner bait box, buzz bait box, in-line spinner box, stick bait box, and multiple Wal-Mart bags each with its own genre of plastics.

Organizational Skills:

Be organized! Know what you have, know where it is, and know what it does. Have everything compartmentalized and grouped by what its particular application may be.

Nothing is more aggravating to me than changing tactics and not being able to go right into what I need to make it work. If you need to change from a Texas Rig to a Carolina Rig, make sure you know exactly what compartment in your storage system you need to pull those components from.


I live on beautiful Lake Tarpon in Tarpon Springs, Florida and often times will practice on Lake Tarpon in preparation for a tournament on another lake system. Practice does not have to be on an upcoming body of water to be effective and productive practice.

Practicing with unfamiliar lures and presentations on a local lake does a number of things that are beneficial to any angler. First off it gives you an opportunity to get familiarized with a lure without the pressure of a tournament setting. Work with speed/cadence, lure size, color combinations, structure, cover, and time of day.

What you are accomplishing by these practices is gaining an understanding of a particular lure should the situation dictate it in the future. By forcing yourself to be versatile you will never be taken by surprise when a situation presents itself and you are stuck with nothing to present them with.

Having a complete round table of baits does not require a fortune. You only need a few baits to put you in the ball park should the need arise. In my boxes I keep baits in three general color schemes. Shad, bluegill, and crawfish finish for my crank baits and 4 color schemes for my spinner baits; white, chartreuse, white and chartreuse, and black with all in bleeding hooks and tandem spinners for willow leaf and single blade for Colorado blades.

I have my confidence baits that I start out every trip using just like everyone else. These are my baits that I catch 90% of my fish on, and do very well. But when times get lean and you are in your final hours of a tournament, and you have to put some fish in the boat, it is the preparation and effort for learning that you will need the most.

At Kissimmee I was able to pick up a nice kicker fish on a ledge adjacent to a shallow grass flat using a ½ oz Terminator spinner bait and not out of luck, but because I had studied my topographical maps and determined that area to be a key transition area when the sun got higher. I had never fished the spot before, but I marked it as one of my bad weather spots just in case I had strong winds or severe weather or both. It just so happened that winds were 20 knots gusting to 25 knots that day and I needed that area as a shelter.

On Lake Parker in January I had a situation where a cold front had pushed through the eve of my tournament and left me searching for fish. An hour before weigh in I located an offshore hump and managed a 7 pound bass on a deep diving crank bait in sunfish finish. The technique was digging the bill of the bait into the clay bottom. A technique I learned by watching Bill Dance, and using a tip from a local tackle shop owner the night before. I utilized networking and map study to turn the table on a goose egg finish.

Whether tournament bass fishing or recreationally bass fishing, you get out of it what you’re willing to put into it. Don’t be afraid to try something new and untried, especially if you are at a point where you’re grasping at straws. Rely on what you have studied and put it into practice. It is a great feeling when you fit the pieces together and they work!

Joseph Pepper

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