Tournament Practice 101

I have been lucky over the last several years experiencing tournament fishing both as a co-angler from a bass boat and solo as a kayak angler.  Every experience I have been put in over that time frame has really helped me develop as a tournament angler because of all of the different waterways and anglers I have been fortunate enough to learn from. One of the biggest challenges for me after switching to kayak tournament fishing was approaching practice on my own especially when I am faced with a limited amount of time.  This is something that a lot of new kayak tournament anglers can have trouble with as well….so this an opportunity for me to pass along tips that have helped me practice more effectively.

  • Internet Practice

The internet is a very powerful tool nowadays, especially with all of the information sharing through apps, blogs, forums and other social media platforms.  The very first step when searching the internet is finding a topographic map with as much up to date detail as possible.  Navionics, Insight Genesis, Chart Select, the Fishidy app, a local DNR website, etc are all good sources for finding a current topographic map.  I take the map and start looking for unique features…main lake and creek channels, points and secondary points, humps and ledges, isolated flats and ditches…all of which are typical bass attracting features.  The next step is looking at satellite images of the lake on Google and looking for visible structure…fallen trees, rip rap walls, docks, weed beds, bridges, dams, stumps, etc.  I take what I’ve found both on my topographic map and my satellite map and mark at least 3 spots that have overlaying features.  If I see a point with a lot of brush on it, or a hump or ditch that runs next to a rip rap wall, or possibly isolated weed beds on a small flat…I try to mix it up so that my 3 spots all have something different.  Those will be my starting spots on practice day.

  • Confidence Baits

This part can be overwhelming or simple depending on how you look at it.   My approach is to use the baits that make the most sense based on the water conditions and structure I’m fishing, and within those known variables pick the baits that I have the most confidence in.  I also try to fish lures that can be used in multiple situations.  That’s why I like fishing a texas rig so much…there are very few situations where it won’t work.  Just don’t put yourself in a corner relying on one or two baits and trying to force feed the fish something they aren’t willing to eat.  If you roll up on a spot you should be able to throw at least a few different baits to ensure that you fished an area thoroughly enough to move on.  Remember we as kayak anglers can cover limited water…so you have to capitalize on the areas that you can get to.

  • Develop a Pattern

Easier said than done sometimes, but if you have confidence in the starting spots that you’ve picked and the lures you are fishing with you should be able to start putting something together.  If not, you at least found all of the unproductive water in the lake, haha!  Once you get a bite, make a mental note of what you were doing.  Try to replicate it again and see if you get the same results.  If you do, start finding more areas that set up similarly around the lake.  Try other lures in the same areas to see if you can coax more of them to bite.  I like having a 1-2 punch as I have mentioned in the past.  If I can get on one thing in an area, I should be able to throw a follow up bait to pick up a few more bites.

  • Limit the Sore Lips

I hear this more often than not at the end of a bad tournament day….”well, I caught them good during practice”.  Well, it’s no secret that you won’t win tournaments on practice day!  Yes, on practice day you will have to sacrifice a few and sore lip some of them, but you cannot stay on a spot all day catching fish and expect them to bite on tournament day.  More often than not, it isn’t going to happen.  So I have only two rules when it comes to catching fish on practice day…

– If you find 1 to 2 keepers on the same spot…move on to keep developing your pattern

– If you find fish smaller than what you are able to weigh in….keep catching them as they won’t help or hurt you on tournament day. However once that first keeper comes to the boat…move on.

  • Mark Way Points

I cannot stress enough with today’s fishing technology that a good depth finder is worth its weight in gold.  At the very least it should have a 2D sonar and decent GPS capability.  Once I catch a fish, I always drop a waypoint.  That way I can pull up the full map on my depth finder later and review where I caught them in even more detail.  Then on tournament day you know exactly where to go and aren’t guessing which lay down or weed bed you caught them on.  It’s a huge time saver to prevent fishing unproductive water.

  • Manage your Time

Every angler and kayak is capable of covering a certain amount of water in a specified amount of time.  Changing weather conditions and your fatigue level both play a role in how fast you can cover water.  Always make a mental note of how long it takes for you to get from spot to spot or your farthest spot back to the ramp.  You don’t want to have one of those amazing days only to be disqualified because you didn’t make it back to the ramp in time!  You also don’t want to wind up in a situation where you can’t upload your fish pictures in time.  I honestly had to drop way points on the lake when I found enough cell service to upload pictures successfully.

  • Compare Actual Practice with Internet Practice

Now that you have waypoints, mental notes of the lake structure and an idea of the depth of water that you caught them in….it’s always good practice to revisit your internet practice map to compare.  I can circle the areas on my printed map and make notes for future use while also looking for additional areas that I may not have fished in practice that have the same features needed to expand on my pattern.

  • Stick to the Game Plan

If you put the time in to develop a pattern, eliminate water and key in on the right technique to catch them…the last thing you want to do is scrap all of that work.  Unless the weather conditions severely change or you have every reason to try something different…don’t change your game plan.  Continue to build and improve on what you already know and fish the lake the way that works in your favor.  Ideally you should have 5-10 spots available that you have caught fish on and I usually go to the spot I feel I can catch my limit the quickest.  Once you have your limit the pressure on yourself is greatly reduced and you can focus on getting bigger bites.

I hope these tips help you the next time you are practicing for a tournament.  If you follow them and keep building your confidence in the process you will become more consistent on the water.  And honestly if you fail…which you will at times…know that every situation is a learning opportunity.  Take what information you have gained from each experience and continue to build….it’ll only keep getting better!

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