Listen to the fish

It’s a rare tournament when conditions stay exactly the same from practice to competition. There’s usually something that happens to affect the fish. Sometimes that something requires us to make big changes. But, more often than not, all that’s needed is a minor adjustment. It’s usually something so minor that you don’t even need to move your boat, or at least not move it very far.

That’s what happened to me at West Point. The lesson I learned might help you all so I’m going to give you the details.

During practice I had a good pattern going. I found fish under docks. They were suspended and slaughtering the floating worm I was skipping to them. Before competition started I had the details down. I knew what kind of docks were producing and exactly how to present my bait. I truly thought I was on something, something that was going to help me qualify for the second Bassmaster Classic of my career.

Then my bite changed when conditions changed. On the first day of competition (Thursday), I really struggled. I forget where I ended up but it was way down the list. I’m thinking in the 90s. Three fish that weigh 3 pounds even don’t get you much at this level. Foolishly, I fished my practice pattern all day.

On Friday I started out doing the same thing, and it’ll come as no surprise to you to learn that I experienced the same results. Sometime around noon, I had a talk with myself. I had to change something or I was going to weigh in another three fish bag that weighed 3 pounds. I started experimenting.

I tried several things but I didn’t move my boat or start fishing a completely different pattern. There was a feeling inside me that the fish were still there, that they just needed to see something a little different to make them start biting. At some point I figured it out.

The bass were still under the docks but they were no longer suspended. They were now all the way down on the bottom hugging whatever small piece of structure they could find. I started tossing a jig to them, right over the tops of their heads. I started catching bass. I don’t remember how many I caught or how many I culled.

What I do remember is that when I went to the weigh-in I had five bass that weighed 9 pounds, 14 ounces. That might not have been anything like the leaders were weighing in but it was a heck of a lot better than what I had on Thursday.

We have a saying in the Elite Series. If you’re doing something right, the fish will tell you right away. If you’re doing something wrong, they’ll let you do it all day long. I knew that. For some reason, though, I insisted on trying to force the fish. You can’t do that, at least not if you want to catch them. I’ll try to remember that in the future.

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