Winning practice doesn’t count

Pre-fishing days or practice fishing are the days just prior to the tournament. Your hope during this time is to find fish and figure out a viable pattern. Pre-fishing too many days in advance will only ensure that you will have to change your pattern by tournament time and then start all over again. But this is not my quandary.

With so many competitors and non-boaters pre-fishing, the fish are getting slammed before the actual tournament. I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard a pro or co-angler claim they won in the practice days. They were catching so many fish in practice it was hard to believe they did not get them during the tournament! All I can say is: Winning practice means nothing! There is a huge difference between getting bites and hooking fish.

I grew up fishing in Ohio. Our lakes are extremely small and highly pressured. Only some of our lakes have enough fish to formulate a pattern. That being said, a typical practice would be to find flipping fish, because if you found a bass in a bush or a blowdown, you would be able to go back to it in the tournament and catch that fish, providing you did not hook it in practice.

Let me give you a better illustration. I was fishing my first pro tour season with B.A.S.S., and we were on Lake Eufaula; it just happened to be the last tournament of the season, and I was on the bubble to make my first Bassmaster Classic. I most assuredly found a pattern offshore, Fat Free 7s and Carolina rigs – I was very excited.

As the practice progressed, I noticed a rise in the water level; this concerned me so I went to the bank to find some flipping fish. Well, I did. I found exactly six, five were in buckbrush and one was on an old submerged refrigerator unit. I did not hook any of those fish; they were my back-ups. Those fish were nice sized, as well.

After that last day of practice, I went back to my room and was speaking with Mark Menendez; he asked me how I was doing and told him ok but I found some flipping fish for back-up. He asked me how many I caught. I told him none but I got six bites and I believe I could catch most of them. He laughed at me and said I should have caught them since they wouldn’t be there during the event. I just shook my head and said, we will see, won’t we?

The first day of that tournament went like this. I went to my first Carolina rig spot and caught one close to 4 pounds and then broke off a 7-pounder wrestling him at the side of the boat. Fishing that spot for a little while longer with no more bites, I decided to go to the flipping fish rather than passing them up on my way to my next offshore location. I apologized to my co-angler and explained that I had located specific fish and that he would probably not catch one but if he was patient I would take him to get his limit before the end of the day. He was fine with that.

I went to the first buckbrush and flipped all over it – No fish! I proceeded to the next and caught a big one. I advanced to the next and caught an 8-pounder, the next yielded a big O. The next another over 4 and now the refrigerator which gave me another over 5 pounds! I was sitting on 23 to 25 pounds, and it was only my second stop. So, as promised, I took my co-angler to an offshore spot and let him fish for his five. Everything worked out and I made the Bassmaster Classic. If I hooked those fish in practice, I would not have caught them in the tournament!

Here is my point: Let’s say you have 180 pros practicing and 50 co-anglers pre-fishing, and everyone is hooking fish for three or four days. How many catchable fish will there be for that event? Now consider a tough tournament like last week’s Lewisville Lake, where the bite was tough and the lake fished small. Oh hell, just look up the results to that event.

I constantly hear from pro anglers and co-anglers alike that they just keep hooking fish in practice, and who am I to say not to. However, what if you go into an area not to hook fish but to get bites, and then someone comes along behind you catching them? I will tell you what that means; it means you have to find some place different to fish.

Not hooking fish in practice is just smart fishing; that being stated, I believe a lot of fish are hooked during practice as a result of ego and ignorance. Not ignorance of the stupid kind but more because some anglers don’t know how to not hook one, so I will divulge a few of my pre-fishing “getting bites not hooking bass” secrets. This is not because I am such a nice guy; it is because I would rather catch more in the tournament when they count and not have some ego-driven dunce plaster them when it does not matter.

This is how to make practice lures:

  1. Soft plastics, Horney toads, drop shots or anything rigged Texas style – This category is the easiest; just use a screw lock instead of a hook.
  2. Jigs, spinnerbaits, buzzbaits or chatterbaits – Cut the hook off just above where it exits your trailer. If you do not want to destroy a lure simply buy heavier gage electrical wire and strip off 1/2 inch or more depending on how big the hook is and thread the plastic wire coating onto your hook so none of the hook point is exposed and so the plastic goes to the hook bend in order to stop it from sliding backwards. This is to prevent accidental hook-ups. NOTE: Wire comes in a wide array of colors, so you can match your bait.
  3. Crankbaits, jerkbaits – You must leave the hooks on them in order for them to run properly, so the only thing to do is bend the hooks closed and I mean really closed. I have bent my hooks down and have had accidental hook-ups.
  4. Topwaters – Easy; take off the hooks.

The biggest question I get is: Then how do you know how big the fish is? This is not an exact science but you can tell a 2-pounder from a 4. If you are not sure, simply apply slight, constant pressure to the fish, and it will come to the surface and you will see it.

Pre-fishing smart is not difficult, so from now on pre-fish to win!

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