Unlocking Bass: 3 keys to a kicker

Once you have your limit, it's time to upgrade!

Todd Faircloth, Clarks Hill, 2008

Also by the author

Someone recently told me that I've caught more daily big bass than any other angler in the Bassmaster Elite Series. I was surprised to hear it, but it's a nice confirmation of some of my tournament philosophies. Then they asked me if I'd share some of those ideas with you here, and I agreed. I think it's important to share that kind of stuff. I've benefitted from things that other anglers have shared with me, and I like to give back when I can. It makes us all better.

I hope these tips will help you catch bigger bass in competition. They've worked for me over the years.

1. Find your comfort zone

For every tournament I fish, I do a lot of research. Not only do I want to figure out the best locations, baits and patterns, but I want to develop an idea of what it's going to take to do well and earn a check.

Sometimes you'll hear a tournament fisherman say something like, "I just go out there and fish hard all day and bring my best five to the scales." Well, that's fine, but without any way to measure performance throughout the day, you're fishing blind and can't make the kind of adjustments that are necessary to be successful. You can't afford to wait until you get to the scales to find out if you had a good day or not.

I always have a weight in mind before I launch my boat each day.

That number might be big (Falcon Lake in March) or it might be small (the Ohio River in July), but it's important. It's the number I have to reach to be competitive and to get paid. And while some people will tell you that they only fish to win or that they never fish for a check, the reality is that checks and tournament points are important. They pay the bills and get you to the championship. If you ignore them, you'll have problems.

For the sake of this article, let's say my target number is 12 pounds for a five bass limit. I have confidence that 12 pounds a day will get me in the money and keep me competitive. Hopefully, in practice I've found the bass to do that, and I can catch them pretty quickly. Time is critical in a bass tournament. We're all fishing under the gun, and the guys who manage their time best tend to cash the most checks.

Once I reach that target weight, my comfort level goes up and I'm ready to explore and try something different. Until then, I'm doing all I can just to catch the quality fish I need to get there. I want lots of bites from respectable bass until I reach that target.

My tournament mindset has always been to go for a limit first and to upgrade later. If I know where I can go and catch lots of 2 1/2 pounders quickly, I'll do that rather than go to another spot where the bass are bigger but the bites are fewer and farther between.

Of course, that plan has to be flexible, too, and there are times when I'll go after big fish first and then work on a limit. An obvious time to do this is in the spring, when you've spotted a giant female or two on beds and you have to go to them right away before someone else does. Ordinarily, though, I'm focused on a limit first.

When I have what I believe to be a respectable limit, I'm ready for the second step.