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Playtime’s over. It’s time to catch some fish.

The Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open on Lake Erie should be something that excites anglers and fans alike. The smallies are giants, and there are a hundred places to catch them. Of course, there aren’t a hundred places to catch the winning weight. There’s just a few of them.

We’ve been there before, though, so most of the guys will know the right places. That means heavy sacks. This one’s likely to be an old-fashioned shootout. But, unlike some shootouts, this one won’t be determined by who just happens to catch the biggest fish. There’s more to fishing Erie than there is with most big fish factories.

That’s the fascinating thing about Erie. On one hand, it’s a contest of big fish and heavy sacks. On the other hand, it has a twist to it. That twist is the ever-present threat of foul — unbelievably foul— weather.

It can get life-threatening up there in a matter of minutes. You can have fish located but if they’re out in open water you’re living on a wing and a prayer at the mercy of Mother Nature. If the wind picks up, you won’t be able to get to them or stay on them, as the case may be. That means my theory of having three patterns comes into play but with a slight change. Replace patterns with places to fish.

You never know when you’ll have to move so you have to be prepared for almost anything. Much of our practice time won’t be dedicated to figuring out the bite. It’ll be dedicated to finding places sheltered from the wind. That’s not exactly like what we do most of the time.

I like those kinds of tournaments, though. On some level, they’re a test of tournament strategy as well as fishing skill. It isn’t figuring out how to catch them — for the most part that’s obvious on Lake Erie — but rather, it’s a test of preparing for, and expecting, the unexpected.

In my opinion, that’s an underappreciated part of this sport. We talk about catching them all the time. OK, you have to do that if you expect to be successful. But, at the same time, you have to strategize. Mostly that’s an acquired skill. You don’t learn it by reading a book. It’s sensing what might happen. Experience doesn’t mean just the Bassmaster Elite Series, however. It means lots of days on the water over lots of years.

If we make thee right decisions, we’re heroes. If we make the wrong decisions, we’re goats. That’s the nature of being a professional. It’s feast or famine. Most of us knew that when we signed on. Those that didn’t learn it quickly.   

Anyway, I’m really looking forward to Erie. It’s a great venue and lots of fun. And I’ve been on vacation for awhile so my batteries are charged; I’m rested and feel refreshed. I’m ready to get things going.

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