Bumpin' rails

It happens all the time when you’re fishing a tournament. The fish are concentrated or the weather changes, and you find yourself fishing with 30 other boats all piled up in 50 acres of water. It’s disheartening, especially when you believe you have a winning game plan that’s just been destroyed.

It’s not the best situation — I’ll agree to that. But it isn’t the end of the world. Keep your head on straight, stay calm and positive, and think. There are things you can do to catch them. It’s just a matter of figuring things out.

The first thing you need to consider is whether or not the fish are conditioned. That’s absolutely critical. How long has this been going on?  If it’s less than a day, I suggest that you fish the way you intended to fish before all the other boats arrived. The fish haven’t been under pressure for that long, so their positions and preferences probably haven’t changed that much.

Throw the same baits in the same places as if the other boats weren’t there. Totally ignore them. The only thing you might do differently is to make sure you cover water as fast as possible. If you dilly-dally around, the other guys will get on some of your spots and some of your fish before you can.

The much tougher situation is when it’s the second or third day of having 30 boats piled up in 50 acres of water. The fish are likely to be traumatized. Often times when you’re faced with that situation the best thing you can do is to downsize your lure and your line right off the bat.

Finesse fishing will catch fish when nothing else will, and the lighter your line the more bites you’ll get — especially if the water’s clear. They may not be the biggest fish, or the ones you want, but they will be fish. We’re talking about survival here. Don’t confuse that with a stringer of lunkers.

The next thing you want to do is leave no stone unturned. If everyone is fishing open water structure, look to the bank. Is there something there that might produce a fish or two? Maybe it’s an isolated dock in real shallow water, a tiny stickup out by itself or something else that looks out of place.

If everyone is fishing the bank, look towards the open water. Bass move when they’re under pressure. Maybe they were in one place or another before all the boats moved in over the top of them. But now they’re trying to get away. They want nothing to do with the noise, the shadows and the commotion that’s going on over their heads. Look to where the other anglers aren’t. If you’re a fish, that’s a better place.

You might also want to change the direction of your casts. Sometimes that’ll make a huge difference. The bottom line here is to do something different. Give the fish something to look at that the other 29 boats aren’t giving them.

The final recommendation I’d make is to watch what the other anglers are doing and adjust your fishing according to what you see. If everyone is throwing a crankbait, that’ll give you a clue as to what everyone else is thinking. Then you have to decide for yourself if you should do the same thing.

If they’re catching plenty of fish on their crankbaits, that’s one thing. But if they’re not doing very well, maybe you should go with a different bait. Or maybe you’ll want to fish behind them with a jig or plastic worm.

There are no hard and fast rules here. If I knew of any I’d be the first guy to tell you about them. It’s always a judgment call when you’re in a crowd. You can see, though, the kinds of things you should be thinking about. And thinking is what this scenario is all about.

More often than not, regardless of all the things I’ve written about, the guy who comes out of a crowd with a good stringer will be the guy who maintains his mental focus and keeps a positive mental attitude. Never forget that.

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