Experience and the Red River

I am fishing two of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens divisions (the Centrals and the Northerns) in 2014 to try to qualify for the 2015 Elite Series rookie class. I delivered a mid-grade performance in the first of the Central Opens so I need to place eighth or better in the next two Centrals or qualify through the Northern division which starts this May. So, for now, all of my focus is on Central Open #2 on the Red River out of Shreveport later this week.

Going into the Louisiana tournament, I am amped. Unlike my other Bassmaster events, I have actually competed on the Red River in the Bassmaster Opens. Last year, the Centrals started in Shreveport; and though I did not place well, I was able to really observe how tournament pressure affects the water, where the majority of pressure was concentrated, what techniques were used and what weights to expect at the scales.

Information is key to fishing these events, especially Shreveport. You can only absorb these details while competing in an Open on a particular body of water. For the first time, I can say I have real tournament experience going into an event but – also for the first time – it is up to me to use my own experience to compete. There is no blame to be passed to anyone but myself. In 2013, I left Shreveport instantly wanting a do-over; God answered with a second shot and I am grateful.

My analytical mind is constantly rolling through information I soaked up at my last Open in Cajun country. Two months before the 2013 Red River event, I was lucky to have a guy show me how to run the river and where the most consistent backwaters were. Using that information, along with how things fished during the tournament, has helped get me organized for this year’s event. But experience on the Red River is not the only experience I have in my arsenal. Last season, I had several situations occur in other Bassmaster Open tournaments that are playing into how I’ll strategize for Shreveport.

Multiple strategies

First, I cannot afford to put all of my tournament eggs in one basket. I may find great fish in one area but, after a bad draw last year in Virginia, I know you have to have more than one plan because someone may have a better launch number than you and beat you to the goods. It will take using every minute of practice available to develop multiple strategies but the time spent will be worth the long hours. No matter what bites I get or what fish I find, I cannot afford to be satisfied in practice this tournament.

The Lock Factor

Second, I have to take into account the lock situation. For a bass fishing tournament, we are given a lock schedule. The schedule shows the times the lock will most likely open and close each morning and afternoon of the tournament so that you are able to schedule when to lock back to the main pool to make weigh-in time.

Why do I say “most likely”? Though we have the daily schedule, if a barge were to come through unexpectedly, the tournament becomes second priority. The bass boats would have to wait for the barge to lock through before we can transfer over.  I was one of about fifteen boats to be “locked out” at the Arkansas River event in 2013; if my boat draw had been in a later flight, I still would have made weigh-in.

The Red River tournament has three pools and two locks that will come into play. Although the best water is generally in a pool that requires locking, I will have to make a serious decision and have multiple plans ready depending again on what flight I draw on Day 1.

Never give up

Third, I cannot give up no matter how Day 1 goes. There were two tournaments in 2013 that I’ve replayed in my head over and over; in these tournaments, I gave up after not having fish to weigh in on Day 1. In that same Arkansas River tournament where I was “locked out,” instead of sticking to my Day 2 plan of going back to my Day 1 location, I instead stayed in the launch pool where I had never practiced in order to save a few bucks.

I told everyone I was just going to go fishing and have fun; in reality, I did not want to be on the water. I gave up on the tournament before Day 2 even started. I truly hate the way I behaved in that tournament; I should have gone back out on Day 2 and sacked a decent weight to earn more points. I am a competitor and no matter how bad a day goes, you should never take yourself out of a tournament. Always play to win, no matter how the day before went. Like Ike says, “Never give up.”

The right adjustments

Lastly, I need to be ready to make major adjustments during the tournament. Last season, Mother Nature burned me. Yes, you should plan for what the weatherman forecasts but you should also plan for the possibility of the weather being completely opposite of what is forecasted. On Day 2 of the final tournament in 2013, I expected the weather to get nasty. The nastier the weather, the more my bite would flourish. The night before, I was beyond amped to get back on the water but I was also using a technique that I did not care for. To keep from picking up a lure that I was more confident in, I made a last minute decision to pull all other rods out of my boat but the rods for that specific technique.  That next day, I will never forget watching the sun come up and stay out while on the water. All I could think about was that the vegetation bite was turning on and my rods for that bite were sitting in the front seat of my truck. At the Red River, I will be prepared for multiple scenarios and I will be confident in my ability to make the right adjustments.

There are other thoughts and decisions going through my head leading up to the Red River event but those are my thoughts as I formulate my Day 1 plan.  This event means more to me than any Bassmaster Open up to this point. The results will show if I can use prior experience to get the job done which is new territory for me. Everyone says experience means everything and that experience is what I am lacking, and this next event will prove if experience actually plays a role in the outcome of my tournament performance.