Keepers or hawgs?

Should I try to catch five keepers quick in the morning or should I go for the bigger ones? That has to be one of the most common questions I’m asked by recreational anglers. The answer is ... it depends.

If I were writing this 25 years ago, I would have told you to get five little guys first and then look for a couple of kickers. But this isn’t 25 years ago. Things are different. It’s a new ball game. For openers the lakes are better than they’ve ever been. We — professionals and amateurs — have more fish available to us than we ever dreamed about years ago.

Back in the day, if you could average 10, 11 or 12 pounds a day for the whole season, you’d be looking at a Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title, and that was when we weighed in seven fish. Nowadays if you catch that much weight every day you’ll be lucky to cash a check half the time, and the AOY title would be out of the question despite the fact we're only bringing five bass to the scales.

Of course, better equipment and more angling skill is also a factor. We’re just better at this sport of bass fishing than we used to be. If you think that only applies to the Elite Series you’re wrong. It applies to your local club as well. Everybody has better tackle and knows more about how to use it effectively.

As you can tell, in most cases I’m not much of a fan of fishing for a quick, small limit. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever do it, however. There are times when it’s appropriate, such as if you need a few points to make your club’s championship or qualify as the club angler of the year or if conditions make it a viable strategy for winning the tournament.

That’s a decision you have to make for yourself. To help you make that decision, here are a few things I think you should consider.

What kind of lake are you fishing?

Is it a good lake? If so, a limit probably won’t mean much at the end of the day, so why waste your time catching one when you could be spending the best fishing time of the day looking for fish that can really help you?

On the other hand, if it’s a tough fishery you might want to consider a limit of little bass if you can catch them quick. If not, I wouldn’t waste my time. And besides, if it’s a tough lake why do you think you can catch five keepers in just a little while?

How was your practice and what did it tell you?

If you found small keepers and know you can catch them quick, it might makes sense to do that. I had just such a situation this year on Okeechobee. My practice told me I could catch five in about 15 minutes and that the bigger bite continued on into the afternoon. I caught five real quick every morning even though I knew that small fish wouldn’t mean much on that body of water.

But again, you must consider the odds. If you can catch five quick it’s likely the other guys can as well. So what good will it do you? Tournaments are not about how many bass you catch or how quick you can do it. They’re about total weight.

How long will it take to get five?

A lot of guys don’t think about this. You only have so much time to fish. Unless it’s really going to help you, why waste valuable time on small bass? That doesn’t make sense to me.

Let’s go back to my Okeechobee example. I could catch my five in 15 minutes. That was probably worth it from an insurance point of view. But if it had taken an hour out of my day, I wouldn’t have done it. That’s too much time — time I could be investing in looking for winning fish.

Developing a tournament strategy is like trying to hit a moving target with your gun. It’s all about planning ahead and timing. Do what you think is best but be careful about being too conservative. Conservative anglers don’t win very often.

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