Avoiding 'mini-ruts' this season

In the world of tournament fishing, we all know what a rut is. If a guy has two, three, maybe four bad tournaments in a row, we’ll say, “Man, he is in a rut.”

I’m familiar with being in ruts. In fact, I sort of feel like I’m in a bit of one right now. I started the season with a 29th at the St. Johns, and it’s been kind of downhill from there.

As I try to find my way out of rut-ville, I’ve been trying to figure out what causes these so called ruts to begin with. I think I have at least a partial answer. These larger ruts are caused somewhat by what I call “mini-ruts” – much smaller ruts that can occur tournament day to tournament day.

If you have ever tournament fished, you’ll probably relate to this mini-rut phenomenon. I call a mini-rut that time during the day when the bite dies and you say to yourself, “This isn’t working, I need to change.” And 15 minutes later, you’re still fishing the same area with the same bait…and still not catching anything. And you say to yourself, “This isn’t working, I need to change.” Thirty minutes later, you still have not caught anything – still in the same area with the same bait. As this cycle continues, you tend to fish faster, not really focusing on the cast you just made. So now you have the worst of both worlds: You’re not making any key adjustments and you’re not really fishing the moment very well because you keep thinking about needing to change.

This vicious cycle continues and before you know it, half the fishing day is gone. It’s a mini-rut. Have enough of these mini-ruts and pretty soon, you’ll find yourself in a larger rut in the standings.

While I have no fast fixes for mini-ruts, I have become more aware of when they’re happening. Here are a few scenarios where I see my own wheels starting to spin on the water. Maybe sharing these can help you identify and avoid the same pitfalls in your tournament days.

The Day 2 trap – This is one that has plagued me lately. For some reason, I tend to fish a lot more loose and relaxed the first day of a tournament. I make good decisions, things seem to flow well and in general I do well. On Day 2, though, I get too locked down into what I did the day before; I start thinking too much; I don’t make decisions on the fly like I need to. Pretty soon, I’m still fishing a stale place or lure that I should have changed up an hour ago.

Fishing places that are too far apart – This is another trap I fall into: finding productive places that are 30 minutes or more apart. During the tournament, when my gut says it’s time to go check the other areas, my brain says, “What if you get there and there are already boats on it or the wind has muddied it up and you have to run all the way back up here? You will lose at least an hour of fishing time. Certainly you can catch a couple of good ones just fishing right here in the next hour.”

And so the mini-rut begins.

Fish that keep me hanging around – Here is another one that gets me: catching just enough fish to keep me in an area so I never make a firm commitment to move. But the ones I’m catching are not really helping improve my bottom line that much. I always tell myself, “Just a few more casts then I’m going to move.” Then I catch one that helps a little, which causes me to stay just a little longer. But “a little longer” turns into an hour, then it’s too late to make a move and now I’m sort of trapped down in a place I should have left long ago.

The lure rut – This is simply getting hung up on one lure or technique when there has been some kind of change that warrants a different presentation.

I experienced this at Bull Shoals this year to the third degree. In practice, I found a decent flip and pitch bite. But when I returned to flip and pitch during the tournament, it looked like the water had cleared up somewhat. I could see the base of my targets and, at times, I could even see bass swimming off the wood I was flipping. The thought occurred to me that the fish were spooking away because I was too close and that I needed to back off and skip a wacky rig. But should I now turn around and fish back down the same stretch I just flipped with a wacky rig or try to find more off-color water where pitching might work better?

Thirty minutes later I had done neither! I was still flipping the same bait in that same clear water while trying to decide what I was going to do! That’s exactly what I mean by a mini-rut.

For the second half of the season I need to lock it in four-wheel drive and quit spinning in these daily ruts so I can gain some positive ground into the Bassmaster Classic field.