5 tips to be a better tournament angler

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Steve Bowman

As the tournament season starts back up, most of us hope to improve upon past results. No matter what level of tournament angling you’ve achieved, modern technology and a little bit of common sense make it easier to add a little rocket fuel to your skill set. While there’s never any substitute for time on the water, here are five simple steps that will make you better almost immediately.

Always prepare 

Every year I vow to find ways to make my time on the water as efficient as possible. If something takes time away from actual fishing, it might cost you a few casts, and those add up during the day. Simply put, you can’t get bites if your lure isn’t in the water. I recall seeing this back to my team tournament days, when partners wouldn’t maximize their fishing time and it drove me nuts.

Here’s a simple example At this year’s first Bassmaster Elite Series tournament on the St. Johns River, I was making a long run. On the first day, that left me with exactly two hours and 12 minutes to fish. My key presentation was pitching a Strike King Shim-E-Stick around lily pads. Sometimes it would get hung on those thick pad roots, and rather than go in and disturb the habitat I’d just break off. My time on the water was limited, but the night before I’d rigged multiple rods with the same lure, so after breaking off all I had to do was reach down and grab another, rather than wasting precious minutes retying.

Have a set target

You never know precisely what it will take to win a tournament, or even to get a check, but by researching past results and recent local events you should have a pretty good idea. I see lots of novice tournament anglers heading out on the water with no goal, and that’s a huge mistake. If it’ll take 18 pounds to get a check, you have to fish differently than if it’ll just take a limit.

At Rayburn, where it usually takes 25 or 30 pounds to win, if you’re catching 2-pounders you’re doing something wrong. At the St. Johns, I felt pretty confident that I could easily catch an 11-pound limit in some canals I’d found, but I felt like that was all they’d produce. With a warming trend, I scrapped that option and focused on area where bigger fish were pulling in off the main river. It might not have paid off on Day 1 with the fog delay, but my results on Day 2 and Day 3 show it was a wise decision.

Analyze every lost fish

We all lose fish over the course of a day or during a tournament, and sometimes it’s just bad luck, but if you attribute all of your lost fish to bad luck you’ll end up losing a lot more. Very often it’s your equipment, most frequently your rod. Maybe you’re flipping with a rod that’s not heavy enough, or cranking with a rod that doesn’t have enough “give.” Yes, it hurts to lose one, but it feels a little bit better if you learn from it.

I remember when the vibrating jig first became popular I tried to fish it on my spinnerbait rod during a tournament at the Potomac, and I lost more fish than I should have. I adjusted to a glass composite rod and now I hardly lose any.

Practice on the best lakes 

There’s always a temptation to practice exclusively on waters where you’ll have tournaments, and sometimes that makes sense, but sometimes it’s better just to go where you’ll get a lot of bites. It could be a private lake or a pond if you have access to one.

By getting a lot of bites, you’ll be able to dial in certain lures, figure out what triggers bites and (see above) analyze lost fish before there’s money on the line. It’s a good tune-up, and any time I want to improve a new technique I try to go somewhere with a lot of fish.

Watch Bassmaster LIVE

Finally, you must watch Bassmaster LIVE any time you can. I wish I’d had this resource early in my tournament career because it’s the rawest, truest form of instruction you can get. You’ll see the best anglers in the world giving away everything they know, and then Mark Zona and Davy Hite – two impressive anglers in their own right – breaking everything down. There’s no better way to get better fast.

Whenever I miss the cut, I’m glued to it, and I can’t tell you how many lessons Bassmaster LIVE has taught me. You might see a pro fishing a certain bait differently than you do, or in a different type of water. He might tweak his bait in a way that provokes more bites. It might just give you confidence to keep doing what you’re doing.

No matter what, things that take years to learn – or that were never available – are now right in front of you. Use this resource and you’ll be both entertained and educated, and you’ll catch more fish.