How to win the Classic, part 1



Over my two decades of professional bass fishing I’ve probably fished every kind of tournament out there. In my opinion they’re all tough, but the toughest of all is the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. The reasons for that are complex.

The anglers are top shelf, the media pressure is intense and there’s a festive atmosphere that surrounds the Classic that can seduce you if you aren’t careful. Nevertheless, there are some common themes that run through almost every winner’s performance, especially those in recent years.

Classic winners find a key area or areas.

Every winner I know about has found a key area, or areas, that they could count on to be a reliable producer of quality bass. I don’t know of anyone who ever won a Bassmaster Classic with a hunt and peck approach. You can win some events that way, but not the big one.

My 2003 win on the Louisiana Delta is an excellent example. I found a pond that held the bass I needed to win.  I was able to milk that area to keep me going when things got tough. Casey Ashley did the same thing on Lake Hartwell, although he had more than one as I remember.

Classic winners adapt and change from day-to-day and sometimes within the same day.

This is key. Most of the recent winners have moved around from one place to another every day. Think about Edwin Evers last year, Casey Ashley the year before and Randy Howell back in 2014. They made last minute decisions about where they were going to fish that essentially allowed them to win.

That same kind of thinking happened to me on a smaller scale. I fished an area that was over two hours from the ramp. I fished it every day, but I changed where I fished within it. I constantly changed my baits, depth, speed and angle of presentation to avoid wearing out the fish.

Fishing the moment is part of what it’s about, but it’s much more than that. It’s making intuitive decisions that result in success. This might be the toughest part of all of it. It’s not scientific and it’s not something you can quantify. It’s your gut.

Classic winners find big bass every day.

Of course, big is a relative term. In some waters big might be 3 pounds, in others it’ll push 6 pounds. No matter. If you’re going to win a Classic you must have a big bass or two at every weigh-in. There’s no room for a bad day or a day with five ordinary keepers. 

This isn’t as easy as it sounds. If you watch tournaments carefully you’ll often see an angler with a big fish on one day but nothing of significance another day. Another way to think about this is to ask yourself how often you’ve caught a hawg two days in a row.

Next week we’ll take a quick look at a couple of other things and then talk about why it’s so hard to put all of this together.

Mike Iaconelli's column appears weekly on You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter or visit his website,