Fishing choice spots before everyone else arrives is the name of the game in tournament fishing, right?
Maybe. Maybe not, according to the pros. They know you can’t control everything, including the random draw used to determine weigh-in times.
A case in point is happening this week on the Harris Chain of Lakes at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open #1. Two hundred boats with 400 anglers are fishing the 15,000-acre main fishery and elsewhere in connecting smaller lakes and canals.
With so many boats that puts lots of pressure on productive areas. Sight fishing is popular and so is focusing on specific areas where big females are moving shallow to spawn.
The Opens, like all B.A.S.S. events, are conducted using staggered weigh-in times. In the morning, boats leave in a single file line according to check-in time. The process is primarily for boating safety after the notorious shotgun starts of the early days grew dangerous as tournaments gained in popularity.
The staggered times also largely play into the fishing strategies. The wise angler takes such into consideration in a field like this one in Florida. Here, it’s all about getting to the beds before bass get picked off. Other times it might be getting to an early bite before it shuts down.
Here is how the draw works. The field is reversed according to boat number after Day 1. Boats return at 15-minute intervals. This week, Flight #1 returns at 3 p.m. and check-in time for Flight #10 is 5:15 p.m.
Here are the opinions and theories about why, or not, boat number draws matter to the pros.
On Day 1 the Ohio pro drew Boat #165, due back at 5 p.m. Even with the late draw he took second place with a limit weighing 22 pounds, 1 ounce.
“That threw me off because of knowing some of the fish I found in practice wouldn’t be there,” he admitted of the less preferred late check-in.
Thus, the bane of sight fishing, where big females and their locations get marked and then picked off by whomever arrives first.
“Knowing that, I went to the hardest to catch bass first, knowing other anglers would avoid those fish,” he added.
On Day 2 he applied lessons learned to hold third place with a limit weighing 18-7.
Shryock, who honed his skills on the Great Lakes, believes an early draw is key on larger bodies of water with community holes.
“You definitely want time on your side so the best waypoints don’t get hammered before you arrive, or your run time gets stretched out due to rough water.”
On Day 1 the South Carolinian took the lead and sits in second going into the final round. Robinson, a Bassmaster Elite Series pro, concurs with peers that early draws are vital in sight tournaments.
“It’s extremely important,” he said. “You either have to get there first or be really lucky.”
On Day 1 the latter happened after Robinson drew boat 95 with a return time of 4 p.m. Wisely, he stayed out late on the final day of practice for a reason.
“I went looking for bedding bass that might have just moved up late, late in the afternoon after everyone else pulled out,” he said.
As a result, he sacked three big females unknown to other anglers on Day 1.
“Otherwise, I prefer getting drawn in the middle of the pack,” he said. “You get two long days instead of being cut short with a really early or late draw.”
Lane, a Florida angler whose brothers are Bassmaster Elite Series pros Chris and Bobby, is an accomplished B.A.S.S. Nation angler. He feels strongly about an early draw as key to sight fishing events, especially on Day 1.
“In a three-day tournament like this you get flip-flopped on the return times,” he said. “So if you are early on Day 1 and later the next you can fish more relaxed.”
Lane believes given such a scenario the angler can adjust and find an alternative bite offshore or a subtle change to the overall pattern.
The Florida pro perhaps said it best about the entire concept of whether or not being first on a spot matters at all.
“It’s just an excuse,” he said. “You know, as fishermen we are always looking for excuses.”
Seriously, Grigsby said sight fishing tournaments, or events where specific bass are targeted, are the only situation when the luck of the draw matters at all.