Feels good to be back in tournament mode

I have to say, it feels good to be back in tournament mode. It’s been three months since my last tournament — the Basspro.com Bassmaster Central Open on the Arkansas River, and heading into this week’s Basspro.com Central Open on Lake Sam Rayburn, I know I’ll have my work cut out for me.

You know, it really feels like a whole new season. I definitely felt the time off, and I’m sure a lot of people did. Fishing’s one thing, but competition is totally another. I’ve spent a lot of time saltwater fishing and bass fishing the last month, but I haven’t done any tournament fishing since June.

Mentally and physically, you just have to get prepared for the competition. This is critical because making the right decisions on the water in practice leads to a good tournament. When you haven’t done it in a little while, it feels strange, but I feel like I’m getting back into the rhythm.

I actually arrived a couple days early so I could accomplish an important objective. Because all the stumps make it tougher to maneuver, I wanted to learn some areas of the lake that I’m not familiar with.

I also tried several things to get a feel for what the fish want, but it’s important to remember that patterns change a lot on a big lake like Rayburn. Knowing this, all that I found before the official practice began on Monday, I’m taking with a grain of salt.

In the broad view, my overall practice strategy will be to break down the lake into three main sections from the northern arms to the main lake. Within this plan, I want to find two different patterns — one deep, one shallow.

It’s late summer, almost fall, so we’re in a transition period. There’s going to be a shallow bite and a deep bite, so I’m literally going to have 20 rods rigged up — 10 for shallow fishing and 10 for my deep stuff.

I’ll have everything — crankbaits in three different sizes, two different size swimbaits, creature baits, finesse style baits, drop shots and shaky heads for out deep covering brush piles and schooling fish. And then you gotta switch gears with shallow rods rigged with braid, frogs, spinnerbaits, ChatterBaits, flipping jigs, squarebills and stuff like that.

I’m going to bounce back and forth between shallow and deep throughout practice and just fish the conditions. My goal is to find a way to catch a good bag deep and a way to catch a good bag shallow.

This time of year, you’re going to need options. For one thing, you’re going to have a lot of good fishermen on the water, but also this is Sam Rayburn — one of the best lakes in the country.

You can’t go out and say, “I want to find limit spots.” You need to find hammer holes. You have to find hammer holes out deep, and you have to find hammer holes shallow. I don’t care about dock talk where some people may say the bite is off. There will be mega bags weighed in, so if you’re gonna win the tournament, you gotta have those hammer holes.

In a lot of lakes we go to, it’s all about getting a good limit and then getting a kicker or two along the way. If you do that in most lakes, you’ll have a chance to win the tournament. Here, you need five good ones every day. 

That’s what I’ll be looking to do.