What it is like to be a Tournament Bass Angler

By Todd Reed

Bass tournaments are the ultimate fishing thrill.  The feeling that you get at 5am as you hop in your boat and face your competitors for the day is like no other.  I have been fishing tournaments for twenty-five years and there is no doubt in my mind that I am a better angler because of it.  This month I will share many things about the adventures and lessons of an Iowan bass angler looking for that next win.

For those of you that are new or interested in the world of bass tournaments, let’s start with some basics.  A typical bass tournament will be about eight hours long with a live weigh-in. The day begins at sunrise and your goal is to catch a limit of bass.  In tournaments, limits can be any amount of fish but normally the limits are 3, 5 or 6 bass per boat. Bass are kept alive in a livewell and released after you weigh them in.  There are individual as well as “buddy” or partner tournaments. With any type of competition, whether it is bowling, adult softball or fishing, there are different levels of competitions as well.

If you are looking to dive into bass tournaments, the best place to start would be a local bass club. These are located all over the state and welcome members throughout the year. This is a great place to start if you don’t have a boat, or are looking to learn the “ropes” of tournaments from people who have fished them before.  A quick search on Google will point you in the right direction of bass clubs in the state. The club tournaments are normally closed to club members only, so you will get to know the guys and will gather a lot of bass fishing information in a short amount of time. The flip side of bass clubs are the many open tournaments that are scattered around the state at the popular bass fishing lakes and rivers.  These are just that, open to anyone who wants to fish. With any tournament an entry fee is charged and that money is used to pay the top anglers for the day. Tournaments can cost anywhere from $10-$300 in the state, depending on the organization you are fishing with.

Now that everyone has an idea of what a bass tournament consists of, what does it take to be a successful tournament angler?  There are books printed on this same subject, but I will do my best to summarize the high points and hopefully help you think about some things that may not have crossed your mind.  There is a two-pronged approach to preparing for a bass tournament. There is the “at-home” preparation and the “on the water” preparation. Here is how I break these down for an upcoming event.

At home preparation consists of many things without getting your lures wet.  It is more of a mental state of game when you are at home. One main thing to focus on at home is doing your map study.  Find as many maps as you can about the lake or river and use Google Earth to see the land surroundings too. The more you know about he points, deep and shallow water areas the faster you will be able to dissect it in your boat.  If you are constantly looking at maps while fishing, then you aren’t really fishing. The more you can memorize the layout of the lake the better and more time efficient you will be.

Another key component is referencing past trips to the same body of water.  Have you ever been there before, what was working, where were the fish, what did the water look like? All of these are questions to ponder while sitting at home, again this will save you time on the water.
Equipment preparation is another key thing to do at home; anglers often overlook this one.  When visiting a body of water you should be able to choose the types of baits, rods and reels that you will be using. Each of us have our favorites of course, but some places or times of year will dictate things that we can leave at home, or limit in our boat. For example, if I am prepping for an April tournament I will leave one frog rod home, however in the summer months when a frog pattern may be more suitable to fish catches, I will have 2 frog rods ready to go.  If you are fishing a partner tournament you and your partner can really eliminate items. If my partner loves to throw a spinnerbait, then I would not even have one tied on, but perhaps I would tie on a chatterbait or a swimjig instead. Crankbaits, jigs, plastic baits, topwaters etc, the more you minimize your offerings the more you can focus on finding and catching the bass. At this time you should also do a reel inspection, making sure they are in good working condition as well as fresh line on the reels.  With this work done at home; you will have total focus on the water and finding where the bass are living and feeding.

On the water preparation in my mind is the most crucial.  Maps, new line, the latest baits and fancy clothing won’t lead you directly to the bass that will win you the tournament.  They may help, but getting your boat on the water will indeed increase your chances of finding the winning fish. The biggest advice I can give anyone just getting into the game is “don’t catch too many the day before”.  Often times anglers will pre-fish an event the day before. This is a wise thing to do, however catching too many fish the day before can be harmful. Those fish that bite today, will not bite tomorrow. You must catch a few fish to see where they are feeding, but don’t sit in one spot and catch fish after fish, you are wasting your tournament catch.

Key things to look for before an event is the clarity of the water, current and wind. These are important to note while fishing because they can change overnight. If one of these variables does change overnight it may have sent your bass somewhere else during the competition day. Also, whenever you catch a fish make a note about what the depth of water you caught it in and if there was a certain type of structure present; like rocks, wood, sand or weeds.  At times bass will choose a particular kind of structure to hang around in because that is where their food is for the day. By making these notes about nature and exact locations of the bass you can start to pinpoint and hopefully get a pattern of where the fish are hanging out. When you do this you can hop around the lake or river to similar areas (remember the importance of map study) and duplicate those catches with newly found bass.

Another key while fishing during the day is to change up lure colors.  When doing so you are giving the bass options and they may prefer one over the other, again another key thing to remember for tournament day. Something that I have learned over the last twenty-five years, which is just as important as finding the bass, is to “not find the bass”. This is referred to as eliminating water.

Let’s use another example; if you are fishing a spring lake event here in Iowa and the only bites that you have gotten all day long were in water that was ten feet or deeper, then basically you have eliminated water that is shallower than ten feet.  That is a huge piece of information to remember on tournament day, and one that could save you hours of casting to areas that are not holding bass.

Another example; perhaps you are at an event where weeds are present in many areas, however after fishing the day before and not getting any bites in and around the weeds, that is another huge elimination. By eliminating certain areas or structures within the water you are fishing you are honing in on the proper places where the bass are living.

Finally, and most commonly the most overlooked item on a tournament anglers mind, nutrition.  I’m not talking about the fish, I’m talking about the angler that woke up at 4am and has been on a constant high all day during the tournament. I have seen anglers in great shape, and anglers that are the proverbial “tough guys” be worn out and licked by noon. Your body is a machine, without the proper nutrition it cannot function appropriately. Water is key for hydration, and food, especially carbs are crucial for energy. Plan ahead and have your boat stocked with plenty of liquids and snacks that you can eat quickly throughout the day. Take care of yourself, so you can take your share of bass back to the weigh-in.

This is just a glimpse into the world of bass tournament angling here in Iowa.  Tournaments are a great way to compete against others and hopefully learn about the fisheries we enjoy. I know I have learned a lot about the sport of bass fishing through competing, and I also know that I have many more things to learn as the game of bass fishing is ever changing.  If you are interested in jumping into the world of bass fishing tournaments, this month is the time to start planning for 2020. Many clubs and series schedules will start popping up online, and it is never too early to start planning.