By Dave Chong
Tournament Fishing is not for everyone, depending on how you handle pressure and deal with stress I can definitely see how it could take some of the fun out of the sport. Even though I felt that I was a pretty good angler when I first started tournament fishing, I do believe that I am a much better angler today than back then. Through the pressures and time constraints of competitive fishing I have learned many lessons that have aided in my growth as a skilled angler. Many of these lessons can be applies to everyday fishing. Anyone who wants to be a better angler can benefit from these lessons. Most anglers who I know would like to catch more and larger fish!
Lesson # 1:
“The longer that your line is in the water the better your chances are of catching more and bigger fish!” In other words the more casts that you can make in a day the higher the odds are of you catching fish. In most tournaments the time that you spend in line waiting to weigh in is good for one thing, eating lunch! It’s not that I don’t eat or drink during the day but often I have small snacks and drinks that don’t take away from my fishing time.
Even before I started tournaments I would often fish with friends who took time out of their day for lunch, power naps, etc. While they were cutting into their fishing time, I would keep fishing and somehow at the end of the day they would be surprised that I out-fished them?????? In tournaments especially events on bodies of water such as Erie, Ontario & Simcoe for example, it is very important to have extra rods ready to go. As soon as you land a fish or go to re-tie, throw another line over before you continue whatever you’re doing. You will be surprised how often you come back to your rod and there will be another fish on, I’ve seen happen many, many times.
If you fish larger Smallmouth waters such as Lake Simcoe, Lake Erie or Lake Ontario you definitely want to invest in rod holders for your boat. RAM has several models that are removable from your RAM mount. This secures your rod while you’re putting your fish in your livewell or re-tying a line etc. We often say “Rod holders catch fish!” because you’d be surprised how many times you’ll get a bite while your rod is in the rod holder!
Lesson # 2:
“It’s not all about the spot!” Most people believe that fishing success is directly tied to the spot that you’re fishing. If somebody takes you to their favourite fishing spot, don’t be satisfied that you’ve learned a new spot to fish because the person who showed it to you may not want you to fish it. You should respect that as it takes time to find really good fishing spots/areas. Besides if that’s how you rely on finding fish then you’ll probably have more poor days on the water than good ones!
What you should take away from any good fishing spot or area, whether you find it or someone shows it to you is what makes this spot/area good. What about it appeals to the fish? Is it the type of cover? Is it the bottom composition? Is it the forage availability? Is it current? Or maybe it’s a combination of a couple or several of these factors. Knowing what makes a spot good or great will enable you to find similar spots/areas elsewhere on that lake or on different bodies of water. Knowledge is the key to finding fish and fish holding areas! This may be the most important skill that you should work on.
“Buy the best quality equipment that you can afford!” Don’t cheap out on your fishing gear, today’s rods and reels are so well made even entry level equipment is of decent quality. But in the end you get what you pay for. Don’t cuss your $19.99 reel out when the drag doesn’t work and you lose that fish of a lifetime. Now this doesn’t mean that you have to break the bank, most of my tournament gear falls in the mid-range pricing! I think that most of today’s rods and reels offer far more “bang for your buck!” than in the past.
For example, when I was down at i-Cast this year, I dropped by the Daiwa booth and picked up one of the new Fuego spinning reels. After handling it, I honestly thought that this was a $200-$300 reel, until I look at the card and saw that it was going to sell for $99.99 US. I was totally blown away! It was the same when Daiwa introduced their Tatula series of rods & reels, they are definitely very affordable. Quality equipment will not only perform better but also will last longer. You’ll be thankful that you spent the extra money when you hook up with that personal best and your drag sings like a quality reel should! More expensive rods are typically more sensitive than their cheaper counterparts. Increased sensitivity should lead to more hook sets and hopefully more fish landed!
“There are always fish biting somewhere!” One thing that I’ve learned through my 25 years of tournament experience is that no matter how tough you think the fishing is somebody is always going to catch them! Contrary to popular “patterns” belief, not all the fish on a body of water are doing the same thing at the same time. There are always active fish somewhere that are willing to bite if you can give them the proper presentation!
So when the fishing is tough, don’t give up! Open up your mind and look for fish in different locations. Change up your presentations, slow down, down size, speed up, whatever but do something different! Sometimes you might have to finesse them into biting and other times you have to try to trigger a reaction bite. Often fish are slaves to their instincts and just can’t help themselves if the right lure is presented properly to them. You just have to push the right button!
“Don’t be afraid to fish behind other anglers!” I see this happen all the time and have been guilty of it myself at times. You come into an area or to fish a spot and there is a boat already fishing in the area, many anglers just leave assuming that the other boat has caught all the fish. Now I’m not saying that you should crowd someone else who was there first but access each situation on its own merit. Many spots can fish more than one boat or you can follow the other boat, whatever you do, don not cut in front of them! Doing something like that would display poor sportsmanship and be considered unethical.
This situation occurs frequently when people are dock fishing. If someone is fishing a line of docks that you wish to fish, then either you can fall in behind them or if it is a lengthy stretch of docks, go to the far end and work back towards the other boat. Most people don’t like fishing behind others but if you’re confident in your ability and presentations then this shouldn’t be an issue. Do something different from the other anglers, work your bait a little more deliberately or vary the speed of your presentation. Fish don’t always bite the first lure that they see!
I remember competing with my tournament partner, Doug Brownridge in a Renegade Bass event being held on Big Rideau Lake. It was coming down to crunch time and we wanted to finish off the day on a set of docks close to the weigh-in site. We really needed one more good fish to have a chance at completing a weekend sweep. When we arrived in front of the docks there were already two teams working along them. Feeling a little disappointed after coming off plane, we coasted in while watching the two team fish in front of us. After a minute or so, Doug piped up “Go on in, they don’t know what they’re doing!”
So in the docks we went behind them and started fishing the docks that they had already fished! We got to the second dock, when all of a sudden Doug yelled “Fish!” and I turned to watch a monster bucket breach. I lunged for the net and scooped the beast into it as it jumped! It weighed in at 5.08 lbs. and upon culling out our smallest fish, we proceeded to weigh-in. We ended up winning the tournament by the slightest of margins and completed a dream weekend on the “Big Rideau”, weighing in 41.8 lbs. of green fish over 2 days!
“Embrace today’s new tackle/materials – e.g. braid, tungsten, fluorocarbon, etc.” There are many new materials that are involved in the manufacturing process of today’s tackle and lines. The newest and most impactful materials would be Fluorocarbon and Tungsten while although braided lines have been around for some time they are still evolving. These new space-age materials bring many benefits to anglers and increase their fish catching and bite detecting abilities!
Tungsten is an ultra-hard and dense material that is be used in the manufacturing of weights and lures. It is extremely compact because of it density, a tungsten sinker physically is 40-50% smaller than a lead sinker of equivalent weight. This allows it to penetrate cover easier as well as drop faster in open water. It also helps increase an angler’s feel because it transmits information far better back to the angler. Originally used primarily for worm or flippin’ weights, tungsten has found its way into jig heads, spinnerbaits and other lures. Considered environmentally friendly, there is a price to be paid at the cash register but the benefits of tungsten products far outweigh the additional costs.
The T-Blade Spinnerbait spinnerbait is so compact that it casts a mile and there is no helicoptering even with the heaviest 5/8 oz. model. It also tracks exceptionally true and is easily tunable if bent out of shape. It can be burned at the highest with no rolling or slow rolled along the bottom. Tungsten will be used more and more in new fishing tackle especially as lead becomes banned in more and more provinces and states.
Fluorocarbon is a material that has been employed in salt water fishing circles for many years. Fluorocarbon has the same refractive index as water so it is virtually invisible in the water. This can be a decisive factor when targeting pressured fish especially in clear water. It is also very abrasion resistant which is beneficial with our zebra mussel encrusted lake bottoms. Fluorocarbon has much lower stretch than monofilament and is very sensitive when again aids in detecting strikes. Recently another tournament partner of mine, Oliver Grigull and I won a “Largemouth Only” tournament on Georgian Bay. Because we were flippin’ for buckets in gin clear water, this made the difference in some of the bites that I got including our kicker, a 5.42 lbs. lunker.
So as you can see these tournament lessons can be applied to everyday fishing. If you wish to catch larger and more fish, take these lessons to heart, they were learned over many years of tournament fishing under pressure and time constraints. Watch for part 2 of this article where we’ll examine further tournament experiences that we can all learn from.
The article originally appeared in JustFishing Magazine www.justfishing.ca