With the recent interest in the River Bassin Tournament Trail I have noticed many people are new to tournaments and are still finding their way on how to best approach them. Having a good time and being successful in them takes some planning, strategy and research, but the good news is that it is part of the fun! Below are some tips on how to best enjoy yourself and be successful when competing in these type of events.
1. If you’re not from the area you obviously want to research as much as you can about the local rivers on the internet. Maybe type in the river name that you’re interested in and some key words and see what comes up. Also, use satellite imagery to scout water that might look bassy.
2. Research put ins and take out points by using American Whitewater or the “Paddling Guide” for that state. You can also assume that most bridges will have public access, but not all. Some guides and outfitters will be willing to help with some advice as well, but beware that not all will take too kind with you wanting to slide on into their territory without booking a trip or at least paying for a shuttle from them.
3. For more info on the river access type of inquiry try visiting other forums that may have members from that state that can give you some general advice via private message, phone or email. Don’t be demanding or pushy and even offer your assistance to them in a tournament that has water you’re more familiar with in return. You may just make a new river friend out of the deal as well. If you get no info, don’t sweat it and move onto the next avenue.
4. If you’re fishing a tournament that has more unfamiliar water to you and don’t have time to pre-fish, go with a medium to small stream. Fish are always easier to locate in these spots and it will increase your odds at getting a limit. Generally, the bigger the water the bigger the fish, but these medium and small streams have the potential to produce winning stringers or at least stringers that can get you on the podium as Justin Wallace proved during the Sevierville leg of the River Bassin Tournement Trail. He was not local to the area but fished a small flow and came away with a second place finish.
5. Regardless if you pre-fish or not, go ahead and have a plan A, B and C in case rain affects one of your locations. Also, regardless on whether you are planning a float trip or not I would have some places scouted nearby that you can simply put in and fish right there and potentially land a cull fish. This way if your primary spot isn’t on that day you can leave early and at least try to add some inches at a spot you can access quickly.
6. Be prepared by having a rope with a single metal stringer clip attached to it so that if you end up in open water without any bank nearby you can put the fish on the stringer clip while you lay your measuring board across the gunnels of your boat. If the fish flops out you’ll be able to pull it back in until you have a proper photo.
7. Remember that all you need is 3 fish so don’t get too worked up if you don’t catch 3 right away. Keep fishing various types of water and various lures until you start learning clues about where the fish are on that day. Once you learn this you’ll likely start to pick up a few more fish, but if you get out of the game mentally and begin to get frustrated you will lose your concentration and ability to focus on finding the pattern. Other anglers are never doing as well as you think they are in your mind so relax and come back with whatever you have and you might be surprised to see where you finish.
8. Don’t bite off a float that is longer than you can chew since you have to be back at a certain time (4:30 for the river bassin tournaments). If you end up on an 8 or 9 mile float and the wind starts to blow upstream you may be in for a long day. Unless you really know the area and can practice and plan your time I would stick to a 6 mile float or less. Similar to number 5 on this list, in certain situations and tournaments, you may want to not even do a float but rather have several spots you access via a paddle up or paddle down trip of a mile or less.
9. If you choose to fish far away give yourself an extra half hour to get back in case there is traffic. The last thing anyone wants is you speeding down the highway just to make it back for a fishing tournament.
10. Don’t forget to bring a backup camera battery and possibly even a backup camera in case something happens to your original.
11. If you can try and pre-fish or personally scout some of the water you’ve researched. Even if it is just for a couple hours the day before it is good to lay eyes on the water yourself that way you can make a call on what looks like the better option for you size wise, clarity wise and water level wise. It is also helpful even if it is weeks and months prior to the event because at least you have some idea of what you’re going into.
12. Lastly, remember to take a deep breathe and just have fun out there when you get the opportunity to fish these situations where each fish is now a little more exciting. After all, its just you vs. the fish since you can’t play defense against the other anglers. Also, most all of these tournaments have a good cause behind them (ALS, Heroes on the Water etc.) and hand out some decent entry prizes as well feed you dinner so you’re already a winner just for being a part of the event.