Tournament Tactics

Craig Crumbliss

Successful tournament fishing is about two things. The location of fish, and what they are eating. If you can figure out those two things then you will be a successful fisherman wherever you are. When I am tournament fishing often I fish in areas that I have never really fished before. Usually I get a day or two to prefish but that’s about it. So during those prefish days and during the tournament it is important to quickly located and catch fish. These are tournament tactics but they can be applied to you even if you don’t fish tournaments. These guidelines are a great way to discover new fishing holes as you venture further from your home and fish in new areas.

As I said before fishing is about two things the first is locating fish. Location, location, location, it’s not just important to real estate agents but to fishermen also. Obviously the most important thing in tournament fishing is catching fish. In order to increase my success I do certain things before I even get on the water. First look at a chart of the area. This will show you first of all the general layout of the area but it can be helpful in planning where you will be fishing. Then I try to look at arial photos of the area. They provide significant insight into the area I am fishing. Lastly I will look at the tide information for the area. I will make a game plan of the order of spots I plan on going to visit according to location and tide sequence.

When planning a fishing trip whether for a tournament or fun in is important to recognize the needs of the fish:

  • Shelter from predators and also from extremes such as temperatures
  • A food source.

There are certain things that are a place of shelter. Most obvious are mangroves, ledges, potholes, and channels. They must be nearby to the fish so they can hide from predators and also provide feeding stations for the fish. Concentrate on tides. Fish will work up on a flat during an incoming tide and they will feed off ambush points in an outgoing, i.e. around pilings and drop-offs, also in the potholes at the low part of the tide when bait is isolated in them. During the fall and winter fish will often congregate in warm pockets. Think beyond the obvious warm water outflows. A flat along a western shoreline will warm before the eastern side because of how the sun rises. Also darker flats will be warmer than lighter ones. That is one of the uses of my arial chart; I can see which flats are generally darker in color than others.

The second thing that fish need in a location is a food source. You need to recognize what the fish are feeding on predominantly. Often time’s bait will be easy to find because they are seeking the same shelter that gamefish are seeking. Basically gamefish will be where the bait is because they need to eat, your job as an angler is to recognize what type of bait it is.

The next thing after you figure out what the fish are eating and the general area they are in is of course feeding them. And by feeding I mean catching. Because in a tournament it is important to catch quality fish quickly and cover the most area in the shortest amount of time there are things that I will do to increase my odds. If possible I will use a high-speed bait to cover more area quicker, because time is important. High speed baits can be topwaters such as a Bagley Jumping Mullet or hard jerkbaits that are fished under the water such as a Rapala Husky Jerk, which is a suspending jerkbait running 18-30 inches under the water, or a trusty gold spoon. These are only really for when the fish are feeding on baitfish. If I am sure that they are feeding on shrimp or crabs I will switch over to a soft plastic jerkbait that mimics the food of choice. It is not necessarily the brand or make but the action imparted on soft plastics. It is important to make it look natural. You’re DOA shrimp skipping across 60 feet of water is unnatural. Shrimp don’t do that, now of course it will probably get an occasional strike but it will be a lot more productive slowly twitched across the bottom how shrimp usually swim, I have used several types of soft plastics all with success. After I located fish I will often switch to a slower lure so that I can more thoroughly work the area allowing maximum time in the strike zone of the fish. Although time is important there is no need to rush through an area that holds good fish just because they were hungry for something slow moving and all you wanted to throw were topwaters.

Hopefully you have learned something about how to fish a new area, either for tournaments, or just to fish somewhere new and unfamiliar. All of the tips and suggestions above are just that, things I have learned along the way and hopefully will make your trips more successful. The single most important thing to catch fish is just being alert to your surroundings and being willing to adjust to whatever situation nature throws at you.


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