Originally appearing in the 2005 Tournament Angler Guide
by John Schofield
Ask a tournament angler what’s the one thing they’d like to have more of, and chances are they’ll say “confidence”. If someone developed a pill for confidence they would have the most saleable product on the market. Personally, I wouldn’t wait around.
So what does confidence have to do with planning and preparation? The answer is this: the more you plan for a tournament the more you minimise the risk of things going wrong. By planning you are calculating the risk before the competition starts. You also create enthusiasm and anticipation, both of which are elements of confidence.
The reason confidence is unlikely to be bottled is because every aspect of who we are and what we think either builds or erodes confidence. The great cricketer Sir Garfield Sobers once said, “You are never down until you think yourself down.” It’s difficult to think of any venture in life where the success isn’t maximised through preparation and planning.
Take public speaking, for example. Many of us are apprehensive when asked to speak in public, but with planning and preparation the stomach butterflies fly in formation instead of feeling like out of control killer moths.
Tournaments are meant to be fun, and your preparation should also be enjoyable. Some anglers are meticulous with their planning while others turn up with next to none. There is no right or wrong as individuals have different goals and expectations. Even so, you can be assured that consistent high-placed finishers invariably invest time and energy in planning their tournament strategies, and have a great time doing so.
It’s widely understood that to catch fish you need to present the lure in front of the sh. What’s less understood is the more con dent you are that your lure is in the strike zone, the more likely you are to catch sh. It’s all about eliminating doubt. Having absolute confidence the lure is in the zone is the main reason one angler in a group will catch fish while others miss out.
One of my favourite ways to build confidence is to swim my lures in our swimming pool. It enables me to learn about the lure action, sink rates, and the style of different retrieves, and also gives me an understanding of the lure that helps me when I’m in a tournament and trying to visualise the lure as I work it through the water.
For anglers keen to improve their tournament results, I recommend fishing your home water. Fish your chosen spot long and hard rather than fishing numerous waterways irregularly. Fishing different water may become a goal further down the track.
Whether it be bream or bass, anglers usually have their favourite water. This waterway may not even be on the tournament circuit, but this doesn’t matter – fishing your favourite spot as much as possible allows you to gather a lot of information fast, and accelerates your learning curve to potentially amazing levels. Sure – there are good days and bad days, but when you make enough trips to the one location, sooner or later you’re going to experience hot fishing.
The knowledge you gain by concentrating on one location can be transferred to other waterways. This particularly applies to your ability to find fish. The best fisherman in the world can be fishing with all the top-shelf tackle, but if he’s fishing where there are no fish he’s going to catch zip.
Taking notes is another important habit to get into. Recording tide times, moon phase, weather conditions, bite times, structure, water temperatures, where the fish are holding in varying conditions, and what baits and retrieves the fish are preferring, are vital things to record.
As your confidence builds and your level of understanding grows, it’s time to start experimenting. Try comparing new products and techniques, tie new knots, and try using different leader material, line, rods and reels, electronics, and of course lures and the best ways to present them. A word of warning though – don’t start experimenting with an unfamiliar product during a tournament. Remember the risk factor.
The pre-fish is the time to put your planning into full swing. Even if you live interstate and are unable to pre-fish the tournament waterway, there are steps you can take to increase confidence. Start by visualising the upcoming tournament to help create a ‘pulling plan’. This process can actually motivate and inspire you, ‘pulling’ you towards your goal. Visualising can often lead to ideas that normally wouldn’t have occurred to you. For me, this is exactly how the Bass Vampire pattern came into being.
Another example was the 2000 Cressbrook Grand Final. While tying flies, weeks before the tournament, I would sit at the bench and visualize a big bass lining up my y and scoffing it down. Nights before the event I had a vivid dream of a huge bass inhaling the y. Through the tournament I experienced a strong and unfamiliar sense that I would catch a big bass. As time was running out, the feeling left me and then, with 10 minutes to go, that kicker fish ate the fly.
The starting point for any well-formed plan is to build a foundation of information. Purchasing maps is a good place to start, as is contacting locals to get a feel of how the waterway is fishing. Think about tides or dam levels, moon phases, weather patterns for the time of year and any other relevant information. Where possible, have someone send a few pictures of the tournament water and perhaps some shots of fish.
All of this planning creates enthusiasm, excitement and anticipation, all of which are far more valuable than any ‘inside’ tip. In my experience, ‘inside tips’, or advice from locals, cloud the decision-making process. Trusting your instincts and fish-finding skills is the best way to plan for a tournament. Aussies love the underdog, and how many times have we seen the underdog go further in sporting finals than any of the experts predicted? Then comes that familiar comment: “Boy, they really turned up to play!”
With preparation and enthusiasm you’re more likely to fish the official pre-fish day more effectively, giving you confidence come tournament day.
Tips for the Official Pre-fish Day
Armed with the knowledge gained from your preparations, set out on the pre-fish day with a firm plan in mind. Switched-on anglers often have a plan A, B and C. Covering water efficiently and quickly is generally the popular method of finding fish. Taking your map and previously prepared notes can help to avoid frustration, and sometimes embarrassment.
It’s easy to divert from your plan, or to forget to try the method that caught fish in similar conditions on your home water, so bring some notes with you. This will give you a clear objective and keep you on track to find the sh. Also, and perhaps more importantly, write up some more notes in the pre-fish. It’s the best way I know of to build a solid plan for tournament day. Making notes on GPS marks – like water depth, structure and fish-holding patterns – can be very helpful, especially when you need to find a spot quickly during a tournament. Noting travelling times, bite times and tide stages, fish caught and weather conditions, (e.g. whether the fish are coming from the wind-swept banks or the sheltered banks). All these things and more can help to form a solid tournament plan.
The pre-fish is the time to chop and change lures, to experiment with retrieves, and try to learn what the fish want. Think about what’s going on below the surface and try to encourage the fish to eat. Once you have caught a fish, move on and look for similar structure, and be sure that a fish caught today won’t be a fish caught tomorrow. History has shown that anglers who delight in winning the pre-fish are often humiliated the next day. I am surprised at how keen some anglers are to paint targets on themselves. Everyone is different, but I find being quietly con dent is the best way to go, and certainly safer.
Before leaving the water, give all your boating gear a check over. Make sure the livewells are functioning correctly and check the electric motor, and of course its prop. It’s no fun losing an electric motor propeller, I assure you. I now carry a spare.
Before the Briefing
This is the time to prepare for the tournament proper – fuelling the boat, checking oil, life jackets and so forth. It also doesn’t hurt to check that electric motor propeller again. Then there’s the tackle, leaders to tie, lures to sort and all the time thinking about tomorrow’s plan.
After the day on the water I have an idea of which lures are working or are likely to produce sh. If you are like me and have too many lure boxes, selecting lures can be confusing during the tournament. The task is much easier if you make a condensed version with a spare box and only fill it with ‘money’ baits.
I also like to pre-rig a number of soft plastic baits ready to tie on and cast. When the leader becomes chafed it’s off with the old and on with new. These can even be dropped back into the plastics bag with some scent.
Lastly, it’s time to go over the notes you took on the water and form plans A, B and C. If you stick to these plans, you’ll maximise your chances of a strong performance in the tournament. The form that this strong performance takes will depend largely on you and your expectations.