Over the last 6 years of competing in kayak tournaments both club level and national I can tell you I have probably spent more hours preparing for events than fishing them. To be fair I’m probably a little more OCD than others, but in my opinion, preparation requires a lot of attention, and how prepared you are can have a direct effect on your success. This is a topic I’ve been asked about before, so in this article I’m going to walk you through my process and a sort of guideline I follow to be as prepared as I can before setting out for an event.
Now, I break preparation down into 3 categories (lake study, travel organization, gear prep). It’s not all about making sure you have fresh line on and tying on your favorite baits. Honestly, I have gotten to a point where I won’t even tie on a single lure until I get out on the water sometimes. I’ll discuss my reasonings for that later, but the high-level gist of preparation is to gather as much information as you can to be as efficient as you can be on the water.
It’s Never Too Early to Start
Time. It’s the one thing some have more of than others, but the one absolute truth is time is ticking. The sooner you can start your prep the better off you’ll be and the less likely you are to forget a crucial component of your preparation.
Step 1 – Lake Study
Alright, I don’t want you guys to think that I always follow these steps in order of 1, 2, 3, but for all intents and purposes of this article we’ll break it down as such. Lake study, for me, is a combination of understanding the lay of the lake and all that is has to offer, as well as, gathering intel on what the seasonal pattern should be and discovering areas that offer the most opportunities for that specific pattern. I want you guys to understand 1 important thing though before we move forward. Every bit of information you gather in your prep should be used as just basic starting points. They should not be the “thing” that you’re going to do regardless. Remember, bass don’t follow rules, and they don’t care what the last tournament was won doing. Always gather your information with an open mind. You can really mess yourself up by listening to too much dock talk.
I like to start by getting on google earth and getting a good feel for the body of water and what kind of opportunities it presents. Keeping in mind what I think the seasonal pattern may be is going to be my guideline for what I’m looking for. In conjunction with this I’m going to be making mental notes of access points. I don’t want to get too excited about an area if there is no access point in proximity. More on access points later. In this step I’m not necessarily looking for where I’m going to fish, but more so how areas will set up for different weather behaviors. Decision making is a critical component of tournament fishing, and the first decision of the day is where you’re going to start. We’ve all had those conversations at night in the rental house with your travel partners about where your fishing the next day. It can literally stress you out but learning as much about the different areas of the lake and how they set up will make that decision not only easier but more educated.
Look for areas that offer back up plans. I will make my educated guess as to what the fish might be doing but I also don’t want to limit myself or lock myself into one thing. Depending on the body of water I will write off an area almost instantly if the area has only 1 thing going for it. While I have google earth pulled up looking at what lies on the surface I will also have my Garmin Active Captain app pulled up checking contour definition so I can see what also lies beneath the surface. I’m looking at everything and gaining an understanding of what all is going on with an area. Where the points are, the creek channels, the underwater humps, laydowns, visible vegetation, etc. I like to have a full understanding of where everything is so I can make quick adjustments while I’m out on the water. Everything you do before you get to the lake should be done in a way so that your more efficient out on the water. 8 hours in a tournament goes by quick so you don’t want to spend any of that precious time sitting still staring at your electronics looking for this or that. You want to know where it all is so you can just go straight to it.
Sometimes your practice may indicate that you need to make 1 or multiple moves from one ramp to another in a days time. In this case you really need to have a full understanding of where everything is in those different areas. Loading up and moving takes a lot of time so knowing where your going once you get there will give you a few more casts throughout your day.
Step 2 – Travel Organization
Ever found yourself sitting at the ramp frantically searching for another ramp close by but your cell service keeps cutting out? Or how about its Friday night and your practice was terrible and now you’re lying in bed scrambling trying to find new ramp options for the morning when you could be benefiting from extra rest. This step is so easy, and it doesn’t take much time to do but will save you a world of headache in the long run. Throughout your research on google earth have your navigation app pulled up. I use google maps, so I just log into my google account. When I see a ramp on google earth, I go over to my google maps, find the location, and mark it under my favorites. This saves that location with a symbol you can see and just click on and your ready to navigate to it. No more wasted time at the ramp pulling up directions. Another thing you can do is save directions from one spot to another. This will give you saved directions you can still use even if you don’t have service. I would highly suggest doing this on those lakes that are out in the middle of nowhere by themselves.
Of course here lately tournament directors have had to operate under strict guidelines to adhere to Covid 19 protocols within various states, however, in a traditional setting the anglers usually are required to meet back at a certain location for check in by a certain time and have their fish submitted by a certain time. Sounds easy enough but I've heard of a few bad stories where anglers didn't have service and couldn't find there way back in enough time or also anglers didn't have service and couldn't upload their fish by cut off time. Staying organized with your travel and knowing where the closest towns are will give you back up options when situations arise that require immediate decisions. Spend some time getting to know the surrounding areas and where you may be able to go if you need cell service to upload. A big tip I can give you, and one your director most likely encourages as well, is to save your fish in your live well so you can quickly upload them later. Sometimes you catch enough service on the top of a hill and need to pull off real quick to upload. Having those fish in your virtual live well could be the difference maker in getting your fish submitted on time.
Step 3 - Gear Prep
Now, much of gear prep is conditional and circumstantial to the anglers style and load bearing desires. Some anglers take a small tackle box and a couple rods, while others may bring their entire tackle collection and every rod they own. Regardless of which style of angler you are there are a few important aspects of gear prep that will make your time on the water more efficient. Keep up with your equipment maintenance. Do a regular maintenance check on your gear. Check the guides on your rods to make sure they are all in tact and no inserts have come loose. I'll usually take a hose to my rods and reels after every other trip to wash the dirt and grime off. About 3 to 4 times a year I'll also re oil my reels to keep them running smoothly. The idea is to just stay on top of it throughout the year so you can eliminate the possibility of gear failure as much as possible. Another thing I like to do is go through my tackle boxes and make sure everything is organized. I usually do this at the start of the year. How you organize is up to you but it will save you a lot of time out on the water.
I mentioned this a little earlier but don't always feel like you have to have all your rods rigged up with baits. If your familiar with the body of water or have put in recent time on the lake then of course have your rods rigged up, but if not then sometimes it can benefit you to wait till you get to the lake and see the conditions yourself before you make your lure and color choices. I speak about myself as well with this notion, but I think anglers are just as much tackle addicts as we are fishing enthusiasts. Our tackle rooms are our sanctuaries and our lures are our toys we like to rig up. I say that to say this. Pre conceived notions are the worst form of mind games that we play on ourselves. Tying on your favorite bait without knowing the conditions can hurt you. What happens is you get our there with your favorite bait and you just start throwing it without even taking into consideration if it's the best bait for the job. Get out to the lake and see what the conditions are then rig. Your choices will then be based on relevant info vs favorite selection.
I feel like in this game you have to love everything about it. The entire grind. If you over look your preparation you are potentially setting yourself up for failure out on the water. The best anglers in the world don't become the best by just showing up and going fishing. They put in hours and hours into their preparation for each event. You don't have to do things my way, there's more than one way to skin a cat, but if you can find a way to better prepared for a tournament you may just find yourself cashing more checks. Hope these tips help and good luck out there.
Article by - Justin Patrick