Whether you're competing in your very first tournament, or you've competed in hundreds, eventually you're bound to end up asking yourself the same question: What do I do now? Maybe you got right on some good fish, and need to get some bigger ones in the boat; or maybe you're 5 hours into your day, the sun is high overhead, and you haven't gotten one. single. bite.
We all encounter days where you're struggling on what to do next. Even worse, we've all gotten back to the launch with a sinking feeling of regret: If only I didn't abandon that spot. Or waste so much time in those pads. Or, paddle halfway across the damn lake only to find out that those weeds that were there last July haven't grown enough to make good cover this year in May.
I'm not going to pretend to know what to do in every situation to catch fish. I've been skunked on more days than I care to count, and I certainly have regretted a fair number of choices out on the water. What I've learned though, is that making a plan ahead of time and establishing some ground rules can help make these days a little easier to handle, and maybe even prevent in the future.
PLANNING YOUR DAY
Sure, you can have a great day fishing by just pushing off shore and casting at anything that looks tasty. However, doing a little planning ahead can make your time on the water a bit more productive- no one wants to paddle around more than they are actually fishing.
Two words- Google Maps. Satellite imagery lets you research a body of water in tremendous detail. On most lakes, you can actually see the edges of drop offs and weed beds. Use this to your advantage, and plan a general route on the water that lets you hit the spots you're targeting without zig-zagging all over the place. Looking for even more information about the lake? The Navionics chart viewer is free to use in a browser.
Using these tools can help you plan out a route on the water, so you can hit the spots you'd like to fish, and make the best use of your time out there.
I'll admit it: I'm a gear hoarder.
Just ask my brother, I'm more likely to bring 100 different baits out on the water with me than I am to remember to bring something to eat. Picking which bait to tie on is hard enough- but picking the ones to leave behind? Its a battle of what-ifs. What if that bait is the pattern of the day? What if I run out of those swimbaits? What if I spend more time swapping lures than I do casting????
Sometimes less is more. It lets you focus on developing a pattern, and hone in on the right technique. One of the best anglers I know basically throws 2-3 different baits all day, every day, no matter what. And it works. Their variety and adaptations come from color, and technique. You don't need to bring every color of every bait that you have, if you can fish some baits with different techniques, slow or fast, high or low.
I like to focus on bringing the baits out with me that will work for the strategy I want to fish, and the plan that I made for the day. For example: if the lake you're fishing is choked out with weeds just about everywhere, do you really need to bring any deep divers? If the water is cloudy chocolate milk, maybe you only need to bring 1 or 2 packs of senkos, instead of your whole crayola box of colors.
Ultimately, there is no magic sauce that will catch more fish on any given day. Planning your route on the water will help you plan what baits to bring with you, based on your strategies. Have enough variety to adapt if necessary, but don't bring so much that you spend more time tying on than casting out!
CAN'T FIND CRAP? ADAPT.
Even the best laid plans can end up without any fish. When this inevitably happens, Have a backup plan, and some ground rules. You don't want to end up like me- sitting in one spot for 2 hours, casting at some ideal targets, and not getting a single bite. Just because there SHOULD be fish there, doesn't mean there will be. Or if you're marking them, it also doesn't mean they will react to your bait.
Zack caught this 22.25" pig after changing up strategies when the bite went cold. Definitely a good decision.
Set some ground rules for yourself- No bites in an hour? Move to your next spot. No bites or signs of fish in shallow? Swap to your deeper strategy. Can't get them on moving baits? Adjust to a finesse presentation. Whether you're in a tournament or just out fishing for the day- It's always more fun when you solve the puzzle and find the pattern, and sometimes that means making changes. I like to have 3 or 4 strategies to focus on each day, with a few different methods to fish them. It works for me, and helps me manage my time on the water better too.
IN SUMMARY: PLAN AHEAD
Scope out where you want to fish, and what you think the water will be like. Select your baits based on where you are going, and how you want to fish. Have a Plan A, and a backup approach in case that falls through. You might even want a backup to that backup, or a backup to the backup of your backup. Either way, don't be afraid to adapt if necessary and find those fish.
Or, you could just go out there and wing it and see what happens. I do that a lot too.