Tournament Strategies

Having a Plan Goes a Long Way Towards Cashing a Cheque

by Eric Labaupa

As published in Spring 2018 Hooked Magazine

Open water competitive fishing is a highly-addictive sport as more and more anglers are finding out every season. Putting your angling prowess to the test against a pile of other competitors adds a whole new level of anticipation and excitement to sport fishing. For many who are new to the game, it doesn’t take very long to recognize that finding a spot at the top of the leaderboard isn’t easy. Tournament veterans will be the first to tell you that consistently cashing cheques requires a bit of hard work put in long before your boat number is called out.

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Have a Plan

One key element to your overall strategy that shouldn’t be overlooked is having a plan. That may sound a tad obvious, but more often than not, teams that go into an event without a clear set-out plan come back at the end of the day with a less than ideal box of fish. A plan need not be overly complicated or set in stone either but having one in place gives you more time to focus on catching fish instead of wasting time scratching your head.

What is a Plan

By plan, I am referring to an outline of what your day’s fishing is going to look like. What areas are you going to focus on, when and in what order? Where should you be at specific parts of the day? What factors will play that will trigger a move? What angling method or technique will you employ throughout the day and at each spot?

Building a Plan

A solid plan will be built around knowledge. The more information you have, the more you have to work with. These could come from a variety of sources such as lessons learned from pre-fishing sessions, educated guesses from experience, gathered intel, biological factors, weather forecasts, map study, etc. Factors such as travel time to different parts of the lake and time management in general should always be considered. Account for the entire day and strategize the best way you think to attack the water.

Backup Plan

In an ideal scenario, everything will unfold according to plan just like you day dreamed about on the drive to the lake. In reality, all kinds of things can happen or not happen which will cause you to re-evaluate your strategy. Having a Plan B and even Plan C in your back pocket can often save your day. Whether it’s small adjustments or a total 180 degree turn, knowing ahead of time what you will do if you are totally bombing with Plan A will save you from a day of ‘running out the clock’ on a dead program.

In the end, with competitive fishing every angler has a puncher’s chance of getting the right fish in the boat on any given day. The ‘Let’s go drop lines at my favourite spot and hope for the best’ Plan can and has worked for teams before. But to be consistent, improve as an angler, and do your part to tilt the odds in your favour, take the time to come up with a well thought out plan or two before your next fishing tournament.

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Plan Options

Where to drop your lines is the question most anglers struggle to decide on when making a tournament plan. The following are just a few concepts to consider that can help you narrow down which spots to turn the main engine off.

Community Spot

Every tournament lake and river system have known community spots. Places such as a reef or point or bay that are popular and always have boats parked on them. Incorporating these places into your plan or using them exclusively has its benefits. They are proven to at least at some point in time have had good fish or numbers on them hence their popularity. Being around more boats can also help you observe what the bite is like and on what. If you are unfamiliar with a body of water, knowing the community spots at least gives you a fighting chance. The downside is way more competition around you for what fish are on the spot. If the bite is not there, anglers may give up too much wasted time simply because other boats are still fishing it.

Milk Run

A milk run is a series of spots that you plan to target dedicating an amount of time at each one. These can be quick stops to get a feel for the action or longer sessions to work them thoroughly. Planning ahead of time the order to hit them helps with your efficiency and more time with your line in the water. Throughout the day and especially in multi-day events, eliminating dead stops and focusing on better areas can really hone you in on more and better fish. The downside is that you can quite easily spend too much time driving around instead of actually fishing.

Honey Hole

A plan built around fishing a honey hole can be some of the most satisfying competitive days on the water. These are spots that are not well-known and have been discovered by you in practice in the days leading up or a spot you have kept quiet over the years. People who consider a lake their home water will often have one or two of these up their sleeve. The downside to soaking at one of these too long at a competition is that you are bound to be seen and your honey hole can turn into a community spot overnight.

Outside the Box

These are spots or methods that can be considered unconventional to downright wacky. Chances are an outside the box strategy will have little to no one else in the field doing the same thing. Not necessarily a high-risk high-reward type scenario though, especially if you have dialled in on a program in practice, but they can be if they don’t work out. An example is the entire field is out in the main lake long line trolling and you decide to drive up to the far back of a feeder creek with a bobber. Sometimes going to the beat of your own drum can lead to a tournament win.

Rafferty 2018