Winning Elements of Tournament Fishing

by Eric Labaupa

As published in Spring 2017 Hooked Magazine

With the open water angling season now upon us, so too begins the annual competitive fishing calendar in this part of the country. No sooner than the exact day the season commences in southern Manitoba, does the very first tournament of the year take place on Falcon Lake. This long running annual event hosted by the Manitoba Bass Anglers aims to crown the two-person team that can weigh-in the heaviest bag of early season smallmouth bass. And on and on it goes almost every single weekend in Central Canada right through past Thanksgiving Day well into the month of October.

What does it take to win?
Whether you are a tournament scene veteran or an aspiring competitor as of yet still on the sidelines, you have undoubtedly spent some amount of time thinking about what it takes or would take to win one of these things.

So what exactly are the winning secrets you ask? In short, I have no idea as I have never won an actual tournament before. I will mention that I have a third place finish at the MBA West Hawk Bass event under my belt along with a fifth place showing another year at the Falcon Lake Walleye Masters Cup thank you very much. No less impressive if I may add are consecutive fourth place awards at the family friendly GNA Lac Du Bonnet tune-up tournament before Cape Coppermine, but I digress. Over the last few years being actively involved in the local tournament circuits, I have come to meet and befriend dozens if not hundreds of terrific competitive anglers. Under the guise of reporting for Kickerfish, I have also been able to probe the inner mind workings of the very best of these sticks our region has to offer. Unbeknownst to them, I have systematically been extracting key bits of information that will ultimately result in a longed for first place win one of these days. In truth, there really are no secret formulas for success. What separates first place and the rest of the field more often than not is the right combination of employing winning elements and efficient execution come game time.

Winning elements
Once again I should be the last one to write about what it takes to win, but I have observed and listened to some common threads amongst these top anglers who would be the first to share this information with you.
Preparation – This can range anywhere from ensuring that you have a landing net in the boat to having an organized plan of attack for all situations and conditions that may arise each tournament day. I have yet to speak with an event winner who has told me that they just showed up that morning on a whim. For most, being prepared means having your equipment in good working order long before you hit the water. Organizing your gear and tackle and deciding on specific techniques that you will be using is also important. Next level preparedness is developing a program or consistent bite that can be counted on come takeoff. Which brings us to…
Time on the water – This is a common saying and is key to becoming a better all-around angler in general. There are never any wasted hours spent on the water I have learned as every single cast, contact with fish or lack thereof, or even occasional glimpses at your screen can be valuable learning tools. Time on the water you are competing on especially, such as pre-fishing practice days are almost completely necessary for one to seriously challenge for a title. Up to date real time knowledge is key, so fishing blind as they say can still work every once in a while, especially in one-day events or slot enforced competitions but is definitely not a recipe for success to bank on.
Honing your skills – Just as important as the more obvious necessary skills such as mastering different casting styles or properly applying action to various lures, is being able to read the water, adapt to changing conditions, and thoroughly taking advantage of your electronics. These are all skills that need to be developed and practiced. Natural talent can come into play here, as well as, dare I say it, athleticism. An intense day on the water can take a toll physically on the body and mentally also especially if you are not performing well. Other aspects which I personally have been terrible at a few times during the pressure of a tournament are properly fighting a fish and on the other end utilizing less risky netting techniques.
Confidence – This is purely having the proper mindset going into a tournament. But you can’t fake it either as there is a marked difference between having high hopes and being genuinely confident. If you have paid the proper attention to the previous three winning elements, then this part should be no problem. There is no need to count on the proverbial stars being aligned just right for you. Winning anglers aren’t lucky; they stack the odds in their favour and go from there.

Execution and excitement
For a small number out there, they possess actual winning experience that they can draw from to help get them to that pinnacle again. An even more exclusive club are the anglers who have won multiple titles and are consistent threats to challenge for top spot. Being prepared, knowledgeable, skilled, and confident are important and all, but they will tell you that these need to come together with proper execution during tournament hours. Making good decisions during an event is the true key to winning from what I have seen. Every sob story at the ramp, dock, and scale from everyone not in first place always goes back to a bad decision they made on the water. In the end, joining a competitive fishing event is all about the opportunity to compete and ideally destroy your peers. The drive to win and excitement before take-off must truly be there or else it really isn’t all that fun. If anything tournament fishing is rather stressful and can often make you question your basic ability as an angler. But for those with a high compete level and have caught the bug like me, hopefully these points can help you in some way to get to the top of the leaderboard this season.