Adapting to Changing Conditions During Competition

By Marc Rogers

Bass Fishing Conditions are Constantly Changing

During the fall of every year, national, regional and local bass fishing organizations hold their year-end championships. Fall is a season of constantly changing conditions on most bodies of water.  Weather fronts move quickly, forcing fishing conditions to change just as fast.  Anglers who fail to adapt to the changing conditions often see great fishing situation fade to difficult situation overnight.

Many times weekend anglers arrive a few days early to practice for the upcoming competition.  They spend this time trying to develop a pattern for the tournament and many are successful in doing so.  However, if weather and water conditions change between practice and competition days some will fail to adapt to the changing conditions and a successful pattern developed during the practice period no longer applies.

The following situation really took place during the Anglers in Action 2009 Championship on Stockton Lake in Missouri.  Stockton Lake is an Ozark Lake with generally clear water.  The lake has two major arms (The Sac and Little Sac Rivers) that run north and south from the upper ends to the dam.  The water surface is choppy to rough due to the windy conditions that are normal on the lake.  It is known as the best sailing destination of the Midwest for good reason.

Launching the boat on Thursday (two day prior to the two day tournament) at daylight the winds were light with heavy cloud cover.  Air temperatures were in the high 40-degree range and the water was clear with approximately 36 inches of visibility in the main lake.  The upper ends were stained with approximately 18 inches of visibility.  Surface water temperatures were 60-62 degrees throughout the lake.  Just after daylight the winds increased to a steady 10-15 mph.

The Southwest Missouri area had received up to 10 inches of rain the week before pushing the water level 6 ½ feet above summer pool.  This rise in water left a lot of shoreline cover flooded in 6 feet of water.  Most of the shoreline cover is short brush and some of it was completely submerged with most partial under water.

At my first stop my partner and I started pitching jigs to the edges of the visible cover and in the first hour caught what would have been a limit of legal largemouth bass.  We continued to find similar areas and were able to repeat the same results all day.  Friday was different as we continued to target similar areas and again was able to put together a limit of bass.  When loading the boat on Friday afternoon we had about 15 areas where we were confident we could catch a limit of bass each day of competition.

Saturday, the first day of competition, was again cloudy with similar weather conditions.  We started targeting the same areas where we caught bass on the two previous days.  Our first stop was a secondary point where we had found the best fish the prior days.  After several sub-legal bass boated we made a move to another area where we had previously taken legal bass but again were only able to boat sub-legal fish.  After several more moves throughout the day my partner was able to catch a 2.6-pound legal bass.  It would be the only legal sized bass we took to the scales on Saturday.

Sunday brought clear skies and cold temperatures.  After the one hour delay for take-off due to heavy fog, the air temperature was in the upper 30-degree range but the water temperature remained constant at 60 degrees.  On Saturday night we had decided I would target the deeper water with slow moving crankbaits while my partner continued to present a jig in the flooded cover.  After a couple of hours with the crankbait with only one small bass to show for my efforts I put it away.  With the bright skies I assumed the bass had moved tighter to the flooded cover so we started pitching jigs deeper into the flooded brush.

As the end of the second day of competition came to a close we had not boated a legal size bass.  Frustration and second-guessing our strategy was the topic of discussion during the long drive home.  In the past I have seen scattered bass holding to the edges of cover move tighter into the cover when the conditions changed from cloudy to sunny.  However, I failed to realize this usually was on water that was not as clear as Stockton Lake and once home I had an interesting thought.  I sent an email to Marty Thompson (Marty is a full-time professional guide on Stockton Lake) asking him his opinion on where I went wrong.  After telling him how the situation took place throughout the four days on the water Marty sent me the following reply:

“When fish migrate, like elk, or deer, the big ones are the last to move.  Before our recent flood, shallower water was occupied mainly by 2-year-old fish, which are about 13 inches.  They move a lot because they have not found their pecking order home yet.  Because of the high water, and the lower water temps (fall pattern), older fish in the 3rd year (2+ pounds) will move into these shallower areas where they are more readily caught.  That’s good.  You catch 4 or 5 keepers in this area, but your bigger fish or the keeper bass will lay off in deeper water (15-20 feet).  Guys that fish a tournament start catching legal fish and they get tunnel vision and forget that you need something extra.  They don’t take the time or the effort to cash in on the big fish that will push them over the top.

“The fish moved and slowed down, and you needed to adjust to that.  They were in the same area that you caught them the day before, but deeper and you needed to fish for them slower.  Just because you caught fish on one day doesn’t mean they will do the same thing the next day.  The guys that win tournaments consistently have learned how the fish react to environmental changes, particularly drastic rise and fall of barometric pressure.”

After reading his reply it became clear to me that my fishing more shallow and tighter to cover was where I went wrong.  The fish had moved out to deeper water and became less active.  I should have presented slow moving baits in deeper water for the bigger bite.  There are many valuable lessons anglers can learn from catching a lot of fish but I believe it is just as important to learn something from failing to catch fish as well.

Visit Thompson Fishing Guide Service for more tips and advice from Marty Thompson

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