By Marc Rogers
Preparing for a bass tournament begins at home long before heading to the water. Getting your boat in top operating condition, your tackle organized and rods/reels cleaned and spooled with new line are what most anglers concentrate on when preparation begins. However, studying maps and water conditions are also key and often overlooked.
Buying quality topographical lake maps are is something today’s anglers overlook when they have a boat equipped with the latest electronics having GPS with pre-loaded lake maps. This equipment is great to have aboard your boat but if you don’t have a copy of a lake map you can’t start studying the body of water before hitting the water unless you want to study from the console of your boat.
Use a pen to mark key areas you find while reviewing the maps. You should consider using different color ink for different categories of cover and structure as this can make finding areas quicker while on the water. Make notes on the margins of each page of the map close to the key areas you discover and later make notes of catches from these areas as well.
Anglers should concentrate on finding areas that will hold bass during the time of year they will be on the particular body of water. An example would be if the tournament were held during the spawning seasons look for and mark areas of shallow flats, small coves and pockets or any area where bass may use to spawn. Once on the water visit these areas prior to the competition day(s) to check for the current conditions. Lakes levels could drastically affect these areas depending on low, normal or high water conditions.
If permitted to do so, arriving a day early for weekend angler is ideal for scouting the areas before the competition begins. If there is an “off-limits” period anglers should plan a trip prior to this time and conduct scouting. However, if you are limited to not having time to scout the water before the tournament begins at least you will have an idea of what to expect when the take-off begins. Knowing the lake level is five feet above normal pool will allow you to know that the normally three feet deep flat is going to have eight feet of water over it instead of the normal three feet.
Study the lake conditions from past tournaments on the Internet. Do keyword searches for the particular body of water and look for tournament results from years past. Many times anglers will share more information once the event is over during the weigh-in. This information allows for a starting point for the scouting process. You may find the current conditions are very similar to years past during the same time period.
Look for lures and techniques that have done well on the water in the past. Bass are creatures of habit and will generally follow the same patterns during similar conditions. By no means should you throw only jigs because last year’s tournament was won on a jig during similar conditions but you should try them during practice and scouting.
Once you have chosen about a dozen key areas to concentrate on tie on some lures to get a feel for what the bottom of the lake has in cover and structure. A crankbait that will reach the bottom of key areas will help indicate what type of cover and bottom composition is present. Crankbaits allow you to cover water quickly and give you a feel for what the lake holds below the surface.
A Carolina rigged lure will also allow you to cover water quickly and a heavy sinker will also indicate what lies below. If you are wanting a more detailed feel of what the bottom holds try a heavy jig and work it slowly by dragging it along the bottom. Brush piles and submerged cover are easily detected with this lure. Let it drag and hang up in the cover in hopes of getting debris stuck to the lure for an even better idea of what lies below.
While time on the water catching fish is priceless for anglers to gain experience, preparation begins long before launching the boat. Just because you have high tech electronic equipment onboard doesn’t mean you should stop looking at maps before setting out on your next trip. Maps are a great means to do some preparation long before you hook up the boat and head for the water.