Preparing for a National Championship Event

By Steve Graf

Bass fishermen are always dreaming of participating in a national championship. The ultimate event and goal of all anglers from the day they’re born are to be in the Bassmaster Classic…the Super Bowl of bass fishing, the crown jewel, and an event that draws anglers from all over the world. There are so many tournament trails of all levels, and most have a path by which you can qualify for either a regional or a national championship event. Today you’ll get to hear how I, and so many other anglers, prepare for a championship event.

Coming up the first week of April on the beautiful Red River out of Red River South Marina just south of Bossier, one such event will be taking place called the ABA Ray Scott National Championship. This is a tournament that an angler must qualify for by finishing in the top 5 in the Angler of the Year standings from one of 16 divisions nationwide from New York down to Florida over to Texas and all points in between. It truly is a national circuit with some great anglers.    

For the last month, anglers including myself have been on the unpredictable and ever-changing Red River despite the high, cold, and muddy water. Now, why would anglers be looking for fish two months in advance when the tournament doesn’t start until April 1st? With most major national championships, there’s what’s called a dead water period. This rule states that no angler can be on the Red River nor receive any information starting at sunset on March 1st till sunrise on April 1st. This rule is in place so that local anglers don’t have an unfair advantage over those coming from all parts of the country. So, before this dead water period begins, anglers are looking for good backwater areas that have some fairly clean water that might still be holding bass at the start of the tournament.

After the dead water period is over (sunrise on April 1st ), it’s tournament time. For this event, we’ll have 4 official practice days followed by four competition days. There are two schools of thought when it comes to practice. Some anglers go out and fish just like they would in a tournament by hooking all the fish they can and seeing how big they are. Then there are anglers like me who refuse to hook bass and will put some form of plastic tubing over their hooks to make sure they do not hook fish that they might catch during the actual tournament. There’s also a thing called “sore mouthing” fish which is when you hook fish a day or two before the tournament.  These fish probably will not bite for another three or four days unless it’s during the spawn when bass will bite multiple times in one day. It all depends on the time of year. 

For this angler, I’ll be looking for areas holding several schools of bass while looking for quality. Having multiple schools in an area is great, but only if they are bass with good size that allows me to be competitive. Small bass, known as “dinks,” will not put you in the winner’s circle in any event. My tournament history on the Red River has shown that you need several areas that you can rotate to, especially with this event being four days. With over 100 anglers participating, there’s a lot of pressure on the fish and a lot of anglers will find the same schools. That’s why it’s important to find as many schools of bass as possible, in multiple locations, so that you don’t burn all your fish on the first or second day of competition.  

After four days of practice, it’s time to go to work. This is when all those long days on the water hopefully pay off. Bass fishing tends to reward those anglers who put in the long hours of practice and preparation…long days starting at 5:00 AM and fishing hard until the sun goes down. There’s a saying among all anglers, “There’s no substitute for time on the water.” Anglers that follow this golden rule tend to be the most successful.

The final challenge for any angler that has a major tournament on his home water is the mental side. The problem is that you have so much history and know too many places to go and catch fish. For example, if the spot you start on does not pay off, you start to second guess your game plan. It’s hard to win on your home water. There’s more self-inflicted pressure to contend with for the win because you’re the local favorite. My goal is to try and take it one day and one fish at a time and hopefully be in contention on the final day. Fish the moment!

If you get the chance, come out to the daily weigh-in starting at 3:00 PM April 5th – 8th at Red River South Marina located off Hwy 71 just south of Bossier. Looking forward to seeing you there and hopefully, you’ll see me standing in the winner’s circle. Good luck, good fishing, and wear your sunscreen!