In today’s tournament bass fishing one of the biggest struggles most fishermen face is the decision making process. Do you stay on or with the fish you’ve got? Do you swing for the fence and go hunting the BIGS How or where do you start the day? So many questions, each with several possible answers and any one or a combination there of could be right on that day. I hope to shed some light on this process and share how I go through the decision making process.

First and foremost you have to decide what you are trying to accomplish that day on the water; are you trying to win, position yourself to make a cut, trying to get a check or just out enjoying the day, the competition and the comradery. Since most of us fish tournaments for the competition and the opportunity to make money at something we love to do, we want to WIN! The challenge here is the ability to assess the situation and realistically gauge your chances of winning.

Before you can really make a plan you have to gather information/confidence. I use the words information and confidence together because so much of successful tournament fishing is based on your confidence level. There is no substitute for time on the water!
To gather accurate information you have to get out there and try to figure out where the fish are and the best way to catch them. To go into a tournament without practice time reduces your likelihood of winning significantly because there will be others who are out there gathering that information and this gives them an advantage.

Here’s an example: Before the 2005 Anglers’ Channel members tournament, I practiced the Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday prior and my partner practiced a day or two as well. The tournament was in late October which is historically the time of year to catch good fish on a jig. Well, in multiple days of practice I got several jig bites, none of which were fish greater than two pounds. My partner ruled out the schooling fish option (another primary pattern for this time of year) as he checked the backs of several main creeks and found very few quality fish in these areas. The pattern I found that was producing the best quality fish was fishing deep creek or river channel ledges.

So based on the information and confidence I had gathered, the decision was made to fish deep. One particular place I had found held the best quality fish and we committed to that place as we felt it gave us the best chance to win. We passed on any possible early top water bite and went straight to the deep. For six and half hours we stayed on one small place, we knew the right quality of fish were in the area and we were catching them. We culled a few fish and had a solid limit of fish. Around 2 o’clock after an hour had passed without a bite we decided to go fish some other deep places in hopes of culling again, to no avail. We finished the day with 16.20lbs and a first place check. We gathered the information, made a plan and stuck to it and it paid off for us. We chose/planned to stay on those fish and catch what we could.
This is just an example of a decision that was made and the way things worked out. I’ll discuss this more in the next installment.

(This is part two of a series of articles on this subject)

Tournament fishing is an ever changing puzzle of what to do and when to do it. Decision making is the difference between winning or getting a check and not even being close. As I continue to fish, learn and write about this subject hopefully some of you can learn from my mistakes. In the first part of this series, I wrote about making the decision to stay on a group of fish. Well I have a painfully fresh example of when to go to share.

While practicing for a tournament on Lake Norman last week I discovered a pattern that was consistently producing 13 to 15lbs per day. Given the time of year and the full moon quickly approaching I figured the fish would be moving into the cuts/spawning areas. They were, nearly every cut I went into, mid-way in or further back I got bit. The better fish were coming in the shallowest water.

I was skipping a jig into the darkest area under the dock; if my jig made it to the bottom I would hop it out slowly and go onto the next angle. I had fish take the jig before it ever reached the bottom and others grab it as I was hopping it on the bottom. The deeper the cut the more bites I got, but the better quality fish were coming from “the dirt”.

It had been relatively warm most of the week and Friday night a front blew in and it was thirty degrees at blast off. I thought that this might change/affect the shallow pattern a bit but didn’t expect it to shut it down completely.

I spent the first third of my tournament day fishing the pattern and got nothing to show for it. I fished several of the better areas where I had gotten multiple bites. I slowed down and fished more persistently and still nothing. So I had to go.

I changed areas and patterns, fishing deeper brush piles close to or on the main channel. This produced 7 bites in about a two hour period. It was around 1:00pm when I decided to go back to my pattern. I was fishing this tournament for a check, not points and felt I would need the big bites to have a chance at the check I wanted.

Off to the races I went, running and gunning as many of the areas as I could, hoping that the afternoon sun would draw the bigs back under the shallow docks. All the while I was working my way away from the deeper brush. After an hour plus of the Lake Norman shuffle without a bite I realized I had made a mistake leaving the deep brush. There wasn’t enough time to run back to it so I stuck to my guns and hoped for one BIG bite. It didn’t come.

Looking back I see where I made a couple of bad decisions. First, I should have known to abandon the shallows after that front came in. It was too early in the year and the fish hadn’t committed to the skinny water yet. At this point they are very likely to pull out when a front comes through. Secondly, after I went to the deeper, heavy cover I got several bites and shouldn’t have left it. Last but not least, knowing that the weights are usually tight on Norman, rather than bearing down and trying to get a check I grasped for the check. Hind sight is 20/20 and all these signs told me to go away from the pattern I found in practice, I just didn’t see them.

(This is part III)

The biggest challenge in competitive bass fishing continues to be the decision making process. I started writing these articles to help myself and others learn from some of the good and bad decisions I’ve made, I hope they help you as much as they help me.

This past weekend I fished a tournament on High Rock Lake, now I had been there for 2 days practicing and had ruled out the river fishing and the deep bite. Flipping/pitching docks was the game plan. I had fished several areas up and down the lake; in and out of the creeks and there seemed to be a concentration of fish in Second Creek on the docks. I recognized this but I had also gotten bit on topwater in Crane Creek.

The game plan was: go to Crane early, work through the areas that I thought I could catch some topwater fish and work my way back to Second fishing a few docks along the way. Then after I had my limit, get out on the main river docks and try to get a couple big bites.

What actually happened: I went to Crane caught a couple of shorts, my co-angler caught 2 keepers and I got caught up in there and stayed too long. I went into Second and after fishing through my primary area and hadn’t gotten a bite. I started working my way out of that area when I got 3 bites on 2 docks and thought they may have been turning on as it was getting up around 11:00am. I fished two more stretches of docks and left the area. I went out to the main river channel docks and spent the next hour and a half catching short fish and getting my brains beat out by boat traffic. Finally, ran back into Second Creek to finish out my day and caught 2 more keepers.

Hind sight is always 20/20, so I feel not so smart sometimes when I think back over my performances. In this situation I feel like I made a couple of good decisions and a couple of bad ones. I really felt like I was going to need to be on the main river channel to get the big bites that would be needed to win, I was fishing this tournament for a check, not points and the win was the ultimate goal. I knew there were fish in Second Creek to be had, I should have gone to them right away and should have stuck to my plan of not leaving them until I had a limit. I was smart enough to recognize the main river channel stuff wasn’t working for me and went back to Second. Crane Creek and the time spent there, 2+ hours, I feel like was a waste of time. I took a shot at what could have been some quick fish in an area that I had gotten bit in practice and it didn’t pay off.

The short of it, stay with your plan and with the fish you find!

There is no substitute for time on the water!

Rusty White of Rock Hill is a professional fisherman and full-time guide on the Catawba chain of lakes, offering full- and half-day services. For more information, visit