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MONDAY, OCTOBER 8, 2007
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Anglers always should scout a tourney site

With overcast skies and a forecast of temperatures in the 60s for early Saturday, my brother Jay and I knew the conditions would be right for bass fishing on Wheeler Lake.

Jay and I rarely have our schedules match so we can fish together, but when we get the opportunity, we make sure it is going to be a good day, regardless of what we catch.

Cranking up the Mercury 200-horsepower engine on Jay's bass boat, we smiled. Our plan was to cast lures around sporadic grass patches in or near stump flats.

Because Jay will fish in the Bassmaster Southern Open on Wheeler Lake on Oct. 18-20, we spent plenty of time scouting. When people talk about pre-fishing for a tournament, that doesn't necessarily mean they will cast lures all the time.

For the most part, pre-fishing is merely a scouting trip where you look at lake maps, plot charts or GPS units and simply make a few mental notes.

I was asked recently what I do when I'm pre-fishing for a big bass tournament.

To start, I spend a good bit of the previous night looking over a lake map and making phone calls to other anglers who have fished the tournament site.

If the anglers are good friends, they may tell you exactly where and how they have been catching fish. But for the most part, expect to be told only a general location and what lures or techniques were used.

I find that studying a lake map the night before going out, I get an idea of what I want to see.

For example, I might want to check out some humps or stump flats and see if I get any bites at all. Then, I may want to look for humps and stump flats that have plenty of grass structure. Believe it or not, there is a big difference in catching bass in locations with or without grass present.

I want to make sure I don't spend too much time in one location. If I have marked 10 spots on the map, I want to make sure that all 10 get checked.

If you stay at one location and catch a lot of fish, well, it may be fun but you are defeating your purpose. Those fish that you are catching now are going to be fish you wish you could catch come tournament time. With that in mind, on some lures I throw, eliminating the hook is definitely a positive.

When pre-fishing, especially if the tournament is only a couple of days away, it's the bite you want to find. Imagine bringing in an 8-pound largemouth bass on the day before the tournament instead of on the day it counts.

Bass fishing superstar Kevin VanDam, whom I have had the pleasure of fishing with many times, said he caught a 7-pound smallmouth bass on Wheeler Lake a couple of days before a big Bassmaster tournament. He said all he could think of the first day of the tournament was how big that fish was and how he'll never catch it again.

When working a jig-and-pig combination, consider cutting the point of the hook off so that a hook-set is nearly impossible. If you can make the bait so the bass will stay on long enough to jump on the surface, you'll get a look at the fish and not give her a sore mouth at the same time.

Doing that gives you a chance to catch the same fish a couple of days later in the same location. If it was indeed a trophy-sized bass, that could be the kicker-fish you need for a large paycheck.

After you have scouted a location, take notes. It helps you remember what lures you used and especially the color and size.

Also, come tournament time, keep in mind that a hot fishing spot in pre-fishing may turn cold during the tournament. Fish-catching conditions can change so fast, and you have to be ready to make a change.

And, before you ask, my brother and I did find and catch several largemouth and smallmouth bass. We'll keep most of our trip secret, but largemouth bass were found around grass and smallmouth bass were found around rocks where the current was ripping.

That's not saying much that a lot of serious bass anglers don't already know. But how many bass anglers do you know who will tell you exactly where and how they caught fish right before a big tournament?

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