Of all different aspects of tournament fishing, without a doubt the least understood by the average angler is the matter of prefishing. Even the word “prefishing” itself is awfully ambiguous. Just mention that word to someone who knows nothing about bass tournaments, and you caii get some funny looks. What I am going to discuss today are the two dift’erent types of prefishing. The first being the practice or prefish that takes place a week or two prior to the event, and the second being the practice which takes place immediately prior to the competition, Both practice sessions can be an integral part of a successful tournament, but if they’re improperly conducted, they can ruin your performance. I have spent as much time prefishing before tournament off limits periods as anybody in the last ten years, and I think I’ve learned some things that can really pay off for both pro and amateur alike. When I was starting my pro career out West, I literally lived out of my van. I would travel from lake to lake, prefish, tournament fish, and then move on to the next lake. I would say I averaged about 7 days of prefishing for each tournament. Nowadays, because of time constraints and plenty of experience, I don’t prefish nearly as much. I prefish for about 1/3 of my tournaments these days. I think it’s important to prefish on lakes and rivers I’ve never seen before, and these new bodies of water are where I spend my time. The main objective I am trying to accomplish during this advance prefish is to learn where everything is at inde lake. I want to know what the personality of the lake is. That is, where the different types of structure are, changes in water color, depths, just your basic stuff That way, when I come back for the tournament and I find bass holding on a particular type of cover, I know where I can run to find some more without wasting valuable practice time. No angler will be able to learn the whole lake in one week, so just try to become intimate with one or two areas of the lake that look like they will be good when you come back. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. It is far better to spend a lot of time in just a couple of areas, than to spend a little bit of time in many areas. The one thing that can really mess you up prefishing this early is catching a lot of Rsh. I’ve seen this happen so many times I’ve lost count. A sherman will catch a really nice stringer a couple weeks prior to the tournament, and instantly get totally locked in to that pattern and area. They go back for the tournament and try the same stuff that worked two weeks earlier in the same area, and they fail miserably. Fish change daily, and most of the time they change a bunch in two weeks. I’ve learned not to be concerned with catching a lot of Gsh during this prefishing period. Sure, I want to catch a few to get a little confidence, but I’m mostly just concerned with learning the lake. I worry about how to catch them during the oflicial practice period. If you are not able to spend any time on a lake before the cutoff period, don’t worry about it. Some of my best finishes have come on lakes that were new to me that I had no time to prefish. The whole key in this situation is being able to commit yourself to one part of the lake, and not being at all concerned with what goes on in the rest of the lake. It is hard to gain confidence in a part of the lake without ever seeing it before, so you’ll have to rely on information from past tournaments, advice from other fishermen, or just your natural intuitions. I must comment that this is a very exciting way to fish a tournament. You just have to believe that the bass live in the area you’ve chosen, and figure out how to catch them. Let’s move now to a discussion on the official days of prefish. Most tournament circuits aUow the fishermen two days of practice before the competition starts. How you spend the time should largely be determined by how many days long the tournament is. The short tournaments of one or two days require that the angler be on the fish right out of the box. There is no time for catch up in these short events. So it is important in the prefish period to determine where you are going to fish, and what you’re going to throw. The longer tournaments of three or four days like we fish on the B.A.S.S. tour require a different approach during the official prefish. -En this situation,-I-am often just-seeking to-determine what the seasonal pattern is for the area of the lake I plan to fish. I want to get a few bites in prefish, but mostly I’m just looking for that comfort zone; that is an area and technique that fits the seasonal pattern. I’ve learned so much in these long tournaments, and really prefer them over the short ones. The Bassmaster Pro-Ams have a three day prewash period followed by a three day contest. On those prefish days, I am not thinking so much about present cir*****stances as I am about how I am going to catch fish on the third and fourth days of the tournament. I guess that is why I generally move up in the standings each day of the tournament. I am always thinking ahead. A lot of guys have a record of busting a big stringer on the first day, and then they slowly slip away as the event progresses. While on the other hand, some guys move up in the standings each day. The difference is their prefish strategy. To win a one day tournament, you have to be right on the fish from the start. But the longer tournaments require a different approach. I generally get more in tune with the Gsh with each passing day, so I don’t concern myself with catching too many during this o%cial practice period. What I’m looking for, again, is a key area and technique that should produce some quality fish for the existing seasonal pattern. One of the biggest mistakes people make during this official prefish is trying to cover too much water. Big mistake. I recommend picking an area that you like, then dropping your trolling motor and fishing the whole area. This way nothing will be overlooked, and you will find out what they want and where they are. I can’t tell you how many times I was fishing too fast in practice, and passed right over a huge bunch of Gsh. The faster you fish and the more water you cover in prefish, the better chance you have of overlooking a true honey hole. I generally don’t set the hook too often during prefish. It is good to catch a couple of fish to see how big they are, but then I shake off the rest of my bites. Remember, what you catch in practice doesn’t count. The average weekend pro has the tendancy to spend his tournament fishing the same area where he got bit in practice. This is fine if you are truly in tune with the fish, and know exactly what time of day they are active, and what they are biting on. But if you are fishing one area for 30 minutes, then running 5 miles to another spot where you got bit in prefish, then moving again to another spot where you got bit, chances are you are just spot fishing, and not fishing the Ash. You might do 0.K. in a one day event by spot fishing, but this wont hold up for the long tournaments. When I talk about fishing the fish, I mean keeping an open mind every day to changing conditions. Bass change all the time, and the successful anglers are the ones who learn to adjust with them. Just about eery tournainent I fish, I notice the bass changing from the prefish period to the competition days. That is why your top pros aren’t the ones who catch the big stringers during practice. In the longer tournaments, the prewash days should just give you an idea of where to start, then you have to simply be ready for what each new day has in store.
– Texas Saltwater Fishing Guide