Off-the-Water Practice - Major League Fishing

Off-the-Water Practice

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Matt Stefan Photo by Garrick Dixon. Angler: Ethan Janvier.
A proven formula for remote tournament preparation
January 18, 2017 • Matt Stefan • Angler Columns

In a few more weeks I’ll be leaving for my first tournament of the 2017 season. From the sub-zero temperatures and snow-covered ground of my home in Wisconsin, I’ll be heading for a warmer climate down south.

I’m looking forward to the start of this season, but must admit I feel like I’m running behind on getting all of my preparation taken care of. For me, this pre-practice preparation is crucial and helps me to acclimate faster when on a new body of water. Ideally, I’d like to spend time visiting all of the lakes on the schedule prior to the off-limits period. But that’s not much of an option for me since the majority of the tournaments we fish on the FLW Tour are 14 or more hours of drive time from my home. I also have a 5-month-old son now, which keeps me busy as the days disappear quickly prior to the start of the tournament season.

So, what is it that I need to get done before I leave? Well, tackle preparation is big for most anglers, but I find that my gear is usually well-organized and doesn’t require as much time as other tasks such as Internet research, map study, and booking lodging and other accommodations.

Regardless, there’s a lot to get done before the season starts. To give you a better grasp of what’s involved and how I handle it, I’ve broken down my strategies. Hopefully you can implement a couple of my ideas into your own preparation.


I’m amazed at how regularly I hear other touring pros talk about having to drive around a lake for hours to try and find a place to stay because they didn’t reserve accommodations prior to practice. In my opinion, this should always be taken care of well ahead of time. I try to reserve a rental house if possible and stay with several other fishermen, which dramatically reduces costs when compared to staying at a hotel.

I always make sure to find lodging with appropriate parking and electrical hookup and try my best to find a location that is near the tournament launch site or strategically located on the lake to allow for less travel time during practice. It’s a lot harder than it sounds to find accommodations that meet my demands, but it’s all worth it when I do and makes life easier when I’m done with a long day of pre-fishing.

I also make sure to have driving directions to boat ramps, gas stations, bait shops, grocery stores and restaurants prior to arrival so that I know where to go when I’m at each tournament.


Map study

Once I have established my lodging I begin to break down the lake itself. With three days of practice it’s impossible to fish the entire lake, but it is possible to have a good idea of what a lake looks like ahead of arrival if you do your research.

I always scan over a paper map, but find they are only useful for general information such as depth, lake layout and names given to areas of the lake. I do much more in-depth research by utilizing Navionics maps on my computer, phone and in-boat electronics to look for specific fishing locations such as points, break lines and humps.

I try to be as familiar with a lake as possible so that when I’m in a certain area of the lake during practice I already know of spots to check. This allows me to be extremely efficient and cover large amounts of water.


Aerial maps

When conducting my map study I usually try to have aerial photos available to give me an even more in-depth look at a lake. I like Google Maps, which also allows me to select images from a time period that meets similar conditions as what I expect to see when I visit a lake. For example, if Table Rock Lake is 10 feet below full pool, I can look at past lake levels and find a date when the lake was previously that low. I can then enter that date in Google Maps and scan the shoreline for high-percentage spots such as rock transitions, fallen trees, humps, grass lines, brush piles, etc. The aerial photos combined with the Navionics charts can be extremely helpful.

Another tip I recommend is to print out aerial photos and then laminate them. I compile all the laminated photos into binders and bring them on the water with me. That way I don’t need to have Internet access to view digital photos and can look at the hard copies on the water and not worry about them getting wet.


Online research

Once I have a good understanding of the lake I’m visiting I begin to scan the Internet for information about the fishery. Past tournament results, community holes, specific baits and colors that are dominant, and seasonal patterns are just some of the information I gather. I also watch TV shows and video clips that have been filmed on that lake, which gives me a first-hand look at the lake features and how others fish it.

I can’t stress enough that it’s not about finding other people’s spots, but rather being as comfortable as possible on a new lake. Without research prior to a trip it’s not hard to be overwhelmed by the size of these lakes. With three days of practice I can’t afford to waste the first two days trying to get comfortable with my surroundings.


Tackle preparation

The last thing I do before leaving is rig all of my rods and reels with the lures that I believe will work based on my research. I always make sure to rely more on my personal preference when selecting baits, but also make sure I have some of the tackle needed to fish local techniques. After rigging my rods I conduct any necessary maintenance on my Skeeter and tow vehicle so that I don’t have any problems on the road or water while I’m away.

Hopefully, these tips provide you with some direction as to how to prepare for your upcoming tournaments. Ultimately, it’s about catching fish in order to do well in a tournament, but it’s the little things you do that will make you more comfortable on the water, which should lead to better results. And remember, you can never be over-prepared.