The tournaments, trophies and giant fish represent the glamorous and tangible aspects of tournament fishing. Behind all that are months of preparation, hours spent buried behind the computer and lake maps, countless lodging reservations and logistics planning, and many handshakes to secure sponsors and finances to fund the season. As the weather up north gets colder, I am wrapping up my 2019 season and finalizing the schedule for 2020.
This is one of my favorite times of the year, the (not so) calm before the storm before the tournament season kicks off down south in January. Much to my wife’s grief, who holds down the fort at home, I jokingly refer to my winter tournaments as “the great migration,” as I venture to warmer climates.
For the weekend or recreational tournament angler, this time of year is also a very important time. It’s a good time to goal set for the new year, reflect on your strengths and weaknesses, acknowledge what went well, and areas that could use improvement. Ultimately, it’s the time to decide what you’re fishing next year. This will help you to make new goals for the 2020 season.
Personally, I was thrilled to have my best season to date as a pro, with my highest finish in an FLW Tour event, a BFL win and a B.A.S.S. Open win, which qualified me for the 2020 Bassmaster Classic. But, I still have a lot of room for improvement. I started the year off bombing at Sam Rayburn and was playing catch-up all season trying to dig my way out of that hole. I was on the right track with a second-place finish at Cherokee and just couldn’t quite get it done. I am looking to be more consistent this coming year, to make the FLW TITLE on one of my favorite bodies of water, the St. Lawrence River, and to have a shot at winning the championship. Setting goals (some realistic, and some lofty) will help you to chart a course for your season, as well as motivate you to achieve them.
Once you’ve set your goals, it can be hard to get it all scheduled. In 2020, I will be fishing the FLW Pro Circuit, and have been looking at the FLW Series Northern Division schedule along with the possibility of mixing in a few BFL events. To get this process started, I sit down with my hopes and dreams and a large paper calendar. I start by writing in all of the main Pro Circuit tournaments along with associated practice and travel days for each event. The next step is determining where I can fit in pre-practice before the restricted off-limits dates. I try to get to each lake before the tournament, especially lakes I have not fished before. Scheduling a pre-practice while I am already on the road is a good way to keep travel costs and time down. Last month I squeezed in a quick pre-practice in Alabama before going to pre-practice in Texas. It wasn’t on the way, but let’s face it – there’s no quick way to get to Texas from Pennsylvania!
Pre-practice involves scouting out bodies of water that I may not be familiar with, or that have proven challenging to me in the past. Pre-practice involves a lot of legwork before I even get to the water. I like to do a lot of research on previous tournament results, high percentage areas, and browse Google Earth maps to determine specific areas I want to look at to maximize my practice time.
Some of these tournament lakes are immense bodies of water that simply could not be charted in a few days. When pre-practicing, I typically don’t pick up a rod; rather I idle the lake marking on my Lowrance electronics any cover I feel like the fish might hold to, like grass edges, stump fields or shell bars. This helps me drastically improve my efficiency in the actual practice by having prior knowledge of how the lake sets up and how to get around. Simply eliminating water is also a big benefit to pre-practice.
I just spent three days at Lake Guntersville staring at my Lowrance HDS LIVE graphs, preparing for the 2020 Bassmaster Classic. Then I went to Sam Rayburn, and spent another three days idling and trying to find some sweet spots to get my season started off right in January!
If you want to learn how I idle and get prepared for these tournaments, check out my YouTube channel, Grae Buck Fishing. I’ve made a few videos demonstrating how I idle, and how to adjust your settings to get the best readings possible from your electronics. I made one video last year called “Idling Tips and Settings on Lake Chickamauga” during practice for one of my events there.
There’s no doubt about it, this time of year can contribute a lot to your tournament performance. If you go into the season prepared and organized and with some pre-practice, you’ll be set up for success!