Official practice for REDCREST Presented by Shore Lunch is over. The competition on North Carolina’s Lake Norman starts Wednesday, March 8. The field consists of 40 anglers, all with very impressive résumés, and all dreaming of a win.
This is the fourth REDCREST championship, and I was fortunate enough to win the first one in 2019 on the Mississippi River out of La Crosse, Wisconsin. It would mean a lot to me to win again and become the first two-time champion.
The format is different this time. We’ll have a five-bass limit rather than the every-fish-counts scoring system. I truly like them both. Each has its plusses and minuses if you’re in competition.
Every-fish-counts is generally more exciting. The scoreboard lights up almost every few seconds, and there’s no rest. If you’re not catching a fish right then, you feel like you’re falling behind and that it could be tough to catch up. On the other hand, with a five-fish format, you can catch up. You just have to put yourself in the right place at the right time.
That’s basically what happened to me in 2019. I went up a creek off the Mississippi River where I’d caught a big fish before and found a spot where dozens and dozens of small bass were stacked up like cordwood. I scored 63 bass that day and more than doubled the weight of second. It was magic, and a day I’ll never forget.
A five-bass limit is less of a pressure cooker. You can do very well with just six or seven bites … if they’re the right bites. And there’s not that awful feeling of falling behind like you can get with every-fish-counts. In a five-bass tournament, you can wait for an afternoon bite without panicking. If you’re confident that the fish are going to turn on at 1 p.m., you don’t obsess over what the other anglers are doing in the morning. It’s also true that with a five-bass limit, you generally can’t get too far ahead or too far behind. You’re rarely more than a bite or two out of it.
Each format also favors certain styles, techniques, and baits. With every-fish-counts, you didn’t often see a competitor pick up a flipping outfit and pick a bank apart. He was more likely to move fast and throw a squarebill or spinnerbait.
With a five-bass limit, there will be competitors pitching and flipping all day long. Many will pick up a big swimbait in search of a kicker. It’s almost like an entirely different sport.
And I love them both!
Right now, the questions that everyone’s asking are “How was practice?” “Are you on ‘em?” “Do you think you can win?”
Of course, those are tough questions to answer … and maybe tougher to answer in a five-fish format than with every-fish-counts. Lake Norman has a lot of quality fish, but not very many truly big fish. It won’t be like a Florida tournament, where doing well often comes down to who can get two big bites each day. At Norman, it will likely be more about maintaining a solid average.
Of course, a lot will depend on the weather. Temperatures are predicted to fall throughout the competition, and we’re likely to get some rain. That could really slow things down and make it a grind.
I’m OK with that. In fact, I prefer it. I’d rather the championship be a grind than a shootout. It suits my temperament better.
The REDCREST format is also a little different this year. The biggest change is that your total weight over the final three days will determine the winner. That could make the final day less exciting, but it makes consistency through the Knockout Round and Championship Round even more valuable.
If you’re in the Charlotte area, check out REDCREST. Launch and takeoff each morning will be at Blythe Landing Park in Huntersville, North Carolina, and the General Tire Outdoor Sports Expo is at The Park Expo & Conference Center in Charlotte. The Expo is open from Friday through Sunday, and admission is free. There’s plenty to see and lots to do. Dozens of top manufacturers in the fishing and outdoors industries will be there to show you their latest gear.