Matt Lee has already done hours of "practice" before he ever backs his boat in the water for a tournament. Photo by Garrick Dixon

I get asked all the time about how I prepare for a tournament and break down a lake. That’s the billion-dollar question, trying to figure out what the fish are going to do.

For me, it comes down to doing my research and doing everything I can to develop a plan before I even launch my boat. I research a body of water and take into account things like weather and how that place is fishing.

Pre-Tournament Prep

Before I head to a tournament, I’ve already spent plenty of time doing my research. The Internet is your friend, and you can find out so much about a body of water just by looking at tournament results, YouTube videos, social media, and Google Earth.

I look at all past tournament results I can find, and hopefully can find some recent ones. This gives me a good idea of what caliber of fish I need to do well in an event. It helps me during practice to know if I’m on the right track, or if I’m doing the wrong thing. Looking down through the standings, you can also get a look at what an average size bass is for those waters.

Now, when it comes to social media and videos, some of it may be garbage. You have to take some of what you see with a grain of salt. It’s not always going to be entirely accurate or real, but if you see some trends and areas of the lake popping up multiple times, you might get pointed in the right direction.

With Google Earth, I look at the past satellite pictures from summer and wintertime. This year, before Stage One at Lake Eufaula, I knew we were going to have flooding and rain. That gave me a clue and I looked at all of the old images I could find of flooded stages, to get an idea where the cleanest water would be.

It’s all there for you online if you spend the time to do your research. Still, even with the best preparation, you’ll have to put all of the information together when you get there.

Tournament Practice

When I start practice, I generally have an idea of where I want to begin, a depth range, or a type of structure or at least a general area.

The first thing I’m trying to do is get a bite and then try to duplicate it to see if that pattern will hold up. Once I get a few bites doing one thing, I look for a backup technique in the same general area.

If I find something that works well on the first day of practice, I may run to the opposite end of the lake on the second day, or try something completely different just to have something else as a backup if my first plan doesn’t pan out.

Weather Watching

I’m always keeping an eye on the weather with my phone – I’m a weather nerd, but I think people underestimate the importance of weather for bass fishing. Two of my favorite apps are Weather Underground or Windy. You can learn a bunch from them besides just the predicted temperatures.

Mostly, I’m looking at cloud cover or wind direction and speed. That all goes into the plan. It helps me figure out which areas are going to be calm and which will be the windiest. With that info, I start to think about boat positioning and how I should be fishing certain spots.

There’s a lot that goes into my preparation for a tournament, but the main things I’ve learned is how vital weather is and always keeping in mind that there are more fish in an area than we ever realize.

The guys I’m fishing against on the Bass Pro Tour are so good at breaking down a lake quickly and figuring out how to manage their areas. The more time you spend fishing, the easier it is to put all the pieces together and it becomes second nature; that’s what makes these guys so good.