Making the long haul - Major League Fishing

Making the long haul

December 31, 2000 • Rob Newell • Archives

With range capacities ever increasing, tournament anglers are making longer runs to find bass. But are the risks worth the rewards?

It was not that long ago that running a boat 50 or 60 miles in a bass tournament was not plausible. Bass boats only held 30 or 40 gallons of fuel and thirsty carbureted outboards drank it greedily. One wrong turn could leave an angler lost for hours. Plus, like the adage says, “You can’t catch a bass when you are running 60 miles per hour down the lake.”

But that was before the days of boats with 50-gallon gas capacities. That was before the days of 200 horsepower, electronic fuel-injected outboards. That was before advanced technologies like cell phones and global positioning systems. That was before the days of $500,000 to $1 million tournaments.

In the last couple of years, the Wal-Mart FLW Tour has made several stops on river systems. The Mississippi River, Pascagoula River and Red River are all examples of waterways that seem to have no bounds. These vast systems allow anglers who want to get away from the crowd to do just that.

Modern advancements in bass fishing equipment, increased prize purses and limitless waterways have given new meaning to the long haul.

Professional anglers like Randy Blaukat from Missouri and Marty Stone from North Carolina are no strangers to the long haul philosophy. These anglers have employed the game plan successfully, and unsuccessfully, during their FLW Tour careers. Between them, they logged more than 2,800 miles by water during last season’s Pascagoula and Mississippi River tournaments. They know the punishment a long haul can dish out and the rewards such a run can bring.

“Making long runs in tournaments is every bit of a legitimate technique as cranking or sight fishing,” Blaukat claims. “There is an art to it. It takes planning and discipline. You cannot just jump in a boat and run 100 miles without some forethought.”

Stone gives credit to advancements in technology for making his long runs possible.

“Two things have given me the confidence to make long runs an applicable fishing approach. One is a Lowrance LMS 160 GPS. The other is an Evinrude FICHT motor that cuts my gas consumption and greatly expands my range.”

Stone says that the GPS eliminates the need for making a trial run to his fishing destination during practice. As long as he has two waypoints, he can plot a course of travel. The first time he makes his long haul is during the tournament.

What is a long haul?

Blaukat considers any run over 60 miles, one-way, to be a long haul. Stone regards a long haul as any run that requires planning for fuel consumption.

“You have to know the limits of your equipment,” he says. “My boat has an 80- to 90-mile range if I do not have access to gas. But weight, current and waves can alter the equation substantially.”

Making the decision

The decision to run an exceedingly long distance must be made according to what the fishery can produce and the present weather and water conditions.

Stone made an 80-mile run through the Gulf of Mexico to Mobile Bay at the Pascagoula River event during the 2000 FLW Tour season, and the effort earned him a second-place finish.

“It’s not like I go to a tournament looking for a long haul,” Stone says. “I do not like to make long runs. They are always expensive, can be dangerous, and they will certainly drain you mentally and physically.”

Stone arrives at his decision only after other possibilities have been exhausted. He starts every practice close to the ramp and works outward. He must know what a conventional boat ride will produce before considering a long haul.

“At Pascagoula, I spent three days practicing in the Pascagoula before giving the Mobile Delta a try. My best stringer after three days was about 7 pounds. So I had a standard for comparison,” Stone reports.

Water levels played a key role in Blaukat’s long run decision in Memphis this past May.

“When I made the 180-mile run at the Mississippi River, it was because the water was low and falling fast. The other pools were barren of bank cover and getting pounded by other anglers,” he says. “The oxbow I was in had plenty of cover in the water and very little fishing pressure. Best of all, the falling water, which was hurting other anglers, was positioning the fish better for me. If the water had been high like the previous year, such a run would not have been necessary.”

Blaukat’s monster run almost paid off. He led the tournament the first day with almost 22 pounds. He made the top-10 cut but eventually succumbed to mechanical difficulties and ended up in 10th.

Once an angler knows a fishery’s potential and current weather and water conditions, he can fully weigh his options. Stone usually leaves the last practice day open for checking long haul destinations.

“At Pascagoula, I drove over to Mobile and put my boat in just to see what it had to offer,” he says. “After catching 10 pounds in 30 minutes, I knew I had to make a run.”

Both Blaukat and Stone suggest the same criteria for long haul destinations.

“The fish must be shallow and positioned in or around obvious targets,” Blaukat says. “If you only have two hours to fish you cannot take time to experiment or adjust. The fish must be set up and ready to bite.”

Stone calls these bass “dumb fish.” “What I mean by that is fish that are easy to catch and pattern,” he says.

Both anglers prefer to get five to eight bites per hour before considering a long haul. They will both settle for as little as one hour of fishing time if the area has tremendous potential. The quality of the fish must also be a cut above what is available at conventional distances.

Stone suggests that an angler must be fully aware of what he or she is getting into when weighing the decision.

“Every mile you run increases the chances something can go wrong,” he says. “What gets you is not the expected, rather it’s the unexpected – a sandbar, stump, rock or floating log. You must be able to accept the responsibility and consequences when something does go wrong.”

Stone also made a 180-mile journey down the Mississippi last season. And the unexpected did happen. He hit a floating log, which damaged the engine’s lower unit. Despite having enough fish in his livewell to make the top-10 cut, he never weighed a fish and finished dead last.

Preparing for the run

Once the decision to make a long haul has been made, certain preparations and precautions must be made before the run. Blaukat removes most of his unwanted tackle but leaves all his tools in the boat.

“When making a long run, I will opt for carrying tools instead of tackle,” Blaukat remarks. “Removing tackle helps reduce weight and reduces the temptation to experiment with other baits when fishing time is at a minimum.”

He is sure to have extra oil, a spare prop, a spare trolling motor and everything needed to change those items out. He claims that a motorcycle helmet is indispensable for long runs. Blaukat also carries extra clothing and food in case he and his partner are stranded for the night.

Stone pares his tackle down to four rods and one soft pack bag.

“Weight is something that really effects your gas consumption. An extra hundred pounds in a boat really has an impact on your gas over a 200-mile roundtrip run. Every pound I remove is a few drops of gas saved,” Stone says.

Making the run

Running 180 miles, one way, in a bass boat is nothing like rolling down the highway in a car. Neither Blaukat nor Stone can fully communicate the level of concentration this kind of effort demands.

“It’s a true discipline,” Blaukat says. “Your awareness levels must be at a maximum the entire time. You must know what is happening and what can happen at any given moment.”

To this end, Blaukat says he constantly updates his mental acuity by asking himself what he would do if something went wrong at a particular time. And he always leaves large margins for error.

“I never cut corners, no matter how tempting,” he says. “A maneuver that might gain you an extra minute of fishing time might result in a lost lower unit. It’s just not worth it.”

Stone says mental fatigue is a big enemy that must be warded off at all times.

“One mental slip and your day, and consequently the tournament, is over,” he says. “I try to focus on perfection. Making each moment of my attention perfect. There can be no mistakes.”

If gas is an issue, both anglers recommend backing off the throttle to 4,600 to 5,000 RPM to help conserve fuel.

Fishing, finally!

Another difficult aspect of the long haul is shifting focus from a grueling run to actually fishing.

“I want to catch a limit on the first cast,” Stone remarks. “It really takes some mental discipline to shift gears. I am still thinking about the run that just occurred and already my mind wants to start thinking about getting back. Somehow, you have to focus on

fishing for a couple of hours in between.”

Deciding when to start the run back is also one of the most difficult decisions for Blaukat. If things go well and he gets a limit quickly, he will leave with plenty of time to make it back. “It gets tricky when I have four fish and time is running out. Is it better to leave with four fish and have an extra few minutes? Or, should I push it to the last second for a fifth keeper? These are the kinds of decisions that must be weighed every minute.”

The run back

No matter what happens in terms of fishing success, driving back requires every bit as much attention as getting there. “Even if things do not go well, I can’t think about the fishing while driving back,” Stone relates. “The day is not over yet. I still have two lives in my hands, and I must get back safely. Only then can I begin to reflect on the fishing day.”

It is critical to check on the fish every so often. Blaukat stops every 20 minutes to replenish the water in his livewells on the ride back. Stone uses a baitwell plug to stop up the overflow valves in his livewells and then fills them to the top with water. He keeps his pump on recirculate and periodically peeks into the well to make sure the fish are all right.

Final words on the long haul

Running hundreds of miles to win $100,000 sounds glamorous, but it is a strategy that can have mixed results. Neither Stone nor Blaukat have turned the game plan into a victory, yet. While both have been close, the unexpected has always prevailed.

“Long runs are not for everybody,” Blaukat notes. “You have to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for the worst outcome. Acceptance is a big part of making the long run.”

You must have the best equipment and know your equipment’s limits, Stone advises. “Long runs are no place for uncertainty concerning your equipment’s abilities. You must have confidence in every move you make.”


Co-anglers: Got a long-haul draw?

Co-anglers who draw pros making long runs should be prepared for the unexpected. Riding two hours one way can be just as grueling for the co-angler, especially in rough water. Fujifilm team member Randy Blaukat offers a few tips to co-anglers who get drawn for the long haul.

• Try to get a motorcycle helmet. They are aerodynamic and cut down on wind resistance. They also dampen air noise. Helmets are even more desirable in rain.

• Bring a minimum amount of rods and tackle. There will not be much time to fish or experiment with different lures.

• Go heavy on the clothes. Even if it is a comfortable 75 degrees in the morning, bring heavy clothes. A constant wind chill, at 65 mph, can make you cold.

• Consider bringing a pillow. Periodically, you can sit down on the floor with your back to the wind to get a break.

• Pitch in and help. Making long runs is hard on both people in the boat. Do whatever you can to help make the day go smoother.

• Above all else, be honest with your pro and directly address how you feel about rough conditions. Don’t be timid about telling your pro to ease up in rough water if you are taking a beating. You may not have control of the boat, but you do have a right to speak up about maneuvers that make you uncomfortable.