JUSTIN COOPER: It’s best to fish your strengths (not trends) on a new fishery - Major League Fishing
JUSTIN COOPER: It’s best to fish your strengths (not trends) on a new fishery
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JUSTIN COOPER: It’s best to fish your strengths (not trends) on a new fishery

Image for JUSTIN COOPER: It’s best to fish your strengths (not trends) on a new fishery
Mercury pro Justin Cooper follows a plan whenever he's faced with a new fishery like Dale Hollow. Photo by Phoenix Moore. Angler: Justin Cooper.
April 7, 2024 • Justin Cooper • Bass Pro Tour

This is my rookie year on the Bass Pro Tour, and I was fortunate to kick off the season in February on my home body of water, Toledo Bend. Having a good showing at home felt good, but most of the rest of the lakes remaining on the 2024 schedule will be brand new to me or places I’ve only been once or twice. And I’m looking forward to all of them.

I have a plan, even though I’ve never been to some of the lakes we’ll be fishing the rest of the season. This week we’re at Dale Hollow in Tennessee, a lake I’ve never fished before. But no matter where the schedule takes me, I’ve learned that one of the best ways to get comfortable quickly is to find an area where you can fish your strengths. That’s what I plan to do this week and for the rest of the year.

Research speeds things up

With so much information out there on the web, it’s really easy to gather some ideas about a lake long before you get there, and that’s always been my approach. Once the schedules come out, I like to scour everything I can find online to try to get to know a fishery if I’ve never been there. Even if you’ve fished a lake before, the information you can learn by doing some online research is great for developing a better game plan.

I look at past tournament results to see what it takes to win. Even with the Bass Pro Tour’s “every-fish-counts” format, it’s important to see what kind of fish live there. Next, I like to look at the water levels and temperatures. Some lakes have really good websites showing you all that information on different dates over the past few years. Those are the first things I look at, and as the event gets closer, I’m always watching my weather apps to see the trends and better understand what the fish might be doing.

If the lake is relatively popular for tournaments, you can also find little bits of information from reading recaps and learning about certain sections of the lake. A lot of times, you can find out what section of the lake the winners used. It may be just a creek or general area, but it gives you one place to look that may have more potential or fish that are a hair bigger than the rest of the lake.

Sticking to my strengths

Once I’ve done all of my research and started practicing, I’ll begin to look for areas that fit my strengths. A lot of it depends on the time of year and how I like to fish during that season, but I’ve always done best when I use techniques I have confidence in. Trying a new bait or technique for the first time in a tournament – or doing it just because everyone else is doing it – is a good way to end up at the bottom of the standings.

I don’t mind the finesse stuff, but my real confidence comes in power fishing in shallow water. I’m a “chunk and wind” guy who likes to skip a swim jig around bushes or go down the bank with a vibrating jig – that’s the bite I’m always looking for.

Even when we head up north into the Great Lakes, I’ll try to find ways to catch fish in shallower water. The St. Lawrence River is a perfect example: I’ve had two good tournaments up there in the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals, and I was able to do it all with a baitcast rod in hand. That will be my approach when we head there to finish up this season.