How to Prepare For Your First Bass Fishing Tournament

How to Prepare For Your First Bass Fishing Tournament

Tournament bass fishing has been a growing sport over the last few years. It continues to expand with the introduction of more fishing circuits each year. As an angler, you’re probably familiar with Bassmaster, Major League Fishing, and the new National Professional Fishing League. Beyond these, there are many tournament options available for anyone to fish. These can range from local bass clubs to tournaments hosted by marine dealers or locally promoted benefit tournaments. To learn more about upcoming bass tournaments, stop into your local tackle shop. Typically, they'll have flyers and information about upcoming events in your area. Whether you’re fishing on a team or as an individual angler, these tips will help you prepare for a memorable tournament.

1. Build Basic Fishing Skills

Building confidence with fishing basics is vital for beginner anglers before entering a tournament. Knowing how to use baitcaster and spinning rods will give you various presentation options in your arsenal. For instance, on certain lakes, anglers can get away with using all spinning gear, but most lakes with heavy cover require a baitcaster rod and reel. Just starting out? Check out our guide on how to cast a spinning rod like a pro and to see one in action. Beyond rods and reels, we recommend having a variety of tackle to give you options if the fish aren’t biting your go-to setup. Check out our top 5 must-have lures blog here or Bassmaster’s top lures lists for specific tackle recommendations.

2. Complete Boat & Gear Inspections

Whether you're fishing with a partner or not, boat prep is critical to having the most time possible to fish during tournaments. Start by ensuring your boat is ready to operate. Before launching, make sure your live wells, trolling motor, outboard motor, and navigation lights function correctly. Also, check your oil, bilge, and trailer hubs to ensure everything is in order. To learn how to perform daily boat maintenance checks, click here.

Besides the basics, proactively consider ways to save time on the water on tournament day. For example, having a spare prop, trolling motor handle, and cord on hand can help you quickly address a mechanical issue. Having a prop wrench and tools handy can also help save you time if the unexpected happens. For your trailer, double-check your trailer lights, tires, and hitch to make sure everything is connected before hitting the road. Other helpful fishing tournament necessities are a landing net, weigh-in bag, and fish care products. Reference AFTCO freshwater pro-Matt Pangrac’s on-the-road towing kit so you’re ready for anything that comes your way. 

Although this may seem obvious, with all the necessary tournament prep, it sometimes slips anglers’ minds, but make sure your boat’s gas tank is full before launching on tournament day. If it’s your first tournament and you don’t typically crank the motor, you could be in a rude awakening. For instance, if the tournament is taking off from a ramp 20-30 miles away from the part of the lake where you usually catch fish, you’ll burn more gas than you typically do. An angler’s worst nightmare is disqualification from stopping to get gas and running out of time. You’re one step closer to being ready for your first bass tournament by fueling up and completing your pre-launch prep.

Gerald Swindle Gear Check

3. Develop a Tournament Plan

With your boat tournament ready, it’s time to develop your tournament plan. Preparing for a bass tournament requires rigging several rods for specific techniques you want to use. While tournament fishing doesn’t require ten rods on deck, having multiple options at your disposal is advantageous until you find a successful pattern. For example, if the fish start chasing baitfish on top of the water during a tournament, you need to have a topwater bait rigged up and ready to go. If you only have a few rods, rig them with different lures to prepare you for any situation. To get you started, here’s a list of five lures that you can’t go wrong with on most lakes throughout the year:

  • Topwater bait
  • Paddle tail swimbait
  • Soft plastic worm when the bite is slow
  • Different types of crankbaits
  • Multiple jigs

When trying to figure out a pattern, it's wise to stay in one area of the lake until you figure it out. If you're not having bites, bounce around to different spots in your area and try a few techniques to see if anything works. Once you've exhausted your options, then you can move to a different area of the lake. Also, keep your baits organized so you can adjust to changing conditions quickly —one easy way is using a tackle bag or tackle box. For pre-tournament scouting, the AFTCO Urban Angler Backpack is a fan favorite that allows you to take your gear on the go and is perfect for scouting out bank spots without launching your boat. With your tackle in order, you're on your way to securing a tournament title and trophy. 

Next, you need to look at online fishing reports and popular fishing areas on the lake, especially if it's a lake you haven’t been on for a long time or ever. Studying fishing reports is helpful because some reports specifically reveal what type of structure the fish are staging on. For instance, one fishing report might explain that fish chase baitfish on shallow flats in the backs of major creeks. After seeing this, you can look at your contour maps, find the major creeks, and decide where to start. Click here to learn more about fishing contour maps and how to read them. 

Another critical step to bass tournament prep is taking time to look at the upcoming weather forecast. Doing so helps give you an idea of what to wear and might even indicate how the fish will behave. An angler can use weather apps to their advantage when preparing for a tournament. If the weather is sunny and calm, the bite will be slow, so you'll have to work a worm or jig slowly to entice bites. If that's the case, consider packing a bass fishing shirt like the AFTCO Samurai Sun Protection Hoodie or the Jason Christie Performance Hoodie which are equipped with UPF 50 sun protection to keep you cool and your skin protected. If the weather predicts a front moving through later in the afternoon, chances are the fish will be biting well, allowing you to cover more water. With rain and wind in the forecast, gear up in a fishing rain suit to stay warm and comfortable. Check out AFTCO’s rain suit comparison guide to find the best fishing rain gear for your needs.

4. Prioritize Sleep

Prioritizing sleep is one of the most overlooked aspects of bass tournament prep. Fishing requires mental toughness, and successful anglers follow set routines to go into a tournament with a good head space. Tournament fishing requires making countless decisions, and getting enough sleep in the days leading up to a tournament can help anglers make the right decisions. Also, it’s difficult to sneak in a power nap on the water without hurting your chances of winning.

Beyond prioritizing sleep, there are several ways anglers can help prevent mistakes on the water. We recommend retying all your lures and putting new line on your reels before a tournament. Doing this means you won't have to spend valuable time re-spooling your reels. You don't need to do this every day, but make sure there is enough strong line on your reels to last throughout long tournament days. One way to tell your line needs replacement is when it becomes hard and brittle, causing it to lose abrasion resistance and flexibility. Fluorocarbon line is expensive. Generally, the higher-priced products are the most abrasion-resistant, which most anglers need for success on the water. With restful nights of sleep and your gear ready for anything, all that's left to do is hit the water.

By building basic fishing skills, completing boat inspections, and developing a tournament plan, you’re ready to conquer your first bass fishing tournament. Remember that a bad day fishing is still better than a good day working. Best of luck on the water!

Gerald Swindle On The Water