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Bass Fishing Tournaments: When to Stay and When to Move

Most often the person who wins a bass tournament or has a great day of bass fishing is the person who makes the best decisions on the water during that day. How do you decide when to stay put and try to catch the fish you’ve found or go to different water to fish? In other words, what causes you to hold them, and what causes you to fold them? Jordan Lee of Grant, Alabama, the winner of the 2017 and 2018 Bassmaster Classics, answers that question.

Jordan Lee tournament bass fishing

Many of the top fishermen on the Bassmaster Elite Series circuit make decisions based on a gut feeling; and when you get a notion you should be fishing in a different area of water than where you’re determined to fish, you may make a bad decision. Being on the Elite circuit, we have fished a lot of different waters in many different states. But when I go to a new lake I’ve never fished before, I have to make decisions on what feels right to me, based on the knowledge I have on fishing certain times of the year and the water and weather conditions I have that day. Many times those instincts aren’t always right. However, I have seen the anglers who win the most tournaments be willing to win it all or lose it all based on those types of instincts. 

Many times, to find bass, I go through a process of elimination. In other words, if I’m fishing shallow and decide my shallow-water patterns aren’t working to produce bass, I’ll probably move out to deeper water and fish deep-water patterns. During the practice days before the tournament, I think most fishermen try to learn what’s not working for them and hopefully identify a pattern that will produce bites for them. Once you know how you can’t catch bass, figuring out how to catch bass is much easier. Each day during a tournament we have only 8 hours to fish, so I want to locate the areas in any lake where I find the most bass, the biggest bass, the best water depth and the lure the fish are most likely to bite.

Another factor that weighs heavily on any fisherman’s mind, but especially a tournament fisherman’s mind, is: do I want to do what I can to finish in the top 50 and get a paycheck? Or, do I want to go for broke and try and win the tournament, knowing if I guess wrong I won’t get a check. While making that decision, you have to decide whether you can afford not to make a check or finish in the top 50. What’s your standing in the Angler-of-the-Year race? Can you gamble on leaving the bass you’ve found and are catching, or do you go after bigger bass to try to win the tournament and possibly fall in the standings of the Angler-of-the-Year race? 

Regardless of whether you’re a tournament fisherman or a weekend fisherman, you have to decide what you’re willing to do to catch big bass, or, if you can be content catching the smaller bass you’ve found. 

Jordan Lee Bassmaster World ChampionIn one tournament I was in, early in the morning on the third day, I started catching bigger bass than I’d caught the first two days fishing on the lower end of the lake. I had the idea I should go upriver and see if I could catch bigger bass than where I was fishing. I knew if I went upriver I’d have a longer boat ride and give up fishing time than if I stayed downriver. I decided I should stay downriver and try to ground out enough bass to possibly win the tournament, rather than go upriver to attempt to find the bigger bass that I would need to win the tournament. 

So, I decided to play it safe and stay with the bass I’d found, even though I felt certain I couldn’t win the tournament with the size of bass I was catching. However, I thought I should be able to catch enough of the smaller bass to finish in the top 50 and get a check. I decided not to gamble and go upriver to attempt to locate bigger bass. That one decision caused me to finish in 42nd place. I learned later if I had gone upriver that’s where the winner found the big bass, and where the top finishers caught their bigger fish. I didn’t have a terrible finish staying downriver. If I’d gone upriver and fished water I’d never fished before, I believe I would’ve had a chance to either win the tournament or a chance to drop out of the top 50 and lose a paycheck. I played it safe. 

Normally I play it safe, if I think I can catch enough fish to stay in the top 50 and get a check. But in some tournaments, I will follow my gut. I’ve won two Bassmasters Classics back to back. In those two tournaments, I didn’t play it safe. I went for the win, and I won. I made those decisions of when to move or when to stay when those tournaments were happening, because I had a gut feeling I could win. One of the most difficult decisions for any bass fisherman to make is to leave bass that are biting to go look for and try to catch bigger bass in a place he’s never fished before. 

The only tournament I fished in where I didn’t get a check by finishing in the top 50, I left a place where I was catching bass that were big enough to place in the top 50 to go find a place where I thought I could find bigger bass. I guessed wrong. In the place I went looking for bigger fish, I didn’t get any bites or catch any bass. I think what everything finally boils down to is, are you willing to lose to try and win?

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