I Fish Tournaments, So Why Should I Ever Use Live Bait?
Lets face it, worms and dirt get everywhere, and minnows never stay on your hook for that long. Not to mention, your car and boat gets disgusting when they spill. So when you fish competitively, and live bait is illegal anyway, why would you ever want to use live bait?
We all remember our first fishing pole, and who gave it to us. And I bet at the end of the line was a small hook rigged with live bait. Whether it was a night crawler, red worm, crappie minnow, or leech, live bait was in some part responsible for teaching us how to fish. You could even count using corn and bread! We all owe a big thank you to those that took the time to teach us how to fish, because it took passion and patience to pass the love of this great sport on to the next generation. But the question I want to ask is why live bait is the “go to” way to teach someone how to fish? And more importantly, is live bait fishing of value to tournament anglers?
The number one reason to use live bait for someone learning to fish is because the bait does the work when getting the fish to bite. The person learning to fish simply has to hold the pole, and either feel for the fish to take the bait, or watch the bobber. With the fish naturally attracted to something they eat, the person is able to focus on other variables involved in the process of catching fish. Examples include familiarity with the equipment (rod and or reel), casting, or placement of the bait at different levels in the water column to determine where the fish are most likely to bite.
But how can a tournament angler use this to catch more fish on tournament day? Here is a quick break down of the strategy. Think of tournament fishing as the process of combining two components: finding fish and catching fish. If you are serious about fishing tournaments, you spend time before a tournament “pre-fishing” a body of water. When you pre-fish a tournament you are truly hoping to find fish and not necessarily catch all the fish in a spot. Ideally, you find fish, or a pattern based on current environmental and structural components of the body of water you are on, and go into the start of the tournament with applicable knowledge that gives you an edge over your fellow competitors.
If you can eliminate variables from your equation, this lets you focus your attention on other parts of your tournament fishing process. So if live bait is illegal in pre-fishing periods in the tournament you are fishing, then do not use it. However, most likely you are able to do as you please as long as you abide by time limit and off-limit water rules. So when you pull up on a potential spot, live bait provides you with an option to quickly assess what species are in the area.
When pre-fishing, drive around and look for fish on your finder, and once you are over them drop some live bait down and see what eats. This will do 3 things for you.
It will provide you with increased confidence in your ability to correlate certain fish images on your graph with what fish are actually eating and where they are at in the water column.
It will enable you to make a more educated decision on the spot for your tournament. Are these the fish what I was looking for? Or will the fish I am looking for be here on tournament day eating the fish I have just found?
If you are able to catch the desired species (bass, walleye, etc.), then you create a starting point for adding artificial baits into the equation without having to start from scratch. (ie if you catch a smallmouth on a crappie minnow on a mid-lake hump, then you know that smallies are there, and they will most likely eat minnows or minnow imitation baits). This can be valuable information you may not have gathered had you simply rolled up and threw a jig or wacky worm.
Consider the challenge of fishing a “high pressure” body of water. These fish have seen every lure, from every store ever invented. Well, while you rack your brain on how you are going to hand carve a new lure they have never seen, why not let live bait show you where to test this wooden master piece out? Madison, WI is a great example of a high-pressured prolific fishery. There is a fishing tournament every weekend of the season for some sort of club. However day after day this system churns out quality fish and numbers of fish. Live bait is not a guarantee to reveal the location of these tight lipped fish while pre-fishing, but it could certainly put one fish in the boat that shows you where and how these fish are relating to the structure you are scouting.
In summary, live bait could be a great way to save time and reveal tournament strategies when pre-fishing, even though it is illegal during the actual tournament. It can also help you gain confidence in your electronics, and it may also help identify any other species using your potential tournament winning spot. Take a lesson from the person who gave you your first fishing pole, and let the bait do the work for you, while you focus on finding fish to cash your next tournament winning check.