Plan vs Strategy

How to Approach your Next Bass Tournament

Tadd Johnson, Champions Tour Pro

When Mike Tyson was asked by a reporter whether he was worried about Evander Holyfield and his fight plan he answered, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

This one of my all-time favorite quotes and oddly enough one I keep in my mind when bass fishing. You can have the absolute best laid out game plan when you hit the water, but too many times the fish have other plans.

Many NFL teams will prescript or pre plan an allotted amount of plays to start the game, but it is usually only for the first few drives. After that they use the feedback from that plan to build a strategy for the rest of the game. See where I am going with this? It is great to have a plan going in, but you need to use that plan to build a strategy for when you do get punched in the mouth.

Now there are times when you hit the water and every step of the plan you laid out the night before just seems to fall into place. You go to your starting spot and they are loaded and biting. You then head to spot number two and it is the same story your plan has worked perfect and the fish are snapping.  Unfortunately, these days on the water can be few and far between. So, what do you do when you plan starts to fall apart?

First let us talk about the difference between a plan and a strategy.

It is my opinion that both are extremely useful when either tournament fishing or going fishing just for fun. I tend to spend about 90% of my time on the water either tournament fishing or pre fishing for tournaments so most my opinions are based on the competitive fishing frame of mind.

Having a Plan…I typically approach most tournaments with a preset game plan. I have a starting spot, baits I plan to use, how fast or slow to work them and how deep or shallow I plan to target the fish. The difference is I now think about it more like an NFL coach as pre scripted plays on a drive to start the game.

I am looking for information to build a strategy for the rest of the day. For years when I first started fishing tournaments, I would set a plan and pretty much stick to it no matter what happened that day on the water. I would go from deep weed line to deep weed line or lily pad patch to lily pad patch where I had caught them in practice doing basically the same thing and getting the same results. My thoughts were always well maybe they will be loaded on the next spot or they must not be biting today only to come into weigh in and find out they were biting great for other competitors. 

Now when it comes to pre fishing I do plan for each day and do my best to stick to it. I find that when I just start winging it, I could go for hours being caught up fishing the same patterns, presentations, depths, cover, or structure and not learning much. I like to plan out my practice days very specifically to make sure that does not happen.

I would love to just go flip shallow grass all day every day, but that is not what I am there to do on my practice days. I am there to figure what is the best way to catch them under all different conditions come tournament day.  I really look at my practice to set up my plan for the tournament knowing at some point tournament day I am going to get punched in the mouth.

Having a Strategy…So you have initiated your plan, and nothing seems to be working or maybe you are catching some fish, but it is just not going as planned. It is time to start building a strategy. This is where it takes some confidence. You may have to abandon your plan completely or just make some adjustments to it.  

You must trust yourself and your experience, to make the adjustments as quickly as possible to get back on track. How many times have you been out fishing your plan, but in the back of your mind you know you must adjust? This is when you must start building your strategy. What have you experienced in the past under these types of conditions? Maybe you have only read about it, watched a TV show, or a YouTube video about it.

Regardless of how much actual experience you have its time to start building a strategy. Every time you do this it will give you more feedback and experience to use in future situations. More importantly you must have confidence in yourself and your adjustments. Don’t get me wrong it is not easy, you feel like you are staring over, the truth is you are and may be starting over a few times but you are taking these adjustments and building a strategy. Some fishermen need to have concrete evidence to switch gears during a tournament but the guys fishing the highest levels do it seamlessly. Many of them spend as much of their pre fishing time not actually fishing or catching fish as they do fishing.

In September, I drove to the Trout Lake access for the 2020 Champions Tour Championship.

I had never seen the lake before I arrived at the ramp. I had zero pre fishing, so I had to have a strategy not a plan based off days of pre fishing.

My strategy was to do what I was best at. Cover a ton of water, power fishing shallow. It was not a laid-out plan it was a strategy to fish in the moment and fine tune my strategy based off the feedback the fish gave me. The best way I knew to get that feedback was to cover a ton of water with multiple presentations. I caught a three pound smallmouth on a vibrating jig off some shallow rocks in the first few minutes, then a largemouth on a jig off a dock a few minutes later and my third fish another largemouth on a ¾ oz Beaver flipping reeds.

My strategy was to just try to listen to what the fish were telling me and not listen to some laid out plan I had made. I knew to be competitive on a lake I had never been to, fishing a tournament where first place was a brand new Skeeter boat against some of the best fisherman in the Midwest I would have a hard time competing with finesse tactics or fishing out deep against guys who were much better at doing those than me.

My strategy was to make them compete against me the way I like to fish. I would love to say it was the winning strategy, but unfortunately it was not. I lead the field for the better part of that afternoon but ended up finishing in fourth place.

I knew that if the offshore smallmouth pattern got going the guys that had been to the lake before would defiantly have the advantage, and in the final hours it proved to be the case.

So next time you are getting ready for a tournament, have that plan, pre script some plans, but have a strategy in place to adjust when the defense stops your running game you just flat out get punched in the mouth.