In this three-part series we'll take a look at how Kevin VanDam fishes tournaments. In Part 1, he'll cover practice. In Part 2, he'll tell us how he fishes one-day events. Finally, in Part 3, he'll cover multi-day competitions.
Part 1: Practice
Talk with two-time Bassmaster Classic champion Kevin VanDam about practicing for a tournament and you'll quickly realize that practice isn't really practice. Practice is preparation and preparation is everything — everything except catching fish. Here are the basics.
1. Watch the weather.
"The first thing I do to get ready for a tournament is watch the weather. If possible, I start two weeks or so before the competition. I don't think enough guys do that. Successful bass fishing is about fishing towards the weather, not away from it.
"Just because it's been unusually warm or cold during practice doesn't mean it'll stay that way. Wind direction and intensity change in a matter of minutes. It can rain for hours and in less than a minute the sun will be shining down on you. Know what's coming."
2. Get enough rest and eat properly.
"I get plenty of sleep before a tournament — usually seven or eight hours — and eat properly. I take big, thick sandwiches with me as well as granola bars, energy bars, vitamin water, water and maybe a few soft drinks. Your outboard motor won't run without fuel and neither will your mind and body."
3. Have your rig and tackle ready to go.
"You can't concentrate on fishing if you're worried about something breaking or not having the right tackle. Carry everything you can think of and know how to use it and how to repair it. That'll keep your mind free to worry about the fish and what they're doing.
"I watch all the repairs and maintenance as they're being done on my rig. I carry spare parts and tools with me. And, I always pack along a wide variety of baits, rods, reels and line, regardless of what I expect to be using on any particular day. You never know."
4. Find several spots.
"For a one day tournament your eye should be towards a spot or two for a morning bite and then several others that'll produce later in the day. For a multiday event you should have a dozen or more, depending upon how long the tournament will last.
"Always make sure you have options. Maybe someone else will be sitting on your best spot, or the weather might change making it impossible to reach or fish your best place, or the bite just doesn't happen. Regardless, don't limit yourself to one or two places. Make sure you have fresh water available at all times."
5. Develop several patterns.
"Don't get stuck on one pattern. Just because you catch a couple of keepers during practice on crankbaits doesn't mean crankbaits will be the winning pattern. Try topwater plugs, jerkbaits, swimbaits, jigs, Carolina rigs, drop shotting and whatever else you can think of. You never know what you might discover.
"The idea is to develop several patterns so that if one fails you have other options. Things change quickly out there. Be prepared."
6. Don't catch your fish.
"Don't catch your fish in practice. The idea is to cover water, find spots and develop patterns.
"You don't need to know everything that's under the water or every bait that'll catch a bass on a particular spot. All you need to know is that bass are there. Find them and move on. Save the details for the tournament.
"I know this is hard to do, especially for recreational anglers who only get to fish on the weekends. It's fun to catch bass. It's hard to resist a good, active bite. But, this is a competitive sport. It's about the tournament and weighing more pounds than your fellow anglers. Don't forget that."
7. Keep a positive mental attitude.
"There's no such thing as luck — good or bad. And, there's no such thing as a hot streak or a slump. Every day — really every cast — is a new experience. Success or failure in the past has nothing to do with the future.
"Luck, slumps and that sort of nonsense are excuses, not reasons. Bass don't know who you are or what you did yesterday. Go out and catch them and win the tournament."