Tournament Fishing: Does Prefishing Really Work?

Pro-staff Contributor: Michaela Anderson

This weekend I fished in the FLW Central Division Qualifier on Pickwick Lake (a part of the Tennessee River) in Alabama and it did not go like I planned at all! Because of this I had to wonder, is prefishing all its hyped up to be?

Fishing Pickwick Lake

Personally, I do not feel comfortable fishing a tournament on a lake I have never been on.  So before the tournament, I packed up the truck and boat and went down to Alabama for four days. The FLW restricts prefishing so that the lake is off-limits during the five days prior to competition. Therefore, the first day we practiced was over a week before the actual tournament—a lot can change in a week!

Michaela prefishing for FLW Pickwick Lake College Tournament

Michaela prefishing for FLW Pickwick Lake College Tournament

When we started fishing, the river was about three feet above average level and the water temps ranged from 62˚ to as high as 70˚. We caught at least 30 fish that day by flipping Trigger X Goo Bugs in the reeds, in cuts and coves along the shore, and close to the main river channel. However, in the following days they started pulling water in anticipation of storms that were rolling in so that our successful locations became depleted of all water.  We did not want to put all our effort into one pattern so we focused on finding deeper fish on Saturday and Sunday. With these efforts, we found fish in an area that had a slight drop off leading to a shell bed and an old river channel. There were fish stacked in this location so we thought that it would stay consistent even with the change in water levels.

After returning home, I watched the water levels and weather all week. Storms had gone through the area and the water levels were almost up to flood stage, which is 18 feet above normal! This worried me because I knew it meant that all of our grass was under water. By the time we arrived at the lake on Friday the water was about eight feet above normal.  That night a storm came through and there was a big temperature drop. We decided to follow our original game plan and start deep because we figured the fish would move out with the colder weather and if we didn’t catch fish that would mean they would probably be shallow so we would then go fish the weeds we had found earlier.

Finally it was time to launch—we were boat number 44 out of 50.  We had only seen one person in our planned area during prefishing so we were not concerned about others beating us to our spot.  When we finally arrived at our spot, which was about 20 minutes away, we were shocked to see about 10 other college teams in the same area. We caught short fish on Carolina rigs and shaky head jigs but could not catch any keepers. The rain had definitely cooled down the water because it was only 64˚. After about two hours we knew we had to change patterns. We started seeking out the areas with grass we had discovered during prefishing—ruling out areas that were now under water or had another tournament boat on them. Again we could only catch short fish. We finished up the day fishing by the dam in search of some of the large small mouth bass we had stumbled upon in practice…with no luck.

Pros and Cons of Prefishing

On the extremely long 15-hour ride back, I couldn’t get the tournament out of my head—I just kept thinking about how well we had done the weekend before. Then I thought back to the last FLW Qualifier on Lake of the Ozarks when the same thing had happened to us. That made me think: is it worth it to drive that far to prefish for a 6-hour tournament? If it was an 8- or 9- hour tournament, like most others, you have time to adjust and change patterns. But during a 6-hour tournament, it is extremely hard to make adjustments if your first pattern doesn’t work.

The first day of pre fishing has always been our best and I started wondering, why? I came to the conclusion that our success was slightly due to the fact that we had no preconceived ideas or patterns. We had done research online but had no clear idea of where to start, so we just started by fishing with the best methods we knew and went from there. On both Lake of the Ozarks and Pickwick we had a solid pattern on the first day and just tried to expand and build on it during the following days.

Another shot from prefishing on Lake Pickwick.

Another shot from prefishing on Lake Pickwick.

The benefit to prefishing was that we knew where to find different structures and did not waste any time looking around. The disadvantage to pre fishing was that we thought we knew the spots that had fish.  Then when we were only catching short fish, we started to panic and fish faster than we should have so that we could try to hit all of our spots in the short 6-hour time period.

So, Will I Prefish Again?

I still think you should prefish before a tournament—otherwise you wouldn’t know what the lake looks like, where you can and can’t drive, or where to find different types of structures. When you cannot prefish immediately before the tournament, I think your prefishing should be more focused on covering water and finding as many different types of spots as possible. I think our mistake was that we focused too much on actually catching fish and not on finding a wide variety of spots. So much can change in a week, so you need to have a lot of variety to work with. Another thing I’ve taken away is that I need to go into tournaments with an open mind and to remember to fish with my tried-and-true methods.

Even after the last two tournaments, I truly believe that if you put in the effort and work hard you will be rewarded. I have learned more than I can include in two short blogs from these last two tournaments, even though we didn’t finish where we had hoped. I am very lucky to be able to do what I am doing and have these experiences—but I’m not ruling out getting a lucky rabbit’s foot, horseshoe, or four-leaf clover to help catch keepers in the future!

Michaela Anderson is a college angler fishing the FLW, B.A.S.S. College Circuits and select FLW Walmart Tour events representing krugerfarms.com, Trigger X and the University of St. Thomas. You can follow her on Twitter (@MichaelaFishing) and like her on Facebook (facebook.com/MichaelaAndersonFishing).

Boat Prefishing

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One Response to “Tournament Fishing: Does Prefishing Really Work?”

  1. […] say the same about my boat and truck—which were both totaled! As discussed in my blog about whether prefishing is worth the work, I do not like fishing tournaments without logging some time on the water.  However, I was assured […]

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