|THE HARD LIFE
OF THE TOURNAMENT ANGLER
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The clock alarm buzz always too early in the morning when we must leave
home for a tournament and its the norm that we go to bed always too late. With few
hours of sleep its hard to keep ourselves in shape and with the right degree of
concentration for the whole three day tournament, specially if the fish have lock jaw and
weather is bad, too rainy or too windy. From Florida to Italy, tournaments conditions and
expectations sounds to be the same, event after event: there is always something to fight.
Here is the accurate description of a three day international tournament held in Italy a
couple of years ago. The place is a channel bordered with emergents like cattails,
bulrushes, nymph and different kind of grass. The month is June. Pretty good place and
period to fish a tournament you could think. But as Ive said, there is always
something to fight in a bass tourney.
My buddy and I wake up at 4.00 a.m. in good physical shape, we look at the tournament with
optimism. A quick cup of good Italian coffee and we are in the car, trailering for the
tournament area. Its dark but the sky is starry so we hope for a hot sunny day. When
we arrive to the tournament area we find some confusion: people running, boats and cars
everywhere, so we must wait a little to put the boat in the water. At five oclock we
are in the boat. Another forty boats are on the shoreline. Hey, there are the best
European bass anglers here and some US guys, coming from the near by NATO air base. It
will be hard to finish in money but we will try the impossible, to cash a big check.
The boats will launch in three groups. We are on the first one. At 5.30 a.m. the
tournament director gives the start. We run only half-mile down river, to a spot too
obvious to be fished and therefore overlooked by the majority of the anglers. Its too near
to the tournament headquarters! We begin the day flipping, a technique well probably
use for the whole tournament. I Texas rig a 5 black/blue grub whilemy buddy, who
runs the electric motor rigs a plastic crawfish in the pumpkinseed/blue claw color. We are
not sure about the color the fish want so we try two opposite colors. Few minutes later I
set the hook on a mushy sensation: a two-pounder breaks the surface and in a moment is
swimming in the livewell. Black/blue seems to be the right choice! In the next hour I
catch another two keepers (12) and my buddy lands a non-keeper. At nine oclock
the sun is shining and a light breeze keep the air temperature enjoyable. The fish are
still biting but we land tons of non-keeper, all in the 10 - 11 range. My
grubs run short so I switch to a salty plastic frog, black/chartreuse. On the third flip a
feel a solid thump on the rod and a heavy weight on the other end of the line. I set the
hook as hard as I can. A big bass, perhaps five or six pounds swims like a mad in the deep
portion of the bulrushes and breaks the line. Pretty disappointing! I rig another frog of
the same color pattern. In the meantime my buddy lands and puts in the livewell a solid
keeper. By midday we have our limit, seven healthy bass, not too big but its nice to
fish with a limit swimming in the livewell. We have almost another three full hours of
fishing, since we are a five minute run from the launch ramp. By three oclock we
havent caught another keeper but we are still confident. Our catch, about 12 pounds,
is good for the 14th place. The first team has about 16 pounds of fish. A small
difference. We are in good shape and thinking positive. We need a limit tomorrow.
The sky is cloudy and it starts raining very hard. We decide to keep our boat dry. In four
hours the water has risen about four feet and still rising. I think the dam operator will
soon open the gates to let this water flow to the sea. After a quick dinner, my buddy and
I work a little on our tackle and go to bed.
Early in the morning. Its dark but fortunately not raining. The water level is the
same as yesterday but the sky is filled with dark clouds. I notice that a boat has sunk
during the night. All the competitors help the guys to retrieve the sunken boat. In
minutes we have retrieved the boat and got it dry but the trolling motor and the outboard
were damaged by the water. We give them a spare trolling motor so they can compete that
Today we are in the third flight. About half hour after the start of the tournament day we
and the other boats are caught in a storm. The rain is so heavy we arent able to see
a foot from the boat and there is lots of lightning flashing around us. I hook a good
sized bass but she gets away when I try to land her. Its impossible to fish in such
conditions so we run the outboard and take refuge under a bridge, three miles downriver.
The longest run in my tournament fishing career! An experience I vividly remember. At 9.30
a.m. the storm has ceased but we are freezing! We are wet from the head to the foot even
through our rain suits! Luckily a strong hot wind drys us and our tackle out in less than
By 1 p.m. we have caught no fish. Our livewell is desolately empty but we are still
confident. We run several miles down river and change fishing tactics. We pitch 4
plastic crawdads (brown/orange 1/4 oz. weight and 4/0 hook) in scattered grass, a few
yards from the shore, in a place where five boats have fished before us that morning. In
one hundred yard of grass we are able to catch five bass and loose another two, all nice
sized fish. We come back to the weigh-in site with the five bass for a total of 8 pounds.
The check seems so far away now. We are in 18th position. We need to get in the top six
for the money and in the top-15 to receive a prize. We think that if tomorrow we can catch
a 15 pound limit, we can get into the big money.
This will be a long, long day. The water is down almost four feet from yesterday. Its real
muddy and the current is running very strong, bringing by trunks and other dangerous stuff
for those, like us, that are crazy enough to fish. Some people put the boat on the trailer
and go home. The sun is shining... and we are in second flight.
We run the boat to the scattered grass where we caught the fish yesterday. The water is so
muddy Im amazed how my lure is capable of sinking to the bottom! We decide to pitch
our crawdads in every piece of cover available. I rig a big plastic craw in black/blue
color with several glass rattlers in it, 1 oz. bullet weight to fight the current and a
big 5/0 offset worm hook. By seven a.m. I have caught two bass: a four pounder and a three
pounder. Looks like my pattern will work for the rest of the day. My buddy catch another 2
pounder around 10 oclock. By now we have nine precious pounds of bass swimming in
Around 11 a.m. my buddy lost a good keeper while flipping cattails. I lost another one in
the shoreline vegetation. My optimism is always high and I fish like a mad, even if I
havent gotten a bite until 2 oclock, half hour before the tournament is over!
I have the sensation that my plastic worm has snagged on an obstacle so I begin to pull.
After few seconds I see a 3-pounder attached to my line. The hook set is immediate and in
few seconds I land the fish with a grin! Four fish for 12 pounds, not enough to cash a
We are in 12th position in the final standings with 32 pounds of bass: not so bad! We
receive a beautiful plaque representing a fisherman who is lip-landing a bass. The first
place team wins with 37 lbs of fish. Twelve teams within five pounds of each other! I
think that in this tournament my buddy and I have lost too many fish. The six pounder of
the first day represents the difference between failure and success.
After the weigh in, as my buddy and I tow towards home, I look back at the tournament with
mixed feelings. We have done well, but not well enough to win. By then, I am already
thinking of the next tournament and the next chance at that 6 pounder.