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, Trigger X and the University of St. Thomas. You can follow her on Twitter (@MichaelaFishing) and like her on Facebook (

Boat Prefishing

Is the New Scatter Rap Worthy of the Hype?

Pro-staff Contributor: Rich Lindgren

Every year, we are all inundated with a myriad of new fishing lures, shapes and sizes, some designed to catch anglers and others designed to catch fish. Within these new options each year, theScatter Rap Shadre are always a few true winners in the bunch. As anglers, it’s our job to try to filter through the marketing, packaging and hype to determine ultimately what ends up in our tackle boxes.

Of the new baits launching in 2013, I have to say I am genuinely intrigued by the new Scatter Rap series from Rapala. These items have come with plenty of hype as of late, but that is not always bad, and Rapala has a pretty strong track record of putting out winners that are mainstays in my tackle boxes and most of yours.

The exciting premise of the Scatter Rap is that it has a natural “hunting” or “evasive” action–something anglers are constantly trying to create by running our lures into the bottom, wood, rocks, grass or anything else we can get our crankbaits to make contact with. If it moves as advertised, this new line of baits will wander randomly, simulating this action of baitfish that triggers reaction bites from predator fish.

As a bass angler, I am most anxious to try the Scatter Rap Shads early this spring while the water temps are still in the 40’s to lower 50’s. The original Shad Rap is a known spring time producer for early season bass, so I can only imagine what the new Scatter Shad could do. Once we get past the spawn, my attention is likely to shift toward the Scatter Rap Crank as a mainstay for covering water and catching bass until the late fall!

If you live in Minnesota, come visit at the Northwest Sports Show for your chance to be one of the first anglers to get your hands on baits from the Scatter Rap series as well as other great show specials! We will have a limited number of these baits at the show.  If you can’t make it to the show, the Scatter Rap is also available for pre-booking on now!

Rich Lindgren is a tournament bass angler living in Lakeville, MN chasing bass all over Minnesota and its adjoining states. Bass blogger, podcaster and fishing promoter. You’ll see him fishing the Minnesota bass tournament scene representing and Dobyns Rods among others. You can follow him on Twitter (@HellaBass) and like him on Facebook (


Lewis Smith Lake FLW Tour Recap

Pro-Staff Contributor: Jeff Gustafson

Gussy with a nice spotted bass caught on a Jackall Squad Minnow 115 jerkbait in practice.

Gussy with a nice spotted bass caught on a Jackall Squad Minnow 115 jerkbait in practice.

The second FLW Tour event of the season took place this past weekend at Alabama’s Lewis Smith Lake. 175 pro anglers participated in this event and in the end it was California angler Brent Ehrler who took home the $125,000 first place prize.  I had a great experience at this event and ended up with a 71st place finish. Though I would have liked to have finished higher, I was happy that I ended up squeaking into the money (the top 79 places were paid). At some of these events, when you have to improvise your game plan in the moment, salvaging a decent finish can be considered a success. That’s how I feel about this one.


During practice I got on a pretty good bite–catching my fish on suspending jerkbaits like the Jackall Squad Minnow 115 and the Jackall DD Squirrel 79. The water temperatures were 47-50 degrees, which just screamed “jerkbait” to me. During the practice period the weather was conducive to fishing jerkbaits because it was overcast and there was some wind. I also looked shallow for largemouths and deeper for schools of spotted bass and though I did catch some of each I felt like the jerkbait program was my best strategy for a strong finish.

The Tournament

When the event started, the weather changed–it became really bright and the wind died. However, I managed to catch a decent limit the first day that landed me in the 80th spot. I caught all my fish on the jerkbaits but I only caught six keeper fish all day. I knew something wasn’t right, because during practice I was getting 12-15 fish per day. On day two, when things got off to a slow start, I started thinking about what I could do differently to trigger some fish to bite. I moved my boat out to deeper water and kept my eyes on my Humminbird depth finder, watching for fish. Surprisingly I marked several fish immediately. After trying several baits I ended up getting some bites on ice fishing jigs that are popular during the winter months with anglers in the north. For the rest of the day I was able to use a Northland Puppet Minnow and Rapala Jigging Shad Rap to catch my fish. I only brought a few baits down with me so I was a little bit limited on color options. I fished these baits vertically under the front of my boat the rest of the day and watched them on my depth finder the entire time. I was able to mark the fish, watch my lure and watch how fish interacted with the lure as I fished it. Over the course of the day I probably had over 100 spotted bass chase my lure that did not bite. I really wish I would have gotten onto this bite in practice so that I could have fine-tuned the color that the fish wanted and found more spots that were holding fish.

In the end, I was really happy that I figured out a way to put some fish in the boat on a tougher day two. There were a lot of good anglers that were not able to put a limit in the boat that day.

I get a few weeks off now before the next FLW Tour event at Beaver Lake, Arkansas. In the meantime I’m going to be headed home to take in a couple of weeks of ice fishing up in Ontario’s Sunset Country. Late March is the best time of the year to catch the biggest walleyes, lake trout and pike so I’m looking forward to pulling some giant fish through the ice!

Jeff Gustafson is a professional angler living in Kenora, Ontario on the shores of Lake of the Woods.  Outdoor writer, fishing promoter and host of “Fishing with Gussy.” You’ll see him fishing the Walmart FLW Tour representing and Lund boats among others. You can follow him on Twitter (@GussyOutdoors) and like him on Facebook (

Gussy with a big striper that fell for a jerkbait during practice.  "These things fight so hard!"

Gussy with a big striper that fell for a jerkbait during practice. “These things fight so hard!”

Bass Fishing in Florida

Pro-staff Contributor: Jeff Gustafson

No matter where you’re from, if you’re an angler that enjoys bass fishing, there is no better place to plan a bass fishing trip in February than in the state of Florida. When the rest of the continent is locked in a state of cold, the sun is usually shining down in Florida.

Over the years I have been fortunate to be able to make a few fun trips to Florida to bass fish during the winter. Paired with my opportunities to fish FLW Tour events, I have been able to fish Florida lakes like Toho, Istokpoga and OkeechobeeGussy sideways bass hold in many conditions and have caught some of the biggest bass of my life.

My approach to fishing down in Florida has been to cover water with horizontal moving baits to find fish, then to slow down and try to exploit an area with flipping techniques. Lipless rattle baits, topwater swim baits and topwater hard baits have been the best options for me. We’ve caught some big fish using these tactics!

The Jackall TN/70 is a top-notch lipless rattle bait that has become my favorite for fishing bass across North America. It features a tungsten lip on the nose of the bait to balance it perfectly and create a unique vibration that bass evidently can’t resist. I like to throw rattle baits when fish are in a pre-spawn mode and staging around weed clumps in open water.

When bass in Florida start to get ready to spawn they move into heavier grass cover. Swimbaits that can be buzzed on the surface excel at covering water in these places. This was the style of bait that I used to finish 20th at the 2012 FLW Tour Open at Lake Okeechobee. I caught nearly all of the fish I weighed-in with this style of bait. Spawning fish will often eat these baits as they swim over head and if they miss the bait they will at least reveal their location so you can follow up with a jig or worm to catch them.

Topwater hard baits like the Jackall Bowstick 130 are another good option when the cover is not too thick. This is a walking-style, topwater bait that I feel really selects for big bass. This is a great bait to throw early and late in the day, yet it can still generate big strikes during the middle of the day at times.

Once I find areas that have fish, I like to slow down and fish slowly. If there is heavy cover around, I’ll get out my Shimano flipping sticks and start flipping around the thickest clumps of reeds or mats that I can find. Punching through the heaviest clumps of weeds with a Jackall Cover Craw rigged with a 1-ounce tungsten sinker is a proven technique.

If you can find a way to get to Florida this winter to experience some of the great fishing opportunities that exist there I highly recommend it! Also, don’t be afraid to employ these tactics to find and catch fish on waters across North America that have significant weed growth.

Jeff Gustafson is a professional angler living in Kenora, Ontario on the shores of Lake of the Woods.  Outdoor writer, fishing promoter and host of “Fishing with Gussy.” You’ll see him fishing the Walmart FLW Tour representing and Lund boats among others. You can follow him on Twitter (@GussyOutdoors) and like him on Facebook (

Gussy KF_Comfort maker Boat