We asked two B.A.S.S. pros known for their strategic approaches to tournaments how they deal with fishing pressure. Whether you fish in pot tournaments or the big leagues — or just fish for fun on a busy weekend — we're certain you'll pick up some useful pointers here.
Two kinds of pressure
Kentucky pro Dan Morehead is one of the more impressive young stars on the cast-for-cash circuit. "When you analyze it, there are two kinds of fishing pressure," he tells BASSMASTER. "There's long-term local pressure, such as you commonly find on lakes near large metropolitan areas — Lake Lanier near Atlanta, Priest Lake in Nashville, or the Los Angeles-area reservoirs, for example. These lakes may be covered with bass boats seven days a week and subjected to unrelenting pressure from anglers with varying degrees of skill.
"Then there's short-term pressure; this generally occurs on weekends and whenever a tournament is taking place on the lake. Here, bass are hammered by anglers over a concentrated time period, sometimes several days in a row."
Long-term pressure educates bass to be more selective regarding what they bite, Morehead has found. "There's no such thing as a dumb bass. These are highly sophisticated predators we're dealing with — they'll do what it takes to survive. Over time, pressured bass will turn off certain lures or colors. Local anglers may be slow to catch on, and will keep casting the same lures that caught fish last year or the year before. When they catch fewer bass, they often complain that the lake has been fished out. In reality, the bass are in the same places they've always been, but are more choosy about what they bite."
Short-term pressure from highly skilled anglers can quickly impact the bass population, even on lakes not typically subject to intense pressure. "When a major tournament hits the lake, its effect is cumulative. Often, everybody catches fish the first day, then the bite gets progressively slower as the event plays out. Concentrated pressure from skilled fishermen often makes bass head for the deepest or thickest cover they can find. You may start out catching 'em on points or flats with crankbaits or spinnerbaits, then you have to flip tubes in the grass to stay with 'em."
Catching highly pressured bass demands obsessive attention to detail, Morehead insists. "The more intense the pressure, the more 'technical' you have to fish. You must determine how to give your presentation that imperceptible edge that convinces bass to bite. A stealthy approach becomes hypercritical. Many bass anglers are hunters as well, and are adept at keeping a low profile when they're after deer or turkey. But for some reason, they throw caution to the wind when it comes to bass. You can't be successful in a high-pressure situation by slamming storage box lids or banging your trolling motor into the cover you're fishing."
Morehead comments on other strategies for fishing a tournament on a high-pressure lake:
Downscale — "Pressured bass usually bite a small lure more readily than a big bait. This extends across the entire lure spectrum, from jigs to topwaters."
Same zone, different bait — "Determine what local fishermen or other tournament competitors are using, then throw an alternative lure capable of working the same depth or cover. If everyone else is chunking a spinnerbait around shallow cover, I may use a shallow running crankbait like a Mann's 1-Minus."
Subtle patterns — "Pay close attention to where your bites are coming from. Often, there's something slightly different about the places holding quality fish. Maybe the better fish are on docks with wood pilings instead of those with plastic supports. Maybe they're on stumps close to a little ditch. In a tough tournament, it's a given that the weights aren't going to be huge; many competitors will be bunched up within a few ounces of one another. Once you figure out a pattern for bigger fish, you can put together a milk run of similar places and go home with a decent paycheck."
Naturalize your colors — "Highly pressured bass have learned to avoid unnatural-looking prey. Stick to realistic lure colors: greens, browns, shad and craw patterns."
Slow down/speed up — "Surprisingly, either approach can work on pressured bass. Try a superslow retrieve with a tube bait or jig, or a power approach, burning a spinnerbait or lipless crankbait to provoke a reaction bite."