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by Jay Yelas
Reprinted by permission of Bass West USA Magazine.

Of all the different aspects of tournament angling, without a doubt, the least understood by the average angler is the matter of prefishing. Even the word "prefishing" is ambiguous. Just mention that word to someone who knows little about bass tournaments and you'll get some funny looks.

There are at least two different times to prefish. The first is the practice period that takes place a week or two prior to the event, and the second is the practice which takes place immediately prior to competition. Both practice sessions can be an integral part of a successful tournament, but if they're improperly conducted, they can ruin your performance.

I have spent as much time prefishing before tournaments as anybody the last ten years and I think I've learned some things that can really pay off for pros and amateurs alike.

When I began my pro career out West, I literally lived out of my van. I traveled from lake to lake, prefished, tournament fished, and then moved on to the next lake. I averaged seven days of prefishing for each tournament. Now, because of time constraints and plenty of experience, I don't prefish nearly as much.

Prefishing is important on lakes and rivers I've never seen before and so new bodies of water are where I spend my time.

The main objective during the advance prefish is to learn where everything is. I want to know the "personality" of the lake. That is, where the different types of structure are, noting changes in water color, depths, basic stuff. That way, when I come for the tournament and find a bass holding on a particular type of cover, I know where I can run to find some more without wasting time.

One of the best lessons I have learned over the years while prefishing tournaments is that my time is more efficiently spent just learning a small, key section of the lake. Trying to cover too much water is a big mistake. No angler will be able to learn the whole lake in one week, so just try to become intimate with one or two areas that look like they will be good when you come back. Don't bite off more than you can chew. When I try to cover too much water I find myself often passing right over some good fish. This basic premise is a lot easier to talk about than it is to execute.

Catching a lot of fish early on in the prefish can really mess you up. An angler will catch a nice stringer a couple weeks prior to the tournament and instantly gets locked onto that pattern and area. He goes back for the tournament and tries the same things that worked two weeks earlier, in the same area, and he fails. Fish change daily, and most of the time they change a lot in two weeks.

I've learned not to be concerned with catching a lot of fish during this prefishing period. Sure, I want to catch a few to get a little confidence, but I'm mostly concerned with learning the lake. I worry about how to catch them during the official practice period.

If you are not able to spend any time on a lake before the cutoff period, don't worry about it. Some of my best finishes have come on new lakes that I didn't have the time to prefish. The whole key in this situation is being able to commit yourself to one part of the lake and not being concerned with what is going on around the rest of the lake. It is hard to gain confidence in a part of a lake without ever seeing it before so you have to rely on information from past tournaments, advice from other anglers, or your natural intuition. This is a very exciting way to fish a tournament. You have to believe that the bass in the area you've chosen and figure out how to catch them.

Let's move now to the official days of prefish. Most tournament circuits allow the angler two days of practice before the competition starts. How you spend the time should largely be determined by how many days the tournament will run. The short tournaments of one or two days require the angler to be on fish right out of the box. There is no time for catch up in these short events. So it is important in the prefish period, to determine where you are going to fish and what you're going to throw.

The longer tournaments like we fish on the B.A.S.S. Tour, require a different approach during the official prefish period. In this situation, I often just try to determine what the seasonal pattern is for the area of the lake I plan to fish. I want to get a few bites in prefish, but mostly I'm just looking for an area and technique that fits the seasonal pattern.

I have noticed an interesting phenomena taking place recently at the B.A.S.S. Tour events. The winner is the angler who finds a new pattern or area for quality fish that emerges during the competition. That is to say, the area or pattern that eventually wins does not work during the practice period. The pros are so good these days that if a pattern or area is working during practice, multiple anglers find it. You can't win a tournament by sharing fish with other talented pros. Shared fish will not hold up for four days of competition.

I find myself asking the following during practice: what pattern or areas that are not working now might turn on soon? The key here is noting the current weather and water conditions and predicting what changes may occur.

A lot of guys have a record of busting a big stringer on the first day and then they slowly slip away as the event progresses. While on the other hand, other guys move up in the standings each day. The difference is their prefish strategy.

Reprinted by permission of Bass West USA Magazine.

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