The Hard Life of the Tournament
Here is an accurate description of a three day international
tournament held in Italy a couple of years ago. The place is a
channel bordered with emergent vegetation like cattails,
bulrushes, nymph and other different kinds of grass. The month is
June. Pretty good place and period to fish a tournament, wouldn't
you think? But there is always something to fight in a bass
by Massimo Zanetti
The clock alarm always buzzes too early in the morning
when we must leave home for a tournament and it’s the norm that
we go to bed too late the night before. With few hours of sleep,
it’s 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, tournament conditions and
expectations sound to be the same. 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.
It’s dark but the sky is starry so we hope for a hot sunny day.
When we arrive at 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 o’clock 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 nearby 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 we’ll probably use for the whole tournament. I Texas
rig a 5” black/blue grub while my 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
A few minutes later I set the hook on a mushy
sensation: a two-pounder breaks the surface and in another 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 o’clock the sun is shining
and a light breeze keeps 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 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 a solid keeper in the
livewell . By midday we have our limit, seven healthy bass, not
too big but it’s 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 o’clock
we haven’t caught another keeper but we are still confident.
Our catch, about 12 pounds, is good for 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
Early in the morning. It’s 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 day.
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 aren’t 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.
It’s 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 head to foot even through our rain
suits! Luckily a strong hot wind drys us and our tackle out in
less than an hour.
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 tree 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 the second flight.
We run the boat to the scattered grass where we caught the
fish yesterday. The water is so muddy I’m 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 o’clock. By now we
have nine precious pounds of bass swimming in the livewell.
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 mad, even
if I haven’t gotten a bite until 2 o’clock, a 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 check.
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.
Massimo Zanetti is
33 years old, Italian by birth and bassman by choice! Massimo is
married to his wife Annalisa since 1992 and they have two
daughters, Paola and Chiara. Fishing since he was a kid, now
Massimo fishes almost exclusively for bass since 1988. He started
bass fishing competitively in late 1992. Massimo writes articles
for a few Italian fishing magazines, club newsletters, and
websites. Massimo has been a featured speaker at several
Massimo considers himself a versatile bass
fisherman who always tries to adapt techniques and lures to
weather/water conditions and to the bass metabolism. He loves to
fish around shallow cover and visible targets, and he's mostly a
river fisherman. In his opinion, this is the way to go!
He is a field tester for Shimano Italia/Rapala
and he's sponsored by KeepAlive Oxygen Infusors, S.O.B. Fishing
Products, Snakebite Custom Fishing Tackle and Scientific Bass