Competitive fishing requires strategy, knowledge

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By Scott Akanewich

When day dawned on Lake Texoma, the skies were clear and sunny for the opening day of the Texas High School Bass Association state tournament – much to the delight of the 272 teams of anglers who were looking to land the biggest haul of bass and take home a trophy.

Among the armada of craft on the water were three boats with Liberty Hill anglers on board – a trio of two-man teams, one of which was the sophomore duo of Holt Avery and Michael Evans.

Suffice to say, they had a good day, finishing with four fish weighing in at a total of 14.54 pounds, which was good enough to land them in 14th place after the first day of competition.

However, the second day wasn’t so kind, as Avery and Evans could only muster a single catch between them, which dropped them to 68th in the final standings.

Not helping was the fact it was pouring rain all day, but that’s where knowledge and strategy enter the equation in competitive fishing, as it’s much more complex than simply dropping a line into the water and waiting for the big one to bite, said Bo Stubblefield, a sophomore on the Panthers’ fishing team.

“Actually, it happens to be hard,” he said. “You think you have the fish dialed in, but then it changes completely.”

What changes are weather conditions, which play the biggest role in how to go about catching fish and how an angler reads and reacts makes all the difference between having a full haul at day’s end or heading back to the dock empty-handed.

Stubblefield and teammate Gavin Salinas did well in that department on the second day, landing five fish weighing 14.15 pounds, which put their two-day total at 22.87 and resulted in a 28th-place finish.

“We got lucky,” said Stubblefield. “We hit all the fish at the right time and were all-in and hit them with everything we could.”

But, certainly there’s more than just good fortune involved, right?

Indeed there is, said Evans.

“When it’s raining or if the water is darker, you want to throw a darker bait,” he said. “Or sometimes, you want to use one that looks like a fish.”

Care must be taken when casting a line to ensure the spool of the rod doesn’t continue to spin once the lure hits the water, in which a calamity known as a “bird’s nest” occurs when too much excess line without enough tension causes the line to knot up and requires the time-consuming process of either untangling it or replacing the spool altogether.

In addition, it seems as if the scaly schools that lurk just beneath the surface of the water are more clever than most people think, meaning a degree of deception is necessary when one attempts to fool fish.

According to Stubblefield, one way to get a jump on them is to do some recon in advance.

“You can look on Google maps, for example,” said Stubblefield. “As far as the water depth and trying to find coves where the fish will be.”

As it turns out, bass don’t particularly like daylight, so when the sun is shining brightly, there’s one place you can always find them, he said.

“Under a dock in the shade,” said Stubblefield. “They like it there.”

Easy enough, but getting to them requires a special technique, known as “skipping,” in which an angler bounces the lure across the surface of the water – much like a rock – in order to direct it underneath the dock.

Of course, learning and mastering such tricks takes time and practice – just like various disciplines in other sports – and anglers put in plenty of time away from competition in doing exactly that, but technique must be melded properly with know-how, including how far down to cast, said Avery.

“Sometimes you fish shallow and other times deep,” he said. “From two feet all the way down to 10. Usually, the fish are closer to the bottom.”

Days on the lake during tournaments begin bright and early and last up to 10 hours, during which there’s no time for anything but what the anglers are there for – meaning eating and drinking on board are out of the question, said Stubblefield.

“I’ll usually have a big breakfast and drink three or four bottles of water before heading out,” he said. “But, after that nothing because the time spent putting down your rod can cost you a catch.”

Skyler Meuse also plays football and said there are definitely parallels between fishing and traditional sports, but also stark contrasts.

“When you play football, you’re a team and there’s a common goal,” he said. “But, with fishing, you feel like you’re out there on your own.”

During a tournament, each two-man team competes separately for individual honors, but there is also a team competition – although the format can sometimes create a bit of a conflict of interest, said Evans.

“We’ll share information with teammates as far as some things are concerned,” he said. “But, not everything.”

A maximum of five fish are permitted in a boat at any one time, which means the process of sizing up one’s catch is a constant process over the course of the day, with on-board scales to determine whether or not a fish is a keeper.

Each team’s two-day total is then compiled to determine the winners.

In addition to the other two Liberty Hill team’s results, Meuse and Colton O’Dell landed two fish weighing 6.15 pounds and finished in 181st in the field.

But, regardless of winners and losers, Stubblefield said he just enjoys being out on the water with a rod and reel.

“Fishing is my passion,” he said. “I like other sports, but there’s just something about it – I don’t know what it is.”

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