Weather conditions, surface temperature, and cooperative fish are all important factors in putting together a winning pattern for tournament anglers, but easily the most overlooked factor has to be preparation.

There are those rare occasions when a tournament angler stumbles into a win by his or her own personal evaluation, but even then they were usually better prepared than most of us before ever launching the boat. Taking care of their tackle, matching rod and reel combinations to certain techniques and maintaining not only their boat, but trailer and tow vehicle as well are items at the top of that check list.

Putting together a game plan in advance can be a far more daunting task than any of the above factors. For every Plan A, there had better be a Plan B based on weather conditions, lake levels, time of the year and current reports from folks that regularly fish that given body of water. Having taken care of everything they have any control over, the final confidence builder is the opportunity to pre-fish the event.

While minor details like putting food on the table and paying the rent pose considerable obstacles for most full time professional anglers, they do have the enviable advantage of spending a great deal of practice time on the water. For those anglers that squeeze in tournaments around a full time job, coveted practice time usually takes a back seat to church, little league baseball, recitals, etc.

Trey Smith of Bridge City is one of the few tournament fishermen that have figured out how to successfully wear all of the above hats, yet still pose a serious threat in any weekend event that he can fish between job and family obligations. He fishes with a great deal of confidence in his own abilities, but more importantly, he trumps lack of practice time on the lakes by honing his skills right here on the river.

Not surprisingly, he has discovered that river bass have many of the same tendencies as their typically larger cousins on Toledo Bend and Rayburn. While the average local angler hits the river with a sack of plastic worms and a few spinnerbaits in hopes of finding small bass hustling shrimp or shad, Smith dissects cover the same way he would on the lakes.

“Tide changes and the size of the bass are the two most notable differences between fishing the lakes and the river,” points out Smith. Even the size factor may be debatable, however, as he caught and released a nine-pound bass on the river a few years back!

Not surprisingly, he caught that fish pitching a jig into isolated lay downs lining the shoreline. He can do it all, but that technique serves him well on the lakes and he has used it to produce bass on the river when everyone else is struggling. While productive, the technique is not for everyone as it requires great patience, confidence that a bass is tucked away in the tight cover, and the skill to maneuver a jig or pegged plastic worm into those tight openings.

“Whether it is pitching a jig, worm fishing or cranking diving baits through scattered grass….I am always trying to put together a successful pattern even on the river,” says Smith. “I can not only improve techniques with even a few hours on the bayou or river, but enhance my confidence level as well. It is very rewarding to return to the house with the knowledge that you have figured out what the bass were doing that day.”

For that very reason, or the lack thereof, it is a little ironic that he and his partner, Hunter Gothia also of Bridge City, won the Fishers of Men tournament on Rayburn the last weekend in February. Unable to pre-fish at all, they tied on Traps, covered a lot of water and literally cranked their way to victory. They earned a $1300 check with an 18.88-pound five fish limit and a 5.48-pound big bass.

“We knew the bite was tough going in and while we had a very solid bag, we only caught six bass,” said Smith. “Hunter just fished great and carried me all day. I don’t know how many casts we made, but I was worn out!”

Smith and Gothia could prove to be a team to watch this year. Hunter not only shares his mentor’s passion for fishing, but his commitment to preparation as well. Both anglers have already proven that the river is a pretty good training facility for bass fishermen with limited time to hone their skills.