I spent most of this summer and fall working on a walleye fishing book called Walleye Trolling that I co-authored and published with Lake Erie guide Capt. Ross Robertson. In the book, I wrote a short summary of professional walleye angler Bruce Samson’s tournament strategies for targeting big fish. By “big fish,” I mean the biggest fish in the lake hosting the tournament – the type of fish that will win tournaments when you catch them, but that often cause you to strike out in competition.
What I love about Bruce’s strategies is that he’s got no problem with bombing at a tournament every now and then, so long as he knows he gave himself the chance to win it by targeting big fish. Winning one tournament a season, to him, is more important than finishing in the money at every tournament (it often pays just as well too).
Probably the most interesting lesson he shares about chasing big fish, and it applies to bass, crappies, muskies and other species too, is in how he puts together the pieces of the puzzle during practice. Bruce doesn’t just show up and fish awhile, hoping to stumble onto a big fish. He starts right away targeting big walleyes, usually in the types of areas others aren’t fishing. When everyone’s catching keepers in deep water, he’s fishing the bank for a kicker. Or when everyone is targeting rock structure, he’s over in the weeds.
From there, it’s a matter of finding and analyzing clues, and they don’t have to be big ones. Samson says catching one big fish is a pattern. It’s not a good pattern, but it reveals something to him. Catching two big fish is reassuring. Catching four or five is a great pattern. That’s right, catching only four or five big fish in an entire practice can lead to a great tournament pattern, even in multiple-day events when anglers can bring in 15 fish in three days.
Expecting to turn four or five fish in a week of practice into 15 fish in just three days, with pressure on the line, is pretty scary for many anglers. But not Samson. He knows that those practice fish are his clues to the winning fish, not the top-20 fish or the top-10 fish. And when he can turn those clues into a big stringer, his odds of hitting the podium go way up. His odds of bombing big time are high too. That’s the cost of fishing with a zero-or-hero mentality.