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Taking the Tournament Plunge 

It's 4 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon at a major fishing tournament, and your 
livewell is loaded with big fish for the second day in a row. 
You've arrived at the weigh-in site, where you are picking up bits and pieces 
about how tough the bite was for the other first-day contenders. When 
tournament officials tell you that you will be the final boat to weigh, a 
week's worth of tension leaves your body in one deep breath, replaced by a 
smile that won't go away for days. 
In a few minutes, one of your dreams will come true when you step onto the 
stage to seal the deal and reap the rewards of your hard work and a 
well-executed game plan. It's a day you will never forget and one for which 
you will be richly rewarded ... 
The preceding scene is what drives most competitive anglers, and it can 
happen to anyone. However, in reality, big-time tournament success is the 
exception and not the norm for even the most accomplished anglers. Ask a 
dozen recent winners on the Professional Walleye Trail, RCL or Masters 
Walleye Circuit, and most will tell you victory came when they least expected 
Most veterans are content to compete with enough consistency over the course 
of an entire season to qualify for their circuit's championship. 
Success does not come without a price, either. Beyond the equipment, 
experience and skills required to succeed, it's also about commitment, 
sacrifice and support. 
There are more tournament fishing opportunities today than ever with more 
corporate sponsorship, larger purses and extensive media coverage. If you are 
serious about casting your line into the competitive river, you'll also find 
a level of competition that fits your experience and ability. 
So what exactly are you getting into? 
A beginning tournament angler should probably consider starting with a 
smaller local event. There is much to learn, from tournament procedures and 
ethics to actual angling skills and decision-making. 
I think some degree of success is important, too, so pick an event on a body 
of water you know well where you can also tap plenty of sources for 
up-to-date information. 
Learn to do your own thing, because the reputation you develop will follow 
you as you progress up the competitive ladder. Nobody likes a tailpiper who 
lets others find the fish and then shows up on tournament day. 
Your behavior on stage and while interacting with spectators and other 
anglers is equally important, especially if you take the sport to its highest 
levels. Sponsors have no need for anglers who parade across the stage in 
dirty T-shirts and are unable or unwilling to communicate. Media 
representatives are more likely to pursue an interview with someone who acts 
as an ambassador for the sport, as well. 
On the water, you must be versatile. There is no single presentation that 
will always produce the right fish. At some point, you will need to cast, 
drag or bounce jigs. You will need to troll crankbaits on lead-core line and 
on planer boards. You will need to both drift and troll live bait. You will 
need to understand how to use snap weights and bottom bouncers. Take the time 
to learn them all so that when the situation arises you are able to adjust. 
Expect to spend some advance time on the water. For a two-day event, most of 
the top anglers arrive at least two or three days in advance to prefish the 
area. It's critical to find several spots that are holding fish and to refine 
your presentation until it is both productive and efficient. 
Expect those prefishing days to be long and exhausting. My days begin at 
sunrise, even when the temperature is below freezing. I don't leave the water 
until late afternoon. Sometimes, if I'm on a particularly good bite, I'll get 
out even earlier or fish even later so I can check a certain spot when few 
others are on the water and reduce the risk of being seen. 
Every hour of prefishing is important. Fish move and their moods change with 
weather fronts and changes in wind direction. To be successful, it helps to 
have dealt with as many situations at as many different times of day as 
situations as possible. 
Many, many times I've seen tournament anglers heading for the boat landing 
after a couple of hours the day before an event begins, satisfied that 
they've got enough going to give themselves a solid chance. 
Most of the time, it doesn't work out that way. Experience has taught me that 
those last few hours can be the most valuable of all when it comes to 
fine-tuning a presentation or discovering one additional spot. 
If you find new fish on the day before the tournament, chances are they won't 
stray far by the next day. I've been involved in several tournaments where 
the last hour or two put me onto something that caused me to scrap everything 
else I'd done over the preceding two or three days. 
One of the most critical elements of an angler's education is the ability to 
assess the bite and what it will take to be competitive in a given 
tournament. It only makes sense that the more spots you have to catch the 
fish you need, the better your chances. Somewhere, somehow, somebody will 
find a way to catch quality fish in any significant tournament. 
Keep in mind that there aren't any timeouts, rain delays or half times 
on the water, either. I've fished in 40 mph winds, driving rain, hailstorms 
and blizzards. You must be willing to fish consistently unless extreme wind 
or lightning make it unsafe to be on the water. You simply cannot learn 
anything drinking coffee at a restaurant or sitting in a motel room. 
To do that, it's critical to be as comfortable as possible. You'll need a 
quality rain suit and plenty of cold-weather clothing. 

John Kolinski hoists a huge walleye at a PWT qualifier When your fishing day is done, the next couple of hours are spent cleaning up  the boat, refueling, running any necessary errands for bait or tackle and rigging rods for the following day. Usually, around 8 p.m. or so, it's time for a shower and dinner, followed by an information-sharing meeting with 
teammates or other sources. After five or six hours of sleep, the cycle 
starts over. The farther you go in competitive fishing, the greater the sacrifices and commitment. You'll spend more time away from your home and family, and you 
will need their support. 
You'll need time off work. And you will have an investment in travel and lodging expenses.  Finally, understand that only a handful of anglers make a decent living off their sponsors and tournament winnings out of thousands and thousands who 
participate. The more you climb, the tougher the competition. My goal is always to learn and improve, and to be consistent over the course of an entire season. If I pick up a victory along the way, it's like a bonus check for a job well done. The fact is, there will be more bad days on the water than truly good ones. However, the bad days fade away while the good ones live on forever. And that's what makes the tournament plunge worth taking. 

E-mail John Kolinski

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