By Alton Jones
To say I’m ready for the Elite Series season to get started would be an understatement, but I suppose it’s always that way around this time of year.

Toward the end of the season, I’m typically tired and ready for a bit of a break. I start thinking about spending time at home, deer hunting and simply resting. That only lasts so long, though. Halfway through the offseason, I’m always ready to get going again. As much as enjoy hunting, bass fishing is my first passion, and I can only handle so much off time.

Of course, I recently got my new Skeeter boat and have been working on getting it ready, so that adds to the anticipation. I also just returned from the Bassmaster Classic, which adds to my excitement about the season. Plus, all this cold we’ve had recently has me looking forward to spring fishing and warmer temperatures.

Fortunately, I’ve had plenty to keep me busy while anticipating the new season, which kicks off March 19 on the Sabine River. As always, I’ve done quite a bit of offseason fishing. Lately, though, I’ve been focused on my equipment and making certain everything is fully ready.
For my boat, I’ve added extra Lowrance electronics and have had to be sure everything was wired correctly and synched and will be fully ready when I hit the water. I’ve also had my Power-Poles installed and generally have been making certain that everything on the boat is secured, set up right and competition ready. Looking at this year’s schedule, I anticipate making some long runs and contending with some big-water conditions, and I want my equipment ready for those conditions before the season every starts.

Boat preparation also involved making sure I have all my safety gear like life jackets, ropes and flares in place in the boat, along with things like pliers, scissors, wire cutters and sunglasses. I have a checklist of everything that needs to be in the boat for every tournament.

Some events require added items. For the Sabine River, for example, I’ll carry a handsaw, just in case there’s a little cut to some interesting looking backwater that is blocked by limbs or brush.

Of course, I’ve also been busy preparing fishing tackle. That begins with an annual inventory. While I don’t do a formal inventory, like a store, where I would actually count everything, I do make sure everything in its place and give it a pretty hard look to see what I need more of going into the next season. If I discover that I don’t have a good supply of Green Pumpkin YUM Dingers, as an example, that’s something I need to remedy.

Tackle stocking and organization has a few different levels for me. At home, I want to be well stocked and have things in good order for the entire season. Boat and truck stocking are event-specific.

For each event, I consider the nature of the river or lake, time of year and likely conditions and make sure my boat boxes are well stocked with the tackle I expect to need. For the Sabine River, for example, I will have plenty of BOOYAH Pad Crasher frogs, YUM Christie Critters and Christie Craws, BOOYAH spinnerbaits with the right blade configurations and Bandit 100 crankbaits.
For truck packing, I include a little bit of everything, because you just never know what you’ll encounter. I don’t expect to need my smallmouth dropshot gear, like I’d use in the north, at the Sabine River, and it won’t be in my boat. However, I’ll have at least a sample of it in the truck – just in case. I don’t want to be scrambling when everything is on the line.

Preparation is also mental, and some it is ongoing. As soon as schedules are published each year, I consider whether there are convenient times to visit some of the stops before the cutoff. That’s especially important for those waters I haven’t fished before. I don’t look for hotpots or patterns on those visits. I want to see the water, the cover and the structure and get a feel for how it fishes and how to navigate. That allows me to begin practice with a better plan, based on the specific conditions we find upon arrival.

I’m actually leaving in a couple of days to fish Lake Havasu, which is a lake I’ve never visited, and after the weather warms a bit I plan to visit to the upper Chesapeake Bay, where we’ll fish in mid-August. I also spent a couple of days at the Sabine River prior to the cutoff. We’ve fished there before, of course, but I wanted to do some more looking around so I could approach that first event with extra confidence.

Mindset is very important, and I put a lot of emphasis on the first couple of events of the season. Competitive bass fishing very much like other sports in the sense that the way you start sets the tone and helps your perspective. In basketball or football, you want to score on that first drive. The Sabine River event is my first drive, and I want to score. In fact, I’ll just say it. I want to win, and that’s where I’m aiming. I’m ready to get this thing started!