To win any event, you pretty much have to fish without flaw. You can’t lose a key fish. You can’t have broken lines. You have to fish Spot B not Spot A -- at the right time.

From the line to the bait to the spot you begin fishing to the spot you fish at the end of the day, it all comes together like a puzzle. And if you are trying to stick just one piece where it doesn’t fit, you won’t win.

Putting together that winning formula boils down to your knowledge of fishing – your ability to look at a body of water and dissect it mentally to find fish, link the right baits to that body of water, and present that bait properly to catch fish. 

You learn to rely on certain baits more on some waters than others and in different parts of the country. I may not use crankbaits as much in New York as I will in the South. And I may not dropshot as much in the South as I will in New York.

My most memorable win was at the B.A.S.S. Super Invitational at Chickamauga in 1986. That tournament led to the return of the Rebel Pop-R, a bait that had become a secret weapon for a handful of us pros from Texas after Rebel had discontinued making it. (See: The Death and Resurrection of the Rebel Pop-R.) At Chickamauga, I caught fish all day every day on my favorite lure and my favorite type of fishing – topwater! I knew I had those post-spawn bass dialed in to the right lure, and everything played out perfectly. 

When you have tied a bait and presentation to a set of conditions, you have identified a pattern. To capitalize on that pattern, you have to find more spots like the one that you are catching them on. 

In fact, having multiple spots to fish is the name of the game in professional bass fishing.  When spot No. 1 doesn’t pay off any longer, you can go to No. 2. Or you can time-manage spots No. 3, 4 and 5 so you don’t suck one productive area dry.

Of course, the key to winning tournaments is to know not just where the fish are but where the bigger fish are.

Are they on points? Are they on logs or bushes? Are they locating on the quicker drop-offs? 

Say that I am seeing bottom as I look down a shoreline and then suddenly notice a dark area where the lake drops from 2 feet to 6 feet. If the bigger fish are positioning themselves on that shorter, steeper bank, that is all I will look for.

 zell rowlandI won a B.A.S.S. event on Lake Mead fishing a small finesse jig in 15 to 20 feet of water. I keyed on large boulders that I could visually identify in that clear water. The fish were relating to the shady side of the boulders. Once I figured that out, I looked for banks with bigger boulders and ignored the flat banks. 

I would kick the trolling motor on high and follow the bank. If I spotted what looked like a boulder or noted one on my depth finder, I backed off and made several casts until I got a bite or felt I had fished that boulder thoroughly. Then I would move on to the next. 

In the old days we had no GPS. You didn’t find a hot spot by getting GPS coordinates from your buddy. You had to read the water, read your electronics and work an area to find the fish. You couldn’t just pull up onto the sweet part of the hump. You had to look for it. You had to idle around, dissect the area and the situation, and when you located that sweet spot and got to the fish, those fish better be biting, because catching fish was the only proof that you had found the spot.

Now that was structure fishing!

GPS has made (finding fish) too easy for some people. I think that if we took GPS out of the game today, you would see a big change in the game.

But for most of us most of the time, there is still no substitute for being able to read the water and read our electronics, knowing what subtle signs – like the movement of baitfish or a mark on a graph -- are telling us.

A lot of times you look for the activity of bait. Is the bait more active shallow than it is deep? Are they hugging bottom? The key to catching deeper fish is to know where the bait is and to watch what the bass are doing deep. Are they feeding on the baitfish or suspending away from them, which probably means they aren’t very active?

The activity level of the fish pretty much tells you what you should be doing, too.

If baitfish are suspended well off bottom, that usually is not a good sign. If bait is suspended, the bass will be, too, and those fish are harder to catch than fish on the bottom. 

Today you can utilize revolutionary lures like the Yum Yumbrella Rig, Flash Mob and Flash Mob Jr for hard-to-catch suspended fish when tournaments allow. You can count these baits down to where the bass are holding.

You also need a back-up plan in the event that something in your equation changes. 

If I am catching fish on a YUM Dinger and suddenly those fish quit biting, I need to adjust. They can quit biting for any number of reasons, and whether it is due to a wind shift or my presentation or the movement of baitfish, I have to be able to change my style and format in mid-stream.

Usually a hot bite changes because conditions have changed, and that is most often due to weather. 

Often we get a lot of wind during a tournament. Usually, I switch from fishing that calmer bank to a bank with a breeze blowing on it. Wind positions fish differently. It brings baitfish closer to the bank. The fish feed more and get more aggressive. Often I’ll go to a YUM Money Minnow on a jighead and work it like I would a spinnerbait.

Any time you win a tournament, you are putting it all together for the three or four days of competition. You can’t do much of anything wrong and still win. Whether you are fishing a B.A.S.S. Elite Series event or a local tournament, it doesn’t get any better than that!  If I win $100,000 for first place this week, a $100,000 win eight months later will be just as exciting!