The way I see it there are four pillars of being a successful tournament angler regardless of the target species. Obviously there are many smaller parts within those four (at least three of them anyway) but if you strive to be a better comp fisherman, concentrating on these four will get you well on your way.
This sounds quite obvious but I clearly remember not having “a plan” when I started out. A plan will take into account all the things you know such as season, weather, fishing pressure etc. to give you an idea of what you think you should be doing. For example, middle of winter, howling wind, bright sunlight and a shutdown bite on Glenbawn, you probably aren’t going to break out the topwater cicadas. Knowing what not to do is as much a part of a plan as anything. Take into consideration the things you know, formulate a plan and try and stick to it as much as possible. Plans should change slightly based on what happens with your time on the water but usually it is more like “tweaking” the plan as opposed to throwing it out and starting with something completely different.
This is pretty much where your “tweaking” should come from. Patterns come from experience on the day as well as from past experience and the best example I can personally give is working out the Bream are biting tentatively that day and swapping to ultra light trebles to pin them and softer tapered rods and thinner line to not pull lightly hooked fish when I do pin them. The “plan” should cover the where and how and the patterning helps get the fish on the line. Again it is about taking current observations and working out something to deal with the problems you face.
This is where you put your excellent “plan” and “pattern” into use and execution can be as much about preparation beforehand as it is on the day. All those little tips like checking your line for abrasion, inspecting hooks after catching a fish, being ready to upgrade your smallest fish in the well by knowing which one it is or keeping an eye on the time waiting for a particular stage of tide come into play now. Making good casts, staying concentrated on the task at hand and streamlining everything to give you more fishing time are truly the tools successful tournament anglers use.
There is no getting around it. Luck is a factor. Your “plan” is legendary, your “pattern” is spot on and you just made the perfect cast on the correct gear into the outside edge of an oyster rack and the biggest Bream you have ever seen just ate it and you set the hook. On a bad day the fish goes left and cuts you off on the rack in an instant. Thats fishing. You had everything just right and you still lost. But imagine for reasons completely unknown the fish just swims out into open water and just shakes its head on the spot for a while before coming straight to the boat. There is nothing you as an angler can do to effect the outcome of “luck”. You can sure as hell make it more in your favour by having 1, 2 and 3 but sometimes it is just up to a higher power.
There it is, the four pillars as I see it. These days you need at least three of them to do well in competitive fishing and most winners will tell you they had all four. The true message here is to work on the first three as hard as you can and after a comp think about what you were missing. If your plan was similar to the winners but your patterning and execution were off, don’t feel down about it. Having the right plan is the largest part. If you execution let you down, then work on that. Once you start putting the first three together the fourth will come in time.