Looking for Quick Pattern Recognition
Photo and story by Lynn Burkhead
Watch most five-fish limit fishing tournaments and you'll hear a lot about the one or two baits that made the difference.
Because in that format, with plenty of practice and a chance to locate numerous groups of fish, pro anglers can often get things dialed into a key lure or two.
But at the inaugural Jack Link's Major League Fishing Challenge Cup on Lake Amistad, there were numerous baits that have all produced fish in the various rounds.
For Takahiro Omori and Jason Quinn, it was the Alabama Rig.
For Mike McClelland and Kevin VanDam, it was the jerkbait.
For Kelly Jordon, it was the previous two, plus a jig and a spinnerbait.
Heck, for Byron Velvick and Jeff Kriet, it was a big swimbait!
Why such variety? Because on 64,900-acre Amistad - and under the revolutionary Major League Fishing tournament format – it was more about figuring out the primary pattern that the fish are utilizing than the particular bait that they are most willing to swat at.
For Major League Fishing co-founder Gary Klein, fishing on the Southwest Texas jewel is usually that way, figuring out the pattern, then adjusting your bait selection accordingly.
"This lake has always been a pattern lake - it's been the type of lake that has always taken multiple techniques to come out on top at the end of the week," he said. "I don't think any one technique dominated the other."
VanDam, widely known as one of the world's best power-fishermen, agrees.
"You go back to history, to seasonal patterns, and the type of lake and habitat that is here," he said. "I like this format. It fits my style because I like to cover water and fish fast.
"The thing that I know about Amistad is that it has got a lot of fish in it. If you can cover enough water, a good pattern will reveal itself pretty quick. Then you can make things happen in a hurry."
The big difference - in terms of locating a repeatable pattern - between what the Major League Fishing pros did at the Challenge Cup and what a weekend warrior does is simply the speed at which the game is played.
"It's all a puzzle, that's all it is," said Kriet. "(But) in this format, the guy who dials it in the quickest, wins."
To dial it in, Kriet says that the competitors hit the water with an idea of what to do already firmly planted within their minds.
"We all start with an idea of what should be happening," he said. "That's seasonal patterns and things like that.
"But when that doesn't work, you've got to adjust and you've got to make moves (accordingly). When you do start getting bit, we're pretty quick to run a pattern. Especially with no practice, we'll run a pattern pretty hard.
"In this format, when you catch one and you think it is the right fish that told you the right thing, you're going to push that until it bucks you off. And then you're going to have to pick up a new pattern."
How does an angler clue into a specific pattern? By paying attention and using the gray matter between the ears.
"Pay real close attention where your bites come from, what were they on, (things like that)," said Kriet. "You've got to run with it while it's working but when it dies, you've got to be real quick to adjust."
Case in point was one of Kriet's two competition rounds at the Challenge Cup.
"One morning, I took off and the first thing I did was run to the back of the pockets and the backs of the creeks because that's where they ought to be (at that time of the year)," he said.
"I burned the first period doing that. I fished the back of the pockets and didn't get bit, then I fished kind out at the mouths (of the pockets) and didn't get bit, so then I went main lake. As soon as I went main lake, I started getting bit and I was able to push that, push it, push it. That's what worked."
That's not to say that specific baits don't matter because they do.
Several pros, Kriet included, found remarkable success tossing the umbrella rig (Alabama rig).
"I probably had 25 bites on it, just throwing it," Kriet said moments after VanDam's runaway Sudden Death round win.
But Kriet pointed out that he also caught bass on a jerkbait, a big walking topwater bait, and a big swimbait on the same day.
Sometimes - especially on a highly productive body of water - that sheer variety of baits that a bass is willing to hit actually becomes a problem says Denny Brauer, the legendary Missouri pro who now has a second home on Amistad.
"Traditionally, (at that time of the year), a lot of things come into play and you can catch fish a lot of different ways," said Brauer. "That can be part of the problem, to try and key in on the one technique that is going to be the best."
To the angler that can do that - figure out the pattern and then quickly adjust their techniques and baits to that pattern - will go the spoils of victory.