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MLF Pros Checklist for a Day on the Water

Catching more bass starts before you leave your house. Here are 10 pointers to help you prepare.

MLF Pros Checklist for a Day on the Water

Front and center for professional bass anglers is preparing for the next day on the water. (Photo courtesy of Major League Fishing)

Catching more bass starts at home, preparing your tackle and packing for any situation.

The life of a professional bass angler looks glamorous — fishing constantly, hoisting trophies and cashing checks. But behind the scenes, there’s a never-ending stream of work. And front and center is preparing for the next day on the water.

Preparations never stop for Major League Fishing and Bass Pro Tour rookie Bradley Roy. He starts thinking about upcoming tournaments as soon as the schedule is released. “As you get closer to an event, you get hastier about [preparations],” he said.

The workload is the same for fellow Major League Fishing angler Ott DeFoe, whose jam-packed schedule includes plenty of long drives from his Tennessee home. “I try to leave myself three days, so I don’t have to get prepped the day before,” he said.

Along the way, Roy and Ott have developed strategies to ensure they are always ready for the next bite. Many of them also apply to weekend anglers.

They work hard and wait for their time on the water, so they don’t need something sinking their trip.

Make a plan

Roy always leaves his Kentucky home with a plan. It includes what he wants to catch, how he plans on accomplishing that and where he thinks it will happen. Technology has made that last component easier. He logs onto Google Earth, using its satellite photos to study the water he plans to fish. Depending on the age and time of year that the photos were taken, he can get an idea of aquatic vegetation, structure and even which spots are likely to turn muddy from rain for instance.

Prep your crankbaits

Roy said while today’s crankbaits are ready to fish straight from their box, a little extra prep makes them even better. He always switches stock hooks for stronger, sharper trebles. “It’s not worth risking it,” he said. He then takes them to a nearby lake and tests each one, making sure it runs straight and deep. If it runs to one side, he slightly bends the line attachment — usually the wire loop where a split ring is attached — until it runs true.

Color your lures

DeFoe, who finished second in the 2015 Summit Cup held across several Maine lakes, has swapped out his array of custom-painted lures for a bag of permanent markers representing every color in the rainbow. It’s always in his boat, so instead of carrying a lure colored for every situation, he simply changes the lure he is using to the current conditions. “I can add some red, chartreuse, darken its back, whatever it may be,” he said.

Use tackle boxes and bags

A lure only catches bass when you can find it. “I’m the world’s worst about fishing along and an idea pops into my head,” Roy said. If implementing it is a hassle, he usually doesn’t give it much of a chance. That could hurt his chances of discovering its true potential. “You don’t want to give yourself an excuse not to do something when on the water,” he said.

So, Roy keeps his lures within easy reach by dedicating smaller boxes to specific types and sizes. He also has one box for weights and two for hooks — one for heavy-gauge hooks, such as those used when flipping, and one for light-wire hooks used in finesse presentations. “I can reach down and grab the right hook more quickly,” he said.

Roy has a similar deal for his soft plastics. He places those with appendages in bags and “streamlined ones,” such as finesse worms, in boxes. That keeps both from becoming deformed.


Dividing tackle by use allows Roy to cycle needed gear toward his boat’s front compartments and unneeded items to his truck or shop. “There are certain things I’ll need in Florida or going up north to fish for smallmouth, and there are staples you’ll need everywhere,” he said. Less tackle means fewer distractions on the water, making it easier to find needed items and improving his boat’s performance by eliminating unnecessary weight.

Ring around your soft plastics

DeFoe used to combine similar soft-plastics in large bags, which might contain 50 to 75 baits. But now he leaves them in their original bags, saving time and money, and consolidates them on the plastic rings used to hold shower curtains or metal clips from a fish stringer. He arranges them by size or by color such as those best for clear water.

Mark your line

Having a quiver of rods and reels means you’re ready for any situation. But when several are identical setups, how do you tell which one has which line? Roy can identify most lines by sight, but even his trained eyes can’t tell the difference between, for example, 15- and 17-pound test fluorocarbon.

That small difference can have a large effect on the number of bites and how a lure behaves, so he writes the line size on a small piece of masking tape and places it on the rod’s handle.

DeFoe used to write the line size on his reels with a marker, but the Bass Pro Shops rods that he uses now have a dial on their handles, which he can adjust to the line that he is using. Some reels have that option, too.

Walk around your rig

You need to get to the lake before you can fish, but a mechanical problem with the trailer, whose maintenance is often overlooked, can stop you cold. That goes for your tow vehicle and boat, too. “It can ruin a trip in aheartbeat,” Roy said.

It takes less than a minute to inspect a tow vehicle, trailer and boat. “It’s not rocket science,” Roy said. It’s about repetition; do it enough, and problems will immediately look out of place. Then you can address them, whether that’s grabbing your tools or calling your mechanic.

DeFoe always does a walkaround, too. He wants to see the trailer tires, including the spare, properly inflated and the wheels free of grease or oil.

Pack a lunch

Roy brings food that will fuel him through a full day of fishing, which can stretch 12 or more hours during the summer. “I was that guy who would go all day and not eat,” he said. “Now I take the 10 minutes to eat something. Your mind is doing most of finding these bass. And if you don’t eat, it’s not working at its full potential.”

There are no pork rinds or soda in Roy’s boat. He prefers healthier choices. Taking time to prepare a thermos of hot coffee or soup, for example, can go a long way.

Dress for the conditions

Not having sunscreen or the proper clothes can make life rough, Roy said. He always packs a second rain suit, for example, because no matter its quality, they all eventually leak. And having the option to change into a dry one can keep you fishing.

DeFoe follows suit. He has the proper Buff sun scarf and gloves, whether it’s hot or cold out, and always double checks the condition of the cartridge and pill in his inflatable personal floatation device.

Remember to fill up

DeFoe gets just as excited as you when he has a great day on the water. But don’t let it overshadow what you need to do to get ready for the next trip, especially if it’s the following day.

It can be easy to forget to add fuel or oil, if you’re running a two-stroke outboard. He remembers days at the launch ramp when he had to crawl into the bowels of his truck to get his spare gallon of oil. “It seems like a very simple step, but it can happen,” he said.

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