There is only one mission at the Bassmaster Classic: to win.
The bass pros who secured a slot in the 2016 GEIGO Bassmaster Classic Presented by GoPro at Grand Lake of the Cherokees in Oklahoma put everything on the line in a winner-takes-all pursuit. The $1 million purse ensures that all anglers go home with something, but the big money and fame that comes with the tickertape and trophy as the champion is the only target the pros are after.
No matter what your skill level, chances are, you are always looking to improve. So, whether you are a tournament competitor or a weekend warrior, there is always something to learn. Some of the Bassmaster pros share their top tips for improving your game.
2016 Bassmaster Champion
Tip: Improve casting accuracy
Casting accuracy pays off for Edwin Evers, a 15-time Bassmaster qualifier, and the 2016 tournament Champion. His sizable lead in the finals and a total tournament weight of 60 lbs. 7 oz. is proof that casting accuracy is the single most important skill that an angler should master.
"Being able to place the lure 6-inches to the left or 6-inches to the right is the difference between getting a bite and not getting a bite. Bass are target-related fish, so just practicing casting accuracy will help you," said Evers.
2016 finish: 2nd place
Tip: Get confidence in four-to-five baits
Having go-to baits in his tackle gives 2016 Bassmaster second place finisher Jason Christie a confident back-up plan if all else fails. The four-time Bassmaster qualifier has relied on what he calls "confidence baits" many times.
"People get intimidated by all the baits. Pick four or five techniques and baits and really get confidence in those first, then you can broaden. I use all the baits on the market, but I have confidence baits too," said Christie.
2016 finish: 3rd place
Tip: Pay attention to water temperature and clarity
The magic equation for 17-time Bassmaster qualifier Aaron Martens is consideration of the time of year, water temperature and water clarity before he rigs his line to fish.
"A lot of times I will not rig my tackle until I get on the water and see the clarity and read the temperature. I come with just loops on my lines and hooked on the rod. I almost always end up being surprised. If you know those you will do well," said Martens.
2016 finish: 5th place
2014 Bassmaster Classic Champion
Tip: Shallow crankbait when all else fails
When waters are uncertain, pro Randy Howell turns to shallow crankbait lures to catch his limit. This is one technique that has helped him qualify for 14 Bassmaster Classic tournaments and take home the trophy in 2014.
"When you aren't getting bites, keep it simple and stick to shallow crankbaits. Get some kind of shallow square bill that you can use in three-to-six feet of water. You can just go down the bank and throw that on rocks. That's always the way to catch fish when you don't know what else to do," said Howell.
2016 finish: 6th place
Becoming a well-rounded angler is what Todd Faircloth credits to qualifying for 14 Bassmaster tournaments. He says the key factor is versatility.
"We go across the country and fish different bodies of water. You have to be able to pick up a spinning rod and feel as comfortable with that as you do with a flipping rod. We know as anglers our strengths and weaknesses and I always tell people to work on your weaknesses," said Faircloth.
2016 finish: 11th place
Tip: Fish what you like to fish
Everyone has advice to give, but nine-time Bassmaster Classic angler Bobby Lane believes that, at the end of the day, committing to your personal preferences is what will give you the edge.
"Fish what you like to fish. Just because somebody else is catching on something else, you have no experience with that bait," said Lane. "Fish several baits that you are confident in and stick to what you know."
2016 finish: 12th place
Tip: Keep an open mind
Despite what you know about any body of water, six-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier Brandon Palaniuk says it is essential to keep an open mind before making decisions about how to fish it. For example, the water temperatures at Grand Lake in Oklahoma in 2016 are 10-to-15 degrees warmer than temps during the 2013 tournament on the lake.
"Pay attention to the current conditions and keep an open mind because the fish are changing their behaviors with those conditions," said Palaniuk.
2016 finish: 17th place
2007 Bassmaster Classic Champion
Tip: Do not apply standards
Versatility and flexibility is the secret ingredient that 2007 Bassmaster Champion Boyd Duckett takes with him into every tournament. It can be the difference of no bites or lots of bites.
"It is easy to get caught up in standards — what people tell you to do or what you have always caught on. Let the lake give you the information that you need and be open-minded every day that you hit the water. If you do that, it will help put more fish in the boat," said Duckett.
2016 finish: 19th place
2009 Bassmaster Classic Champion
Tip: Learn target casting
Casting accurately to targets is one of the reasons Skeet Reese has qualified for 16 Bassmaster Classics and remains a notable champion from his 2009 victory. Reese perfected target casting by practicing in his front yard.
"Cast with purpose," said Reese. "If you are six inches off line you are not going to catch. If you can be more accurate with casting, being within six inches of a rock, log or structure, you are going to get a bite."
2016 finish: 23rd place
Confidence in the decisions that you make on the water and believing they are the right ones, is the reason Marty "the party" Robinson has qualified for three Bassmaster Classics. He fishes every spot with conviction and commitment to his bait and cast.
"You have to have confidence always. Whether it is the right bait or not, you've got to believe it is the right bait," said Robinson.
2016 finish: 24th place
2012 Bassmaster Classic Champion
Tip: Fish to the last second
Keeping his head in the game until the very last second is the reason Chris Lane has qualified for six Bassmaster Classic tournaments and clinched the 2012 title. Those last minutes of tournament fishing can make all the difference, even when the chips are down.
"In a tournament situation, fish to the last second. It can happen for you in the last five casts, or even the last one cast," said Lane. "On Day two of the 2016 Bassmaster Classic, I caught a two-pounder in the last five minutes, just enough to make the cut into the final day."
2016 finish: 27th place
Tip: Trust your gut
A gut-check is how Brandon Card worked his way up to two Bassmaster Classic qualifications. Beyond tackle and favorite lures, instincts play an important role in landing the fish.
"A lot of people second-guess themselves. When you have a feeling to change bait or your technique, do it. If you are constantly second-guessing yourself, you are not going to connect.
Trusting your gut is essential," said Card.
2016 finish: 40th place
2003 Bassmaster Classic Champion
Tip: Fish where there is change
Understanding how bass respond to change is the secret to Michael Iaconelli's success on the water, leading him to 17 Bassmaster Classic qualifications and a 2003 championship. Michael studies the intricacies of the water.
"Bass relate to areas of change — where the water changes from deep to shallow, from cloudy to clear, from a flat bottom to a rock or structure. Those areas of change are where you will find the fish," said Iaconelli.
2016 finish: 52nd place
Tip: Spend time on the water
Years of experience on the water is what six-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier Chad Morgenthaler credits to his fishing success.
"There is no substitute for time on the water. You can become educated, but to become proficient you have to spend hours on the water," said Morgenthaler. "Years of experience lets you know the decisions that you need to make and allows you to make them efficiently."