The hard life
of a Tournament Angler
By Massimo Zanetti
Massimo is a member of the "Kick'n Bass
Pro-Staff," our first international Pro.
All Rights Reserved By Author
The clock alarm buzz always too early in the morning when we must leave home for a tournament and its
the norm that we go to bed always too late. With few hours of sleep its hard to keep ourselves in shape
and with the right degree of concentration for the whole three day tournament, specially if the fish have
lock jaw and weather is bad, too rainy or too windy. From Florida to Italy, tournaments conditions and
expectations sounds to be the same, event after event: there is always something to fight. Here is the
accurate description of a three day international tournament held in Italy a couple of years ago. The
place is a channel bordered with emergents like cattails, bulrushes, nymph and different kind of grass.
The month is June. Pretty good place and period to fish a tournament you could think. But as Ive said,
there is always something to fight in a bass tourney.
My buddy and I wake up at 4.00 a.m. in good physical shape, we look at the tournament with optimism. A
quick cup of good Italian coffee and we are in the car, trailering for the tournament area. Its dark but
the sky is starry so we hope for a hot sunny day. When we arrive to the tournament area we find some
confusion: people running, boats and cars everywhere, so we must wait a little to put the boat in the
water. At five oclock we are in the boat. Another forty boats are on the shoreline. Hey, there are the
best European bass anglers here and some US guys, coming from the near by NATO air base. It will be
hard to finish in money but we will try the impossible, to cash a big check.
The boats will launch in three groups. We are on the first one. At 5.30 a.m. the tournament director
gives the start. We run only half-mile down river, to a spot too obvious to be fished and therefore
overlooked by the majority of the anglers. Its too near to the tournament headquarters! We begin the
day flipping, a technique well probably use for the whole tournament. I Texas rig a 5 black/blue grub
while my buddy, who runs the electric motor rigs a plastic crawfish in the pumpkinseed/blue claw color.
We are not sure about the color the fish want so we try two opposite colors. Few minutes later I set the
hook on a mushy sensation: a two-pounder breaks the surface and in a moment is swimming in the livewell.
Black/blue seems to be the right choice! In the next hour I catch another two keepers (12) and my
buddy lands a non-keeper. At nine oclock the sun is shining and a light breeze keep the air temperature
enjoyable. The fish are still biting but we land tons of non-keeper, all in the 10 - 11 range. My grubs
run short so I switch to a salty plastic frog, black/chartreuse. On the third flip a feel a solid thump on
the rod and a heavy weight on the other end of the line. I set the hook as hard as I can. A big bass,
perhaps five or six pounds swims like a mad in the deep portion of the bulrushes and breaks the line.
Pretty disappointing! I rig another frog of the same color pattern. In the meantime my buddy lands and
puts in the livewell a solid keeper. By midday we have our limit, seven healthy bass, not too big but its
nice to fish with a limit swimming in the livewell. We have almost another three full hours of fishing,
since we are a five minute run from the launch ramp. By three oclock we havent caught another keeper
but we are still confident. Our catch, about 12 pounds, is good for the 14th place. The first team has
about 16 pounds of fish. A small difference. We are in good shape and thinking positive. We need a limit
The sky is cloudy and it starts raining very hard. We decide to keep our boat dry. In four hours the
water has risen about four feet and still rising. I think the dam operator will soon open the gates to let
this water flow to the sea. After a quick dinner, my buddy and I work a little on our tackle and go to
Early in the morning. Its dark but fortunately not raining. The water level is the same as yesterday but
the sky is filled with dark clouds. I notice that a boat has sunk during the night. All the competitors
help the guys to retrieve the sunken boat. In minutes we have retrieved the boat and got it dry but the
trolling motor and the outboard were damaged by the water. We give them a spare trolling motor so
they can compete that day.
Today we are in the third flight. About half hour after the start of the tournament day we and the
other boats are caught in a storm. The rain is so heavy we arent able to see a foot from the boat and
there is lots of lightning flashing around us. I hook a good sized bass but she gets away when I try to
land her. Its impossible to fish in such conditions so we run the outboard and take refuge under a
bridge, three miles downriver. The longest run in my tournament fishing career! An experience I vividly
remember. At 9.30 a.m. the storm has ceased but we are freezing! We are wet from the head to the foot
even through our rain suits! Luckily a strong hot wind dries us and our tackle out in less than an hour.
By 1 p.m. we have caught no fish. Our livewell is desolately empty but we are still confident. We run
several miles down river and change fishing tactics. We pitch 4 plastic crawdads (brown/orange 1/4
oz. weight and 4/0 hook) in scattered grass, a few yards from the shore, in a place where five boats
have fished before us that morning. In one hundred yard of grass we are able to catch five bass and
loose another two, all nice sized fish. We come back to the weigh-in site with the five bass for a total of
8 pounds. The check seems so far away now. We are in 18th position. We need to get in the top six for
the money and in the top-15 to receive a prize. We think that if tomorrow we can catch a 15 pound limit,
we can get into the big money.
This will be a long, long day. The water is down almost four feet from yesterday. Its real muddy and the
current is running very strong, bringing by trunks and other dangerous stuff for those, like us, that are
crazy enough to fish. Some people put the boat on the trailer and go home. The sun is shining... and we
are in second flight.
We run the boat to the scattered grass where we caught the fish yesterday. The water is so muddy Im
amazed how my lure is capable of sinking to the bottom! We decide to pitch our crawdads in every piece
of cover available. I rig a big plastic craw in black/blue color with several glass rattlers in it, 1 oz.
bullet weight to fight the current and a big 5/0 offset worm hook. By seven a.m. I have caught two bass:
a four pounder and a three pounder. Looks like my pattern will work for the rest of the day. My buddy
catch another 2 pounder around 10 oclock. By now we have nine precious pounds of bass swimming in the
Around 11 a.m. my buddy lost a good keeper while flipping cattails. I lost another one in the shoreline
vegetation. My optimism is always high and I fish like a mad, even if I havent gotten a bite until 2
oclock, half hour before the tournament is over! I have the sensation that my plastic worm has snagged
on an obstacle so I begin to pull. After few seconds I see a 3-pounder attached to my line. The hook set
is immediate and in few seconds I land the fish with a grin! Four fish for 12 pounds, not enough to cash a
We are in 12th position in the final standings with 32 pounds of bass: not so bad! We receive a
beautiful plaque representing a fisherman who is lip-landing a bass. The first place team wins with 37
lbs. of fish. Twelve teams within five pounds of each other! I think that in this tournament my buddy and
I have lost too many fish. The six pounder of the first day represents the difference between failure
After the weigh in, as my buddy and I tow towards home, I look back at the tournament with mixed
feelings. We have done well, but not well enough to win. By then, I am already thinking of the next
tournament and the next chance at that 6 pounder.
Massimo's email address in Italy is:
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