Your one stop source for Bass Tournament information!
This article made possible by:
Minnesota tournament angler Rick Billings established a plan in July for the B.A.S.S. Northern Divisional tournament and it paid off. Fishing the tournament on Lake Winnebago, Billings finished fourth overall with a weight of 34 lb. 10 oz. over the course of three days. Being the top finisher from Minnesota, Rick qualified to fish the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation National Championship tournament.
Rick prepared another plan to go up against the other Federation anglers that would be competing Lake Milford in Junction City, Kansas. Neither the conditions nor the lake showed much promise to the anglers, but this was Rick’s chance to qualify for the B.A.S.S. Masters Classic. Rick stayed committed throughout the tournament and we all at FUTUREBASS are proud of his accomplishments.
What was the key to your success at the Northern Divisional tournament?
“I found a very large area that held both numbers and quality fish.” The cool thing was that these fish stuck around t all three days. “Fourteen of my fifteen fish came from this single area and I could put the trolling motor down and fish with a very high level of confidence that there were good fish in my area. The fish were positioned differently each day relative to the weed mats in the area, primarily due to the weather and fishing pressure. Early in the tournament, it was cloudy and I could catch them on top water on the edges of the mats. Later, they tucked under the mats when the sun came out on day two. Finally, on day three, they went way up under the thickest, nastiest parts of the mat, presumably because I’d been hammering on them for three days.”
What do you feel set yourself apart from the other anglers at the Northern Divisional?
“I had the area all to myself. Even when other boats came near my area, they still stayed on the outside edges and fished areas I wasn’t really interested in. I also learned very quickly that my experience flipping heavy jigs into weed mats was not as universal as I thought it was. None of my partners were really prepared to fish this way and none of them caught more than two fish because of it.” See the insert on Rick’s equipment and methods for flipping into heavy vegetation!
How did you prepare for the Federation Championship?
“I tried to gather as much information as possible through the internet and personal contacts. Lake Milford is not a very popular tournament lake, so there was very little information available via the internet other than some maps and lake data, but not much for tournament results, patterns, etc. I established four or five contacts in the area that I worked pretty closely with to learn as much as possible about what to expect for weather, quantity of fish, quality of fish, baitfish/forage, water conditions, etc. The people I talked to in Kansas were very helpful, and ultimately provided a good solid foundation for how to approach the lake.”
“I spend a considerable amount of time making both practice and tournament plans in order to stay focused. Making a plan doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not flexible to adapt to the day’s conditions, but it does force me to consider my options when faced with different scenarios. Part of the plans I prepare includes creating a few key reminders to me that I’ll try to fall back on if things aren’t going according to plan and I will consciously read and repeat these every night before a competition day and again throughout the competition days if I feel like I’m getting off track.”
“I guess looking back I may have changed things a little by sticking only with horizontal presentations like spinnerbaits and crankbaits. The weather ended up dictating that a cast and wind approach was about all that was practical, but I did spend some time dragging the bottom and even finesse fishing on day one before concluding that everyone was fishing for just one or two bites anyway. About mid-way through day one I started to focus solely on these horizontal presentations which I think was the right decision. Most of the top finishers caught their fish on spinnerbaits or crankbaits. I wouldn’t really change the areas I fished. I had confidence in them from pre-practice and I fished around several top finishers. As far as the experience goes, there’s nothing that was within my control that I would have changed.”
Do you feel this is your greatest accomplishment as a tournament angler?
“I think qualifying for Nationals is my greatest accomplishment as an angler so far.”
What tournament plans do you have for 2009?
“I did not qualify for the BASS Northern divisional in 2009 so I’m weighing my options between the new Weekend Series schedule for MN/WI and the BFL route as a means to advance to regional / national tournaments. The river is my home water and both of these are pretty much river circuits so I can stay close to home. I have a three year old son I like to take out when I can so I try to keep things close if at all possible to maximize the family time. I plan to fish the MN BASS State tournament again next September and try to get back on that path as well.”
Has the thought of ever turning pro crossed your mind?
“Rarely. I work in the fishing industry for Normark Corporation, the parent of the Rapala family of brands. I see a ton of guys trying to make a living by fishing tournaments and it just isn’t very realistic in my situation. First of all, I don’t have any illusions that I am as consistently good as the full time pros. I think there are many weekend anglers like me who can compete on any given day, but those guys do it all the time, all across the map. Secondly, even guys who are very good, consistent anglers at the pro levels really struggle to make ends meet. I see it first hand just about every day and the reality is that it is incredibly tough to make a go of it by just fishing. Finally, the lifestyle of being on the road is not something I am interested in at this time. It wouldn’t be fair to my wife and son and I wouldn’t want to be away from them.”
What do you feel are your strengths as an angler and your weaknesses?
“I’m not one of those guys who is real instinctual angler. I have many friends who seem to be able to just smell fish or something they’re really talented at finding them. I am more analytical and my biggest strength is probably my desire to do well. It leads me to spend a huge amount of time preparing for tournaments through map study and internet research along with research of my own notes. I don’t usually find the oddball glory holes that some guys seem to sniff out, but if I figure out a pattern, I can usually turn it into a good finish. Secondly, I think I’ve become much better at knowing how to fish a tournament. Every tournament is different and for each one you need to understand what it’s going to take to win and then have a plan for getting there. If you approach every tournament with the same mindset for numbers, quality, technique, etc., you’ll do well in some tournaments but probably won’t do consistently well throughout a season. That’s just my opinion of course. I know one of my weaknesses is sometimes trying to do too many things in a competition day. If I’ve found several patterns or groups of fish in practice, I have a tendency to try them all instead of sticking with one or two and figuring out how to make them work. Another weakness for me is the time I am able to spend to practice. Like most weekend anglers, I have a full time job and family commitments so I can’t always put the time in that I think is necessary to be competitive.”
“First, I would have to say my Dad. He took my brother and me fishing all the time while we were growing up and he spent far more time untangling our lines than he did actually fishing. Secondly, a good friend of mine, Bill Jennison took me bass fishing for the first time and I’ve been hooked since that very first smallmouth! Thirdly, I would say the guys in my bass club, the Zumbro Valley Bassmasters. Our club is very competitive and we have many guys who are really talented anglers that have taught me various things. I also have to give a ton of thanks to my wife, Marcie, who holds down the fort when I’m gone and listens to far more of my fishing talk than I’m sure she wants to!”
Thank you again for your time Rick and congrats on your successes in 2008, you have definitely represented the Midwest well! Good luck to you in 2009 on your quest to get back to the Federation Championship.
Flipping Heavy Vegetation “Billings Style”