The 2nd stop on the APEX Pro Tour just concluded and I have to say, this event really opened my eyes to how different and interesting the APEX format can be. You see, the format is quite a bit different in that you can qualify for Championship Sunday (top 10) by way of weight for your best 5 or by way of the number of score-able bass caught, (a score-able bass has to be at least 14" in length), over the first two days of the event. After day 2 the anglers with the top 5 weights and the anglers with the top 5 numbers of score-able bass move on to the Championship round on the third day.
Sounds pretty straight forward but there is a bit more to picking your strategy. You see, APEX anglers do not get to practice and do not get to solicit information so they are going into the event blind. Until they begin fishing they do not know off they will be on a big fish pattern or if they are going to get enough bites to chase the qualification by number of score-able bass. In essence, they are going to have to build and/or adjust a game plan as the tournament is being fished.
For years I have always competed by trying to catch the biggest 5 bass that I can, as most of us have, but this event at Trinity Lake showed me how important picking the right strategy is. Knowing that Trinity Lake has some giant largemouth and smallmouth bass in it, I began the event trying to stay away from thee crowd but fishing what I thought would give me the best chance at 5 big bites. Unfortunately, at the end of day one I had weighed in just under 15 pounds and only caught 11 score-able bass. o say that I was disappointed was an understatement. I now had a decision to make... do I go out and try to weigh in one of the mega-bags that are possible on this lake or do I chase numbers and see if I can have a 35+ fish day?
I decided to play the odds and chase numbers. You see, I felt like I would need a 30 pound bag in order to qualify for Championship Sunday on weight. While that is achievable on Trinity Lake only one angler had done it on the first day. On the other hand, I felt that I had a chance to qualify on the score-able side if I was able to have a 30 fish day, and a handful of anglers had done that the first day.
Chasing score-able fish was a new experience for me. I was never really in a position where I had to mentally make that decision until this event. I had always thought that fishing for the big bag was the way to go, so this was new territory for me. I found out just how mentally tough it was as I was fishing that second day. As I was catching fish my mind kept going back to the thought that I had to catch a big one. I was thinking about how it was going to look on stage if I only weighed 15 pounds again. I had to keep telling myself that it didn't matter... we were playing a different game on this day. I just had to keep catching fish, even if they were all just 14 inches, because it was numbers that was going to get me there. I have to say, it was not easy.
That second day I ended up catching 21 score-able bass, not the 30 I felt I needed, and while I fell short of qualifying for Championship Sunday I caught enough fish to lift me in the standings to 17th place, cashing a check, and salvaging some points towards the Championship at the end of the year.
Looking back on this event, it was probably easier for me to make that decision than some of the other anglers. For example, an angler that had weighed 20 or 21pounds on the first day might look at it as if they were knocking on the door and had to chase weight when in reality they might have been better off chasing numbers. For me, I was so far back on the weight side that, while it was possible to qualify by catching weight, the chances were very slim that I would be able to make up the deficit. I had a better chance if I could have a day of catching numbers.
This puts an interesting twist in the traditional format of tournament bass fishing. We all like to catch and weigh big fish, but in this format, that may no longer be the best approach depending on the body of water you are on and what you actually find during your first day of competition. In a traditional format if you weigh a subpar bag the first day you are pretty much out of it, but in the APEX format you still have that chance to qualify for the Championship round! That is exciting and it keeps you motivated throughout the event. The APEX format is like no other!