Photo Credit: Peak Productions LLC. How often have you been fishing with a buddy, and you cannot seem to get bit, but your friend is putting on a clinic?
Chances are it has happened before. Sometimes simply the luck of the draw is the only reason this happens, but if you ask PWS Angler Zach Axtman, he would disagree.
Axtman says, “ I keep a 200-page binder with information from every tournament and body of water that I have fished”. Axtman has compiled years of trial-and-error information that helps him on tournament days by keeping a detailed record of his fishing outings in a binder. By keeping his binder well organized, Zach can find the information he needs to help prepare him for this next tournament.
Thanks to time on the water, Zach can reference his past experiences to determine what baits are great starting choices. Baits like this include classic presentations like a jig and ringworm or a number 9 size Flicker Shad. The combination of staple baits, his lake map research, and his electronics provides a great starting point on many bodies of water for him. Once Zach finds the fish and sees how they react to his staple baits, he can then slow down the presentation and fine-tune things to become more efficient.
After Zach has found the fish, he relies on having a healthy selection of similar baits and his electronics to let the fish tell him what they want. This process includes tying up multiple rods with many different colors and sizes to pick apart areas where he has located fish. Developing a working knowledge of the fishery also helps with picking the color and size of the baits to use. This mindset is “matching the hatch” and picking out similar-looking lures to try. Zach generally starts with the size and profile of the forage and then moves to the different color options. The color of the fishing lure might be the most integral piece of the puzzle to finding out what a walleye wants to eat. “There have been many times where I have been out trolling on Devils Lake with Flicker Minnows, and the walleyes were only hitting one lure color.” – says Axtman.
One thing that helps Axtman be as efficient as possible on the water is a tournament box. His tournament box consists of a mixture of the baits that have performed the best during his pre-fishing days and the ones he has the most confidence using. To Zach, his tournament box also helps provide him with a mental confidence boost on days when the bite might be slow or if he has some ground to make up. “To a PWS Angler, in the stressful 5-hour formats, reaching into a tournament box can give you a superhero mentality that you cannot lose. And that lure could fly you into the next match!” – says Axtman.
We asked Zach if he ever dyes a plastic or customizes a crankbait and his response was: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This mindset keeps PWS Angler Zach Axtman always falling back on his confidence baits and fishing his best. Zach states that companies spend a lot of time and money on bait research, and customizing a lure or presentation right out of the box may not be needed. First, take the time to fish the bait the way it comes to see if that works. This mindset, along with getting in a rhythm, when working baits plays a huge role in staying calm, cool, and collective on the water. Zach compares working a bait much like many other sports. Fishing bait properly is just like shooting a basketball or swinging a golf club. “You often know when you do it perfectly just by feel and before you even see the result.” – says Axtman.