When two teams play a game, there’s usually a “Home” team, and an “Away” team (one notable exception would be the Super Bowl). The premise is often that the home team has an advantage. For starters, they are playing in front of their home crowd. They have the fans on their side cheering away. They also tend to live closer so they get to spend the night at home before the competition, have dinner with their family, sleep in their own bed. It’s a luxury not afforded to the traveling team. Lastly the home team has the advantage of knowing the playing field, court, rink, etc. Each stadium or arena has different nuances. Some hockey backboards give bounces different. Ground balls bounce different in some baseball fields. Even in football, the wind swirls just a special way that the home kicker is used to when trying to kick that game winning field goal. Any way you look at it, Home Field Advantage is a real thing. But what about in individual sports like fishing?
Fishing can be the same in that you may have a Home Lake Advantage. Historically the home angler rarely wins the tournament, but that trend has been changing the past few years. The most recent exception was the 2019 Bassmaster Classic held on the Tennessee River in Knoxville TN when Ott DeFoe, the local angler won.
In fishing, it’s almost expected that the local angler will win a tournament. They fish those waters more frequently. Everyone assumes that they know all the spots, they know where the fish will be every day of the year, and just what to catch them on. But fishing isn’t as predictable as that. Yes, there are always patterns and trends, but on any given day the fish can decide to be fickle. Just when you think the fish are zigging, they zag. Then there’s always outside pressure. Maybe the fish ARE where the home angler knows they should be, but the previous day another angler sat there for hours just pounding them. Maybe there was some kind of bug hatch and the fish have gorged themselves and aren’t in a feeding mood. There’s so many variables, things won’t always swing in favor of the home angler.
Another thing that can get in the way of the home angler is just what we said is their usual advantage. They know what the fish are doing and where they are. But do they know what ALL the fish are doing? Of course not! They know what THEIR fish are usually doing. There are so many fish out there, maybe bigger fish, that another angler who isn’t biased with previous experience, and who comes in with a fresh set of eyes, can find. That new school may be the winning school.
The last factor to take into consideration is pressure. I’m not talking about fishing pressure, but the stress that the home angler is under to perform. That expectation that they win. Every angler goes into a tournament expecting to win. Confidence is a requirement for good fishing. But what happens when that expectation comes from external forces. When the dock talk turns to “Well he fishes here all the time so it’ll be tough to beat him”. That puts a burden on the angler and if they let it get into their head, it can be a major distraction. Distracted fishing is sloppy fishing and doesn’t usually lend itself to good results.
The reason I’m talking about fishing your “Home Lake” is that I recently had a tournament on a lake I consider to be one of my home lakes. It was our Adirondack KBF event on Great Sacandaga Lake (GSL). I only live 25 minutes from one of the boat ramps, and I used to frequent that lake often. My fishing there has slowed over the last two years with my participation in month long challenges and tournament fishing. GSL is not known to produce large bass. Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure there a 20” smallmouth or two swimming around in there, but anglers don’t go there to target bass. What they usually target is the trophy pike (former WORLD record was caught there) and what can be a decent walleye bite if you can find them. I still occasionally hit GSL to try my hand at putting some eyes in the freezer, but usually end up just fishing for what can be very aggressive and active smallmouth.
Going into this event, I had a very weird feeling about it. For starters, I prefished the weekend before and found my fish where I usually find them. The issue was the water level. GSL is a reservoir and they manage the water level in quite an odd way. Unlike many reservoirs, there isn’t a “Summer Pool” and a “Winter Pool”. Starting at “Ice Out”, usually end of March the water levels will begin to rise. They will continue to rise all spring until hitting their peak, usually in mid June. They only maintain full levels for maybe 2-3 weeks. By the 4th of July holiday, they begin dropping the lake. The lake will fall approximately an inch per day for the next 3 months. By mid October, it’s fallen over 7-feet and is approaching it’s normal winter levels.
This brings me back to where I normally find my fish. I usually fish GSL late in the season (September/October). This means I usually fish for bass when the water levels are much lower. Last October I fished two tournaments in back to back weekends. In three days of fishing I put up 3 solid bags, all grinding a squarebill in 3-4’ of water. This July, the bass were actually still on those same pieces of structure. The issue was, they were now in 10 feet of water and I needed an entirely different approach to fish them. I got a few bites on the ned rig deep and pulling a chatterbait slow but I wasn’t exactly confident those patterns would hold.
The other reason I felt weird coming into the event was from an internal conflict I was having. On one hand, this was a tournament on my home lake. I was expected to place high and other anglers anticipated I would be toward the top. I wanted to prove them right and have a good showing. On the other hand, this lake does not put up big bags. An 80” limit almost always wins, and if you put up 85” you just had an insanely good day on GSL. Our Club AOY is based on your 5 biggest bags at club events. This was the 7th event of our season. I had done 5 of the first 6 with my smallest bag being a 77.5”. This meant I needed a 78” bag just to improve my AOY score. With an online event remaining and our Club Classic being held on a lake known to produce giants (including my PB), it was highly unlikely that GSL would contribute to my AOY. Even if I did put up 80”, it would likely get knocked out by one of (or likely both) the next two events. Knowing this event really had no ramifications for my club points or national qualifications, I wasn’t coming in as motivated as I should have been.
I shoved away from the launch and took off to my usual spot. I got there with a little time to spare and just sat and waited. When the clock struck 5:30 I began fishing. I started off the structure a little bit in the deeper water I had found them in before. I started with the chatterbait, slowly rolling it. When that didn’t produce I switched it up to a shakeyhead. In prefishing, it was difficult getting the ned rig deeper in the wind. The shakeyhead was a little heavier and I felt I could fish it easier in these conditions. I worked it around the deeper areas, but still did not catch anything. I could hear commotion coming from another kayak that had made the trek out this piece of structure. Clearly he was having difficulty getting a fish to sit still for the picture. I chuckled a little and though At least he’s catching them.
I switched the topwater I had on my cranking rod to a mid-range diving crankbait. I used to be a die-hard Rapala guy and the DT series was my go to, but I have stumbled onto the Berkley Digger series and just fell in love. The Berkely Digger 8.5 is my new favorite when targeting deeper weed lines and rock in 6-10 feet of water. It only took 2 casts and I had my first bite of the day. It felt like a giant but it was coming in weird. When it got to the boat it was clear why it felt that way. I had it fowl hooked across the back. It was only 11” anyway so I tossed it back. I continued to toss the crankbait around and soon got another bite. I felt the rod load up and pulled into it. This one felt bigger, but that’s when I felt something that would become the pattern of the day. I was using my brand new FX Custom Rods 7’1” MH Cranking Rod. I could feel everything with that rod including just how the fish was swimming. This fish was swimming straight up. It broke the surface coming completely out of the water. As it tail danced across the surface I saw my crankbait go flying off to the side and it was gone.
After throwing the crankbait around awhile with no more bites, I headed out to a deeper rock pile in about 25-feet of water. I had hoped to find a school of bass down on it that maybe I could drop shot. I got there, and sure enough, there was a school. But it wasn’t on the pile, it was suspended 10 feet above the pile! I don’t know if it was bass, walleye, or maybe some jumbo perch or crappie. I threw everything I had at them. I vertical fished a dropshot down in the school. I backed off letting a worm fall down into it. I pulled the crankbait through it, I pulled the chatterbait through it. Nothing would elicit a bite. I spent about 20 minutes targeting that school but it got to the point where I just had to give up. They weren’t hungry, or at least I couldn’t figure out what to throw to get them to bite.
The wind was picking up and I needed to find active fish. It was 2.5 hours into my day and I still hadn’t landed a keeper. Things were not looking good. I decided to fish along the side of Scout Island. The lake drops off steep on the west side and maybe I would find them schooled up just off shore along the drop off. As I pedaled in that direction, I noticed some more shallow humps on my Navionics a little south of my current path so I veered off just to give them a go. My only bites so far had come on the crankbait so I pulled that rod from the holder and gave it a wing. It didn’t take long and I was hit! This time I got it in the boat. 14.25 and I was finally on the board. It only took me 3 hours!
I stayed on that hump and continued to crank. I hooked another one, but like earlier, I felt the fish start to swim up and my crankbait went flying. But the important thing was, I felt like I found a pattern. These fish were suspended in 10-12 feet and coming up to hit the 8.5. I checked my mapping for more of the same kind of water. I found an area that looked promising just to my south so I took off toward it. It was exactly what I was looking for and I got exactly what I expected. I caught a 13.75” in between having two more fish throw the bait with their aerial acrobatics.
After the last fish threw the bait I decided to switch up my tactic. Clearly I had a school here fired up so maybe I could get them on something that would keep them hooked. I grabbed the chatterbait and started throwing it over where the school was positioned. I would cast it out, let it sink down, then slow reel it in but I just wasn’t getting bit. I remembered that I had been giving my crankbait a little irregular retrieve so I figured I would try something new with the chatterbait. I started yoyoing my retrieve. I would pull it hard, then let it fall, pull it hard, then let it fall. On my second cast trying that, after letting it fall, I went to pull it but it pulled back! I set the hook and managed to get the fish into the net. The hook promptly fell out and I breathed a sigh of relief. This was a better fish, 15.25”, and I had 3 on the board.
With no more bites at that location, I moved on to the next closest area I could find on my Navionics. It only took a few minutes throwing the crankbait again and I had another fish in the net. My biggest of the day, a 16.25” which is a good fish for GSL. What followed next was pure chaos.
It was after 10:30, over 5 hours into an 8.5 hour day. I had 4 fish on the board and decided to check to standings. What I saw surprised me. I wasn’t that far back! One good fish, and maybe 1 small cull and I could still cash a check! I was reinvigorated and ready to roll. I made a plan on what humps and areas I would hit and went to work. My pattern held true, however my hooks did not. Fish after fish would hit my crankbait. I would pull into them, the rod would load up, and then I would feel it. In my head every time (and maybe out loud, I don’t know) I was saying Don’t do it, Don’t Do It, DON’T DO IT! *WHOOSH* the fish would jump and I watched my crankbait fly. It was excruciating seeing it happen time and time again.
After hitting my last planned spot, I only had about 30 minutes left to fish. I made the run from offshore into some boulders near the shoreline. I only hoped that there was something on them that wasn’t spooked by all the boat traffic going by. It was turning into a busy Saturday afternoon on the lake and I was doing all I could to dodge them. I made it into the area and started cranking.
With 10 minutes left on the clock, I saw the flash as a fish hit my crankbait right near the boat. In just a split second I grabbed the net, lifted the rod, and scooped the fish. It wasn’t the 5th bass I had been after, but a walleye! Sometimes fish do the strangest things. I would never have guessed I would get a walleye, at 1:45 in the afternoon, on a sunny day, in only 10 feet of water. Not exactly typical walleye conditions. This one looked like maybe it was a keeper though. I still had a little ice left in my cooler and I was about to get off the water anyway, why not? I knew if I decided to keep it; bleeding it out and getting it put away would use up the rest of my fishing time. But this would be a nice consolation prize for the day. I grabbed my Ketch board and laid it out. 15.5”! A perfect eater. And just as quickly as I could read the number the walleye flopped and over the side it went. Since it wasn’t a bass, I wasn’t being as careful as I usually am, but lesson learned. If there’s a chance to keep a fish, be more cautious when measuring it.
I made a few more casts as I worked my way back toward the launch, but 2:00 hit and I still only had 4 fish on the board. At the awards ceremony I found out my 59” was good enough for 6th place. Not bad given my funk coming into the event. The interesting thing was that I wasn’t the only angler who considered this to be my home lake. Another angler, Greg Mulgrew, actually owns a camp on GSL. He managed to take home first place with an 80” bag in a pretty dominating performance. All in all it was a fun day of fishing, on a lake close to home, and with a bunch of great anglers. I learned a little more about the lake, and learned a lot about how your mental attitude coming into an event can influence your fishing. I might not have cashed a check, might have lost a lot of fish, but to me the day was still a win.