By: Dave Wolak

WOLAK-BASS-TELL-MAIN-500x230Tournament bass fishing is a lot like Poker, more specifically, Texas Hold Em’. The similarities in the games’ interactions span from the wide age/ability ranges of the players, to how the players read each other’s action and then bet accordingly(or sometimes inappropriately to try and beat the odds, or bluff), to how some players are willing to bet the farm on odds that are (for the most part) stacked against them. All that being said, in both activities it comes down to the ability to read odds that ultimately makes for long terms success. One big component in bass fishing that differs from poker is the other living creature involved in the equation(the bass). But, that doesn’t mean an angler with a poker mindset can’t utilize Hold Em’ tactics against the bass, just like against the other players. Here’s what I mean:

Let’s take bed fishing as the first example. Every bed fish that an angler comes across this spring will either expose “a tell”, or expose nothing. In poker, “a tell” is a sign accidentally given away by an opponent, exposing that player’s intentions. An angler must believe the bass is really the opponent. Again, if a bedding bass acts differently when a certain bait hits the nest, or a certain sequence of presentations seems to get it’s attention more than another, guess what, the bass just exposed it’s “tell”. Then it’s up to the angler to capitalize on the nature of how that “tell” has been exposed. The same goes for a certain angle cast at a dock, or a certain crankbait retrieve that triggers strikes. An angler that fails to read that may not be as keen as the next angler, and ultimately may waste more time on trying to expose more obvious signs. The thing is, those obvious signs may never come, sending some folks home empty handed.


Let’s take this a step further….the betting, or poker chips, in this match between the bass and the angler is really “time”. It’s really about how much time the angler is willing to bet on “whether or not” he will catch that fish. A bedding bass with a rock solid poker face that exposes no “tell” may just act as a time-waster for the rookie bed-hunting angler. An angler that’s good at making that read will know that statistically it’s best to just move on to the next “Country Club Card Game” with easy pickin’s. Look at it like this, a bed fish with a poker face as stern as the famous poker pro Phil Ivey may just not be worth the time.

It’s important to recognize this concept spans way beyond just bed fishing. The bass’s “tell” is such a valuable concept to understand in bass fishing, and too many anglers concentrate too heavily on the wrong opponent. Essentially, every time a tournament angler goes out to practice for an event he’s looking for little signs, or clues. The bass or the bass’s environment should be telling them something. Most of the signs are very subtle though. The best “players” will wait until the most opportune time to strike once they expose that “tell”, or read that clue. They know the best time is during a tournament right? The not-so-bright players will over-expose that “tell” during practice because they don’t fully recognize the depth and value of that “tell”. They’re the folks that catch too many fish in practice, hook a bed fish the day before the tournament to “see if it will bite”, or hook multiple fish on similar spots in practice instead of immediately recognizing that a viable pattern should be saved for game day. This is the stuff that makes or breaks many tournament anglers.

Overall, having a poker mindset will make you a better angler because you’ll always be calculating odds. That’s a good thing! But, just remember that in bass fishing, your opponents are not just the folks hooked to kill switches or using foot-control TMs, your opponents are the little swimming green/brown things you’re trying to catch. Shift your focus from reading the other anglers to reading the bass, and you’ll be in a better position at weigh-ins this year.