By Jeff Little
In every region where kayak fishing tournaments are routinely held, there’s a dominant angler who leaves others at the Captain’s Meeting with slumped shoulders. There’s always one guy who causes other anglers to look up how much second place pays. In the Mid-Atlantic region for kayak bass fishing tournaments, that angler is Jedediah Plunkert. He’s won Angler of the Year for Mid-Atlantic Kayak Bass Fishing Series two years in a row, the River Bassin’ Tournament on the Susquehanna those same two back-to-back years, and has taken first place in numerous other open and online tournaments.
You would expect such a dominant angler to display a certain swagger and bravado. You might expect him to guard his secrets fiercely and employ a cutthroat strategy to make sure that he’s more than "in the money”. You wouldn’t expect someone to get up at the end of a tournament and graciously explain the exact pattern that allowed him to take your money. You might not expect Jed.
I spent some time on the water recently with top kayaker on one of the fisheries he dominates: the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. I turned the video camera on him to record my questions and his candid responses. He continued to cast and catch smallmouth from a dominant ledge structure as we discussed something that most of the in the money anglers do: prefishing. Jed just does it better than others. Here’s what he had to share with me.
When you are prefishing for a tournament on a new body of water, what's your gameplan? What are you trying to accomplish?
Jed: Finding fish obviously, but finding multiple fish is my goal. What I do depends on what type of tournament it is. If it's a five fish tournament, I want to find a good pocket that's got a whole lot of fish. During tournament day, I focus on getting that five fish or three fish limit first, and then I switch out to locating those larger fish. But first thing's first, find the majority of the fish in the area.
What goes into your research before you prefish? Say it's a place that you've never been to before and know nothing about. You had some of those this year. You went down to...
Jed: Mississippi, Ross Barnett Lake. I'll look over maps first. Google maps. If I can talk to someone who's a local in the area or guides, they help out a lot. While I'm prefishing, if I meet someone out on the water, I stop and talk with them about patterns. I try to take what they say to heart. One of the biggest things that I do is to communicate well with other anglers, sharing pattern information with them. I try to team up with at least one other angler for the tournament. That way you benefit from the information of two anglers prefishing.
So it's more of a team approach in the prefishing stage?
Jed: Even in a tournament sometimes, I'll share information. Text messages are the best as far as sharing what they're doing, where they're at, what they're eating. That's come in handy a lot of times for me.
You're telling me that you text message pattern information back and forth between other tournament anglers during the tournament?
Jed: Yeah, and you hope for the best for everybody.
How do you make good decisions on who you are sharing that kind of information with?
Jed: (Laughing) Uhh, feeling the people out. A lot of these tournament anglers I fish with, we've had a lot of experience together with different places and different tournaments. There's the kind who are willing to help, and put positive energy towards everything. There's the kind who try and take away from that too. The negative part, I don't deal a whole lot with that. Scratching each other's back if it's a good angler who I trust and like fishing with. It kind of helps everybody out to a point.
In terms of how aggressive you fish, on the spectrum of finesse to power fishing, how do you assess the activity level of the fish during prefishing? How does that change once the tournament begins?
Jed: I bounce around a lot. I think that my fishing in general is pretty versatile. I have no issue in going from ripping this crankbait really fast to deadsticking a jig or a tube right here in the eddy as well. I bounce around even more so during prefishing. When I find a good pattern, that's what I'll usually start with tournament day.
For the purpose of this interview, let's stick to river smallmouth tournaments. Give me your top two patterns.
Jed: I guess it depends on what time of the year it is. I like fast water and ledges. Hard swimbaits, soft swimbaits that are large, crankbaits, squarebill crankbaits, I'll throw a spinnerbait quite a bit too. As far as power fishing, I move fast. I usually aim for those whitewater areas first if I can. Early morning topwater bite, everybody likes that and it's pretty consistent. (Author's note: Jed threw a Whopper Plopper 130 for 20 minutes at dawn in 47 degree water before this interview). So, as far as the top two patterns, deadsticking soft swimbaits in dark colors, or ripping really fast square bills or wake baits, moving them really quick in whitewater. That's probably the top two for me.
What advice would you have for someone who hasn't done much in the way of prefishing before a tournament?
Jed: Move around a lot. Try to locate a good pod of fish, but DON'T beat 'em up! That's a mistake I've seen a lot of people do - sore mouth good fish the day before a tournament. I move away. If I get a few good hits like I just did here. I would move off of it right away and know that this is a spot to come back and hit during the tournament. Don't beat it up, especially if you're planning on working one ledge system, or a single access trip during the tournament day. I would move around a lot and just try and find the majority of the fish. Maybe even cut your hooks sometimes. I've done that. You just feel the hit. A big fish sticks to it a little bit and you know. You just let it move with it a little bit, and you just know that you're in the right area.
How far ahead of time is too soon to prefish?
Jed: If you're unfamiliar with the area, and it's your first time there, I don't think that anything is too far ahead to just get familiar with the area. Accesses, time as far as paddling to each location, and seeing structure even if you're not fishing it that hard. You know if the conditions change that you can get there. I would suggest going as close to the tournament date as you can get, especially with river conditions that are changing every day. I've prefished a month in advance before. That was prespawn largemouth, and I'm pretty sure that by tournament day those fish were post spawn. But you still knew where the good concentration of fish was, even if they had backed off from where they were a month before. Learning and locating and knowing the structure of the lake or river, or wherever you're fishing, it”s still going to help you. Prefish as much as you can.
Is prefishing your home water any different than prefishing water that you've never seen before?
Jed: Yeah, and back to beatin' it up as far as that goes - if I prefish (interrupted by a smallmouth hitting his crankbait) I approach it differently. I definitely go back to the idea of not beating it up. If you're familiar with the water, you know the spots. I don't spend a lot of time in those. I save that for tournament day. I'll spend a little more time around the spots, finding other productive areas in close proximity to the main area I am going to fish.
Jeff: Thanks for sharing some of your tournament knowledge with us.
Jed: Thank you!