By Jonathan LePera
Special to BassFan
With two Bassmaster Elite Series wins under his belt, Justin Lucas has found his groove at the sport’s top level. While victories are hard to come by, his success was by design.
He points to how other fellow Western anglers like Cody Meyer, Aaron Martens, Skeet Reese, Brett Hite and Brent Ehrler have had success competing outside California. He attributes that to the diversity of the fisheries in the Golden State from which they all learned, not to mention their use of electronics to find fish and dissect structure.
“One weekend flipping we’d be at the Delta, the next throwing a dropshot in 70 feet of water in Lake Oroville or fishing smallmouth on the Columbia River,” Lucas said. “The hard part about the East Coast is there’s a lot of the same bodies of water within a few hours of each other. Same with the Midwest. It’s hard to get out of the comfort zone because it's a big drive to go somewhere different that’s going to lay something new out for you.”
Below is Lucas’ 8-Step Plan For Success:
Put Yourself in Unfamiliar Situations
In 2010, Lucas got serious about his career and moved to Lake Guntersville. The Tennessee River is a great hub for tournament action. Ledge fishing was totally foreign to him and if his career was to have any longevity, he had some work to do. The proximity of Smith Lake and the Coosa River chain, both spotted bass havens, coupled with the diversity of Guntersville and the TVA system, represented the only area other than Northern California to help him become a better all-around fisherman.
When he started fishing the Bassmaster Opens in 2013, expanding his knowledge of unfamiliar territory was the goal. He never fished a Southern Open that year.
“I lived in Alabama, but I fished the Central and the Northern Opens – the two divisions furthest from here,” he said. “That was shallow, dirty muddy rivers on the Central side and up North it was deeper smallmouth fishing on Oneida and Lake Erie and some of the East Coast. Every place I fished that year was a place I’d never been with the exception of the James River.”
The result: Three top-10 finishes and an invitation to the Elite Series.
During that same year, he finished 106th at the Arkansas River Central Open and offered a valuable learning tool.
He felt like his timing was off, a hunch proven true when a talented angler he’d seen go through the same area before him weighed in a good bag. He learned that he has to better make adjustments on the fly.
“Once the tournament starts you base it off your practice and at some point you call the audible where you have to go figure it out over again,” he said. “Very rarely does what you learn in practice transpire through the whole event.”
Get Your Head Right
Lucas is big on leaving the past where it is and moving forward with an open mind. Not every day is going to be a success.
“If you know you’re putting yourself up against something tough and you suspect that from the beginning, then you’re putting yourself in the right mindset,” he said. “If you think you’re going to go out there and catch them every day, that’s just not reality. It’ll really mess with your head a lot faster and for a lot longer.”
Going to Work
Lucas doesn’t consider his job to be work.
Sure there are frustrating days, but he gets to be up early and fish all day. He reminds anglers, “you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t and only got six or seven bites in 2 or 3 days.”
Once the tournament starts, his competitive drive takes over fishing towards the best result he can.
“I won’t go broke doing it and I’m never going to put my family at risk,” he added. “There’s motivation to always get better every single day. Winning is what it’s all about.”
Use Your Time Wisely
Lucas won’t be voluntarily fishing through nasty weather unless it’s tournament day. He points to anglers who burn out going full tilt with reckless abandon. Instead, he budgets his time.
“If you don’t get out to practice that long, and you get off the water an hour or two hours early every day, added up over the course of a year or eight or nine events, somebody else is getting 18 to 20 more hours of practice than you,” he said. “There’s no doubt that makes a difference by the end of the year for points and that kind of stuff.”
He can’t count the times he found a spot that helped him gain some points in the last 30 minutes of a practice day.
Manage Your Fish
Unlike when he used to fish in California, he has realized that he can’t run around and hit a bunch of spots.
“Milking them has been a big thing for me; catching as many as I can out of an area and not leaving until I feel comfortable that I did my job,” he said. “I caught 25 pounds off of one rock about half the size of my boat on Mille Lacs on the 3rd day and fished it for 6 1/2 hours.”
When to Stay, When to Go
When fishing deep water, he’ll monitor his Lowrance Gen 3 HDS 12 looking for signs of active fish off the bottom and the presence of bait to keep them there. Unless he’s fishing a tidal system with current, hole-sitting isn’t an option.
“If it’s got current, you can fish some of the same stuff several days in a row,” he noted. “If there’s no current you won’t be able to go over the same stuff as easily because there is nothing that naturally filters those fish in there.”