By Todd Ceisner
In Marty Robinson’s words, the 2019 Bass Pro Tour season was, “all in all a decent year with the new format and new series.”
The South Carolina pro, who still runs his own plumbing business in the offseason, had a positively middling year with four top-40 finishes and four non-money results. He wound up 44th in points, firmly in the middle of the pack of the 80-man field.
“I’m a middle-of-the-pack guy,” Robinson said. “If you put 400 guys in a tournament, I might be around 200th or if you put five on the water I might be third. I’ve always strived to be consistent more than anything. This year, I was middle of the road. A lot of times you say it’s not bad, but it’s also not too good.
“The competition we were fishing against has a lot to do with it. In my eyes, though, it was a little below par. I try to make the championship of whatever trail I’m fishing, and I fell short of that.”
After finishing 23rd at the season opener at the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, where he caught 33 fish in the third period of his Shotgun Round, Robinson failed to advance to the Knockout Round at each of the next three events. At Lake Conroe, he was diagnosed with the flu and limped to a 58th-place finish. At Raleigh, N.C., a slow Elimination Round cost him and he wound up 41st.
Then came Lake Chickamauga, where he tried to target spawning fish. Poor execution on day 1 preceded a day of struggles in the Elimination Round and he slid to 77th, his worst showing of the season.
“I’ll take the blame 100 percent for that,” he said. “On day one, I lost half of the first 10 fish I hooked and they were all good fish. I could’ve had a decent day.”
He bounced back with three top-30 finishes in the final four events with a 54th at the second Table Rock Lake event the lone misstep.
Same Mindset Early On
Robinson said his preparation and tournament strategy at the first three events were the exact same as if the tournaments were contested under the traditional five-fish format. His reasoning was based on the time of year and the regions of the country the events were in.
“It was pre-spawn and the water was still cold, especially in Florida,” he said. “Ask the guys who fish that first Southern Open in Florida in January every year. All you’re trying to do is get five bites. If it goes your way and you get the right five, then you can change it up.”
He pointed to the third-period flurry at Toho in the Shotgun Round as a situation where had it been a five-fish limit scenario, he may have left the area to seek out bigger fish elsewhere. Instead, he stayed and kept adding to his total.
“What I learned by staying and catching them and catching them was I finally caught a 3 1/2- and a 4-pounder, which are good fish no matter the format,” he said. “On day 2, I laid off my fish a little like you would in a five-fish deal and on day 3, they bit in the morning, then it fizzled out. Florida has some of the most pressured lakes in the world and it just comes down to catching a limit.
“Conroe was the same deal. I fished identically to how I would a five-fish limit tournament because if you caught a keeper there it was good-sized fish. Same thing in North Carolina. I had six bites on day 1 and they weighed 21-plus pounds. That format makes you fish and look for schools more than individual fish.”
All About Keying on Current Conditions
Robinson came to the BPT with a few years of experience in the MLF Selects, but he was able to come away from the inaugural BPT season with some realizations that he’ll apply to his strategy for 2020 tournaments.
“One thing I learned is that you can never catch them all from an area,” he said. “A lot of guys, in a five-fish deal, will catch five or six in an area and think they’ve done all they can do. This format makes you go back through an area even after you beat it to death and you’ll catch two better quality fish. That taught me that you can never catch ‘em all.”
What it also told him was to not to get too attached to a pattern or bait for too long. It’s one area he’ll try to improve in next season – being more in tune with the changing conditions within a day.
“(The format) teaches you to be current in what you’re doing constantly,” he said. “You can never fish the tail end of a bite and say, ‘They’re slowing down.’ You have to constantly be willing to change and that really ups your level of pattern fishing.”
With the MLF format putting an increased emphasis on generating sheer numbers of bites, Robinson figured there would be a heavy lean toward downsizing baits and more finesse tactics. He was surprised at how that didn’t occur.
“I’ve been like a lot of guys who thought early in the season that we would be throwing a lot of finesse baits, but what I’ve learned is downsizing has hurt me getting bites rather than changing with the conditions,” he said. “I’ve gone back and watched all of the events and I saw where guys didn’t have to downsize. They just changed patterns. At Table Rock, instead of going with a shaky-head to catch fish, I saw guys skipping white jigs under docks during the shad spawn. It’s all about staying current.”
He said the incentives put in place to target bigger fish now won’t change how he goes about his business. He thinks if he’s able to read the conditions and react accordingly, the rest will take care of itself.
“What I’m going to focus on this year because it will make me better all-around is I’m going to fish whatever baits I feel like are the best pattern and the technique that will be best for the conditions,” he said. “My focus will be on changing with the conditions through the day. I’m not going to worry about big, medium or small a whole lot. I’ll be more focused on conditions and I think that’ll make me a better all-around angler.”