As much as we anticipate the holiday season, competitive anglers are also looking ahead to what’s coming on the tournament calendar in 2011. But before any of those scheduled events the best thing anyone can do is prepare.

Gary Klein, who’s been qualifying for Bassmaster Classics before many of today’s anglers were even born (adding a 29th time this spring, I believe) has pretty much used the same formula to produce those results. And it starts with practice.

“At the beginning of practice I’m really a generalist,” says Klein. “I’m good at a lot of things, so every day I want to become more of a specialist. I want to refine the things I am using.”

We’ve all heard his mantra “Establish or eliminate” but it’s not just done on the front deck. Helping him make those refinements is recognizing the type of waterway, the time of year and current conditions.

Looking at the big picture on the national scene, of course, he has to superimpose these elements on whatever species of black bass might be present. As he puts it,” They (each species of black bass) are a factor and another option and [require] different techniques.”

Seasonal patterns give us a clue on where to look, but in visiting unfamiliar waters, it’s also important to review the type of waterway. Natural lakes, tidal waters and canyon reservoirs each have their own quirks, possibly unique forage or cover options that tend to position certain species at certain depths.

I think back locally to last summer, and some very good anglers likely stumbled in the CBC regional merely because they didn’t fully commit to the differences of a natural lake as opposed the more familiar reservoirs on the schedule.

“Current conditions,” Gary suggests, “actually simplify the angler’s choices, depending on time of year.” However, when there is a sudden change in those conditions, for example, “A big storm that’s rolling mud–that just eliminates the open water, deep stuff, options become somewhat limited.”

Yet, as much refining as goes on during practice, you can’t be robotic when chasing a wild creature in its environment. “You always have to have an open mind,” he warns.

Telling one on himself, Klein related an experience from a few years ago at Lake Mead and the U.S. Open. “After three days of practice I was really dialed in with a real good wind pattern. I was ready to fish,” he recounted. “Then there was the off day, like there is at the Open, and there was no wind. And the forecast was for no wind. I didn’t adjust.”

The lesson, according to Gary, “An angler has to live in the moment. He has to be willing to fish the current conditions.” With that Open experience he admitted, “I needed to forget the past and throw out the last three days with the wind. The fishing had changed.”

That just tells me, nobody can ignore Klein’s good advice. Not even Gary.