Modern fiberglass bass boats are built for speed and long-range efficiency, among other performance traits. In tournaments, speed plays a role on practically every outing, but making a long run requires some careful decision-making.
Mercury Pro Team member Jonathon VanDam is no stranger to long runs, and he’s quick to clarify the term. Generally, he defines “long” as 70-plus miles. However, it’s not always about the linear distance.
“It’s relevant to where you’re at,” said VanDam, who fishes the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour. “There are cases when running 30 miles can be a long run. For example, on lakes like Table Rock or Bull Shoals, you’re not traveling a gigantic distance, but there are a lot of snaky turns throughout the run. The overall distance is not that far, but when you add it up, it’s a pretty good way.”
VanDam offered some advice to all tournament anglers when weighing the question of “Do I stay, or do I go?”
1. Decide if a Long Run is Worth It
From long and winding to the straight shot, when it comes to extended steering wheel time, VanDam weighs his options carefully. In his view, it comes down to what is to be gained and what is to be lost. Simply put, does a distant fishing spot offer enough legitimate potential to justify the hard costs of lost fishing time and fuel?
“The main considerations are the fish and habitat,” VanDam said. “What are the benefits if you made that run, versus what you’re running past to do it? Are you running to catch 15 pounds, when you can stay around the area and catch 14?”
Much of this comes down to knowing the fishery. In productive waters where weights are really high, running 100 miles to catch an extra half pound makes no sense. However, on stingy fisheries where fishing is slow and weights are generally lean, making a long run to unpressured fish could prove advantageous. Same goes for fisheries where anglers might be separated by ounces in the standings. In that case, running a long way to catch a limit of 3 1/2-pound fish instead of 3 1/4-pound fish can make a major difference in your finish.
2. When it Comes to Time Management, Be Prepared for Variables
One of the biggest risks with a long run is that if you get there and strike out, there may be no time left to scramble and adjust elsewhere. Another major risk is a navigational delay.
VanDam knows the wisdom of making a long run to catch a big limit vaporizes if you’re late to the check-in or miss the weigh-in altogether. To that point, you can’t always assume the afternoon return trip will match the morning run.
Considerations are many, but remember that a livewell full of big fish may increase your winnings, but the added weight will decrease your fuel economy. If a fuel stop is needed on the outbound or return trip, factor this time into your calculation of speed and fuel consumption to avoid surprises.
Weather changes can have a similar effect.
“If you’re fighting waves on the way back, you’re going to use more fuel than you did on the way down, and it’s going to take you longer to get to where you have to go,” VanDam said.
“Going to your spot, you’re trying to get there as quick as you can, as safely as you can. But going back, a lot of times you’ll need to give yourself a little extra time, just in case the weather changes and you get some waves, or you need to slow down and manage your fuel consumption.”
Other factors to consider are tidal swings, delays at fuel docks or slow barge traffic in locks. Commercial traffic takes precedent in lock-and-dam operations, and being stuck behind a barge has cost more than a few tournament anglers a paycheck because they didn’t leave any extra “just in case” time on their return trip.
3. Gear Up for Security and Peace of Mind
Whenever he’s planning a long run, VanDam double lock nuts all his motor bolts to prevent any mishaps if bumpy conditions arise. He always leaves with a full tank of gas and then constantly monitors and adjusts performance along the way to manage fuel.
“Depending on where you’re at, the fuel aspect can be a big consideration, because in some of the places we fish, there just isn’t the option to pull in somewhere and get fuel,” VanDam said. “My NITRO® boat has a gigantic fuel tank, but I rely heavily on my Mercury SmartCraft® gauge to track my fuel consumption based on what rpm I’m at and can relate that to how much fuel I have left.
“That mattered significantly just last year at the St. Lawrence River. I was able to make that run, fish all around my areas and make it back, but I certainly had to conserve fuel the last 20 to 25 miles. I just eased off the throttle and cruised and paid attention to how many gallons I was burning.”
A Final Note About Rough Waters
In many cases, the bigger the fishery, the greater the chance you might consider making a long run. And with big water comes the possibility of rough water.
While cutting his angling teeth on the Great Lakes, VanDam said the rules were simple and somber: Learn to run efficiently in rough water or don’t go. Mastering trim settings for various conditions is paramount, and developing an eye for the water plays an ongoing role.
“I’m looking at the waves that are coming and trying to figure out which way I have to move the boat and how I have to maneuver,” VanDam said. “It’s your trim and it’s your throttle control because you might have to ease up to let one big wave go by and then punch it to try to slide through a trough.
“My Mercury 4.6L V8 225hp Pro XS® outboard is absolutely incredible. It has a ton of power, a fantastic hole shot and its fuel efficiency is second to none. Also, these new four-stroke motors are so responsive, it makes it (rough water navigation) safer.”
When deciding whether to make the run or fish close, know your limitations and capabilities, and take every precaution to ensure safe running — there and back.