Lansing, MI angler Chad Pipkens, has fished 100 tournaments as a professional. He has three Bassmaster Classic appearances, one major tournament win, and 14 Top 10 finishes. Chad has finished in the money 60 times for total winnings of $525,418. After having one of his best years in 2019, the Elite Series angler was really looking forward to 2020. Covid has changed a lot of things but not his passion for professional bass fishing and his family. iBass360's Ryan Said, a former Elite angler himself, sat down with Chad to get his perspective on this crazy season and his future. We are very appreciative that Chad made the time to talk about such a wide range of topics.
iBass360: First things first- are you fully recovered from your ice hockey injuries, and did you continue to play in the 2019-20 season until COVID shut things down?
Chad: Despite some frowning from my wife, I did play some hockey this fall. You can’t play an aggressive game like hockey cautiously or else you are actually more likely to get hurt, but I was more aware of my position on the ice. I tried to skate more in the center or along the boards rather than going aggressively into them. I have taken much harder hits than the one that caused the collar bone injury last year. That injury was just a fluke thing- the way it happened-
but it is mostly healed. The collarbone is still crooked and there are still screws in there, and I do still feel some pain from time to time, like during extended drives in the car, but I don’t notice it when I am fishing which is the important thing!
iBass360: What position do you play and should the Red Wings consider you as part of their rebuilding? Throwing sheephead on the ice could become a thing!
Chad: I play wing or center depending on what the team needs. The Red Wings should definitely consider me! Lake Erie definitely needs to be “relieved” of a few sheephead!
iBass360: 2019 was one of your better years. You qualified for the Classic and had five top 10’s including a really great performance with what may have been a PB largemouth at Texas Fest. What made 2019 the season it was?
Chad: Because of the hockey injury, when the season started I was not expecting a lot. My first top ten at Hartwell, which happened soon after the injury, I was more relaxed because my goal was just to catch a fish and get points. It’s funny, you have zero nerves when you’re not expecting much. I could only drive the boat with one hand and I could only fish with a spinning rod and even that was painful. I had to be extra careful driving the boat so I was only going 45 mph down the lake and guys were blowing by me.
The injury forced me to fish slower and not get caught up in running around. I fished slow and consistent, hitting areas very carefully, and multiple times. I also mixed in some new but close by stuff each day. The experience helped me make good decisions and it worked out.
I have done well in the Opens for many years, won points titles and such. I am always more relaxed in those events and just go fishing. I think that finally carried into the Elites for me in 2019. In previous years on the Elites, on tournament day, I would just fish areas that I got bites in during practice, rather than making free-wheel decisions. In 2019 I treated the tournament as an extension of practice and I just kept making adjustments and kept “practicing”. This helped me fish relaxed during the tournament.
iBass360: As you transitioned from a “Northern” angler and fished more in the South, what came easy and what was more difficult to achieve in rounding out your angling style?
Chad: I had to learn to continue to fish my strengths even though I was in new types of waters in the south. You tend to think that if you go to a new place, you have to learn all new things that work there, and that’s not the case most of the time. You obviously have to learn some new things, but you can still fish your strengths. 2016 was one of my worst years. It was the year that everything was flooded at every tournament we fished. Flipping dominated the headlines, so that is what I tried to do. The thing I did not do was remember there are always fish off the bank,
even if they are not deep. I’ve always liked to be off the bank and I should have done more of that. I like to fish non-visible targets, and I needed to remember that a bass is a bass. There are certain things they like no matter where they live. Things might look different lake to lake, north vs. south, but the fish generally behave the same and I had to learn to keep fishing my strengths, and learn how to adapt my strengths to new bodies of water instead of thinking I had to learn whole new techniques.
iBass360: Knowing how competitive you are, what will you focus on in 2020 to increase your qualifications for the final day championship rounds?
Chad: My focus is just to carry the mindsets, the practices, the disciplines, etc. that I found successful in 2019 over to 2020. I was really happy with my progress and how I was able to apply things I have been learning for years. I just want to push that farther in 2020. In doing that, my goal is to be relevant in the AOY discussion. I want to be in the mix throughout the season.
iBass360: You’re a new dad. I would imagine on the one hand it gets you pumped to succeed for the family, but on the other, makes it harder to be on the road as much as you are. How are you finding the fishing and family balance? Any tips to share?
Chad: It is totally different leaving the house for sure. So far I have only had to do it twice because of COVID. It is 100% the hardest thing I have ever done. To be honest, the first time, on the trip down to Florida, there were a few tears driving away. I am not 100% sure of all of the reasons but some are obvious and I have ideas on the others. There is definitely added motivation and it really helps with perspective. As long as you have some kind of financial stability it helps you to fish more relaxed. Last year I fished more relaxed because of the broken collar bone. This year it will be all about the baby streak I hope! This whole game is so mental!
iBass360: Covid has turned the season upside down. The good news seems to be there are four smallmouth locations and a return to Lake Fork for the Elites and a trip to Oneida for the Eastern Open Series. I see this as a positive for you, what are your thoughts on the schedule?
Chad: You never know when you are going to catch them, but I love what I see this year on the schedule. My last win was at St. Clair in 2014 and I have had several chances since then. I feel like there have been at least three events where I’ve been on the fish to win. I feel like I’m due!
The reshuffling of the schedule has made this the first time in a long time, maybe ever, where we have actually had a legitimate half and half season- half north and half south. The early northern swing is going to eliminate some guys right away. This is my best chance to be relevant in the AOY discussion. I felt good going into 2019 and this feels even better to be honest. The guys who always catch them shallow flipping in the prespawn and spawn, they’re going to be out of luck this year. As far as fishing in the fall in the south, I don’t have a lot of experience doing that, but the few times I have, I’ve enjoyed it and had some success, so I am looking forward to it.
iBass360: Your first 2020 tournaments were a mixed bag. Even though it probably seems like a lifetime ago, how do you break down what you did right and what you want to improve for the rest of the season?
Chad: The first two were good finishes. I felt like I survived Florida which is always a win. Florida lakes are so unique. You can get in a hole in a hurry, but I liked how it worked out. At Toho and the St. Johns I felt like I was catching more fish than most people, but I never got the real big
Florida bass to eat. You need a monster in Florida to kick you up in the standings. Because of the quantity of fish I was catching I felt I was putting myself in the right areas, just never got that 7-pound plus fish to go. My goal is consistency and I feel like I did that in the first two events. I got in good areas, had a couple things going, and I did not have to run all over. So I was able to fish my strengths.
The Classic is a different event. At the Classic I was fishing to win. I was fishing deeper clumps of eel grass, places where bigger females were staging, and I was getting the right sized bites in practice, but not a lot of bites. Unfortunately, the cold front killed that bite. The active fish were in the shallower grass as we learned.
iBass360: How have you kept yourself sharp during the “quarantine”. Michigan was one of the tougher states to get on the water for a while. How did you deal with the break?
Chad: There was not a lot you could do in Michigan during March and April when fishing was locked down. As soon as we were able, I was out fishing at least once a week. I did get a lot of running in. I ran 50 days in a row to help build stamina. I just kept hustling with my work (painting business) as much as I could. Before the Eufaula event I headed down south to another lake to essentially practice my practicing. I wanted to get in the groove of practicing all day in the heat, make sure all my equipment was in tip top shape, get used to reading the graph a lot, and so on.
iBass360: A lot of businesses have suffered during this time. Some have flourished. How have your sponsors held it together during this time?
Chad: Right now everything is good. I don’t think we will really know the effects until 2021. Every sponsor I’ve talked to is still on board. What is interesting is that more people are buying fishing gear now. Sales were way up during the pandemic but we will have to see how it plays out long term. I know I’ve never seen as many people out on St. Clair this time of year. So with the pandemic, more people are fishing. I guess we will have to see if they stay fishing as we start to see the economic effects play out.
iBass360: Do you think there will be a lasting effect on tournament fishing from all this? More weighing and measuring on the boat? Less weigh-ins? Or do you expect things to eventually return to more closely meet our hopes for future events?
Chad: I believe we will get back to normal. People have always liked to see fish at the weigh-ins. I feel like that is a really important part for our fans. There is something about holding up big fish that draws people in. People love seeing the fish and we have been so careful in preserving the resource. I think we will have increased awareness as far as shaking hands, autographs, and
things like that for a little while, and maybe even more so during the cold season, but I think we will get back to normal before too long.
iBass360: You are one of the longer term guys in the Elite Series now with all the shifting, but you are still very much an “up and comer”. What are your goals for 2020, 2021 and beyond?
Chad: My two main goals are to be relevant in the AOY discussion and continue to make the Classics. I want to continue to be consistent and continue to improve my consistency. My goal is not to win every event, but I do want put myself in position to be successful and if I do that, I will be in position to win more. I was able to do that at Guntersville last year- I was around the fish to win. I would also like to learn things a little quicker. Being good is not just about learning, but about how quickly you can learn and adapt that learning, so I want to improve on that speed. You don’t need to go into every event with a giant swimbait and target only monsters. I want to target places big fish live, and target populations of fish.
iBass360: With quite a few Elite Series and Eastern Open series events under your belt, what advice would you pass on to young anglers today who want to be in your shoes in the coming years?
Chad: Fish your strengths. Learn from those around you and network, even as a co-angler. One of the major things that helped kick off my career was that I had the opportunity to travel with former FLW Tour pro Shad Schenck for two years. I practiced with him and fished events as a
co-angler. I learned more in the first two years practicing with Shad and fishing as co-angler than I ever have in one period of time.
You also have to have a good source of income, dependable work, while you are coming uo as a fisherman. Don’t forgo some kind of post-high school education that can help you find a decent paying, reliable job. You have to be financially able to stay in the game long enough to be successful- because very, very few succeed right off. As anyone remotely connected with the sport will tell you, fishing competitively, even at a mid-level, is very expensive. It is even more so at the top. You have to set yourself up for success and stability financially.
iBass360: You had a great tournament recently at the Elite event on Lake Eufaula. Tell us about how that event went, and how you worked on some of your goals.
Chad: To start with, I had zero experience on Eufaula. I had driven down in the early spring but none of that was relevant because of the Covid delay. I had practiced for a spawn related event and now we were there in early summer. The biggest thing I can say is, if I had known before what I knew after Day 2, I think I could have won. It kind of goes back to what we talked about before- the importance of the speed at which you learn things.
Eufaula is a “current” lake with ledges, and also lots of brush and timber. So fish act differently than they do on TVA lakes (Guntersville, Kentucky, etc.). On TVA lakes, when they are not pulling water, you can still graph the fish, but they are harder to catch. On Eufaula, when they were not pulling water you could not graph them on the ledges. You were wasting time every day trying to graph the ledges. I knew what to look for, they just weren’t there. I learned that the majority of the fish move from the key ledge areas to brush or timber when they don’t pull current.
Even after spending 30-plus hours graphing in practice, on Day 1 I still spent 2-3 hours graphing.
It was a timing thing. There was one particular area I marked in practice that had no fish on it, but I happened to come back to it in the tournament at the right time, early in the day, and it was loaded even though I never marked a single fish in practice. The reason this was successful relates back to what I previously mentioned about flexibility and fishing the moment, not just
fishing where you caught fish in practice. In one particular area, I had caught some real nice fish in practice. On Day 1 I did not get any bites there, but after I started moving around and looking with my Humminbird 360 and Mega Side Imaging, I noticed some brush and was able to catch fish out of it. On day 2 in that same area, they were gone, but I located them on another pile of brush in the vicinity. Somewhere on Day 2 it all clicked and I had them dialed in. I just wish I knew it going into Day 1! Always learning, just need to do it faster!