First of all: welcome to the community, and welcome to the world of tournaments As kind of a long-term player, I can sense your frustration - as I've been at the same exact point about 2 or 3 years ago. And most of the times I still am @Tapatalgud made some good points in his post, and I'd like to help with clearing some things up from my personal experience as best as I can.
First of all, like @Tapatalgud already mentioned, there are a lot of variables in this game:
The first one being the weather conditions. I guess you already figured that one out by now, but apart from the different types of weather (sunny, cloudy, etc.), there's different air and water temperatures, wind directions and wind intensities. E.g. when I practiced for the carp tourney last year in the UK, there's a sunny day with west wind of 1,1 m/s, and there's a sunny day with west wind of 1,0 m/s. Those two conditions are NOT THE SAME. The info you gather while practicing at the one day will not work on the other day, as fish behaviour will be different. Same goes for a temperature difference - even if it's just 1°C.
Old fish AI: fishing by the book
Before they introduced the new fish AI from the european lakes, and incorporated them to the american waterways, it used to be enough to go by the ubersheet, find out the right timezones for the different spots at the exact weather conditions, and find the right lure / hook / depth or retrieval combination. Which is why I used to prepare for the tourneys by setting up a spreadsheet like this one.
First I used to copy the trophy and unique times stated in the ubersheet, then I would find the exact weather conditions and time for the tourney (by looking at the tourney info and / or youtube videos from the year before), and then I would sit with my ass at the spots, and try to confirm the timezones / spots. What spots are there? At what time do they deliver trophys / uniques? How many do they deliver? Just 1? 2 or 3? What are the respawn-times? What baits and hook sizes can you use to minnow just the target species - especially the big ones?
When the sheet was done, and I was able to replicate everything 2 or 3 times, I used to be confident about it, and most of the times be able to reproduce it in the tourneys as well. With the right setup and right rotation, there was little to no RNG involved. Sometimes you were just unlucky with the size of the uniques / trophys, and there's not much you can do about it. But apart from that, you were in a pretty good spot for the tourney all in all.
New fish AI: more variables?
Now since they introduced the new AI, a lot of that stuff doesn't work anymore. I don't know how big the changes are when it comes to the timezones and spots. The more experienced players may correct me and share their info - if they like. From my personal experience, most of them still seem to work, some don't. The respawn times seem to have changed from 30 mins in-game to 45 mins in-game. Which is why you sometimes see lower scores all in all in the comps.
What has come to my mind, especially since that last LMBAC is that there are even more variables to the game. I don't know if they existed before, or if they're new. But like @Tapatalgud already said:
When I was practicing for the 1st qualifier a couple of days ago, I used to do several runs at the EXACT SAME weather conditions and times. Some sessions, my setup with the jighead and different colored worms would work like a charm. In other sessions, I wouldn't catch hardly any bass with my worms, but the crayfish or newts would work great. I'd try bassjigs, casting spoons, etc. and not catch any decent bass on it. Which is why I wouldn't bring them to the qualifier. Then in the qualifier, the worms failed, and I couldn't get anything decent until the last 45 mins or so. Then, the worms would work great again.
Since I'm always playing the tourneys with a couple of my friends, we usually keep each other updated with what works and what doesn't. We always enter the tourney at the same time, and most of the times we even end up in the same chat room. Still, we'd get different results regarding the spots / lures / lure colours. One of my friends used to catch 2 or 3 trophys in a row at spot #2 with the white worm, while I couldn't get hardly any trophys at that spot. And if I did, it was the acid green worm that worked way better for me. Which is why I don't think that the fish's preferences are linked to the server / chat room you're in. They seem to be randomized for every player.
Basic tips for tourneys
So, after the long talking (sorry ), to come to a conclusion, let me share my thoughts on what I think you can do to improve your chances at the tourneys:
Find out the exact conditions and timezones for the tourney
Yeah, you figured that out by now, I guess. Have a look at the tourney info, and if in doubt, go check youtube for last years' conditions. From what I've seen so far, they're the same 90% of the time. Thanks to the user generated competitions, you can now (finally!) set up a comp with the exact time frame yourself, and don't have to forward the time to day 17 or some crazy shit. Like, spend 30k on travel cost, repairs, and fishing licenses, before you can even do a decent practice run. Thank god for that. But keep in mind that you have to pay close attention to the temperature and wind conditions, in order to get the perfect day.
Gather as many spots as you can
- Make sure to use any resource you can think of. YouTube is always a quick way of gathering spots, like you already mentioned. Fast forward videos and streams from last years' tourney first. But also look for competition and leveling / farming guides that target the same species.
- Don't rely solely on youtube. Look what other people at the lake are catching, and find out where they are catching it.
- Talk to people. Most people in the FP community like to help each other out, and share info. Up to a certain point, of course. But it doesn't hurt to ask. I've met some great guys through this game, that helped me a lot. And training for comps and tourneys is just so much more efficient (and fun!) if you play with 3 or 4 other guys, and share the info you gathered. Which is part of why you always see the VFF, FPU, and CP guys on top. And if it wasn't for @kylerobz (what a great guy BTW!) and his help while practicing together for the carp tourney, I wouldn't have made 3rd place at all. But always be sure to give what you take. Nobody likes greedy people that just interrogate you for info you gathered over a couple of years, and never give back anything.
- Try to confirm the spots you got from the different sources, and set buoys. Name the buoys with all the info that the game doesn't save on its own. Like the time of day, depth, hook size, etc.
- Do your own testing. I can't emphasize this enough. Like @Tapatalgud said, you can't always replicate the stuff you see in streams, and think it will get you a top 3 position. Go to the lakes, bring a rod-pod, look for fish activity at the lake, cast out a couple of rods, and look whats beneath it. You might find spots that aren't on youtube yet. Most of the guys that constantly win comps and tourneys won't share all of their secrets. And who would blame them? The spots you find on your own might be the spots that bring you a top 10 position. The more spots you got, the better your options are.
Set-up and balance your equipment
As a nerd, this is one of the parts about it I like the most Find a setup that works for you, and you feel confident with. Since all the comps and tourneys are all about time, you should always go as heavy as possible. But don't overdo it. Sure, you'll have no trouble reeling in a small fish with your big-ass setup. But some fish might get scared if you throw a Zeus with a 20 kg braid line at them. Find out what you can expect at the lake. How big do the fish get? What other fish might bite on your bait / lure? What baits do they like? And which retrieval method do you prefer?
For instance, putting a hornet swarm on your jigwinner might help with keeping the drill easy for trout. But the recovery might be too high to do a slow stop & go above ground with a 4g nano spinner. Or, the bass caster with a counsellor 3000 S might be perfect if you wanna constant reel on speed 1, and do twitching while keeping the bait just above the ground with a big bass jig. But it might be too quick / slow for a stop & go with a jighead and worm.
Try out a couple of setups in Texas, save presets of what you feel confident with, then take them to the lake where the tourney is at, and see how they perform. When practice is done, you can bring a well stacked rod bag to the tourney. Like, have a jigwinner prepared for topwater lures, have a casting rod prepared with a jighead and worm, have another rod ready with a texas rig, one with a spinner, etc. etc. Different lure weights / types behave differently of different setups, and it will speed up your performance in the tourney a lot, if you just need to switch rods and spots - in opposition to re-equipping different lure types, and finding out that the bait is too heavy, or the reel is too quick / slow.
Same goes for bobber fishing. In case you need different depths and / or hook sizes / bait at different spots / times, just prepare one setup for each case.
Switch it up, be ready to adapt, and learn to fish by intuition / feeling
Like we mentioned above, there are a couple of other variables to the game than just the weather conditions. The white worm might work perfectly in your training sessions, but it might not work at all in the tourney. Even at the same exact conditions / spots. In that case, you need to be ready to adapt. Having gathered a lot of spots helps. If one doesn't work, try the next one. Having prepared different setups might help. Can't catch anything on the worm? Get your bass jig setup out. Changing lure colours might help. Can't catch anything on the white worm? Try the acid green one. Some guys on the forums have said different in the last years, but from my personal experience changing the colour of the lure instead of changing the type of lure is sometimes enough to get fish biting again.
The more you play the game, the more you play competitions and tourneys, the more you'll develop a feeling for when a spot is active, a lure is performing well, or it's not. Sometimes you need to be stubborn and patient in order to win, and sometimes you need to realize that you're wasting time by looking at your bobber, or throwing the same lure at the same spot for half an hour, not catching anything decent. You need to find the right balance. And it's only experience that'll get you there. Which brings me to my last point:
If you're like me, you'll forget a lot of stuff I think nobody has all the spots and timezones in his head. Take notes of what works and what doesn't. Save buoys at the lakes, and name them with all the info you might need next time. Have a notepad by your side when you're fishing, or record videos of your qualifiers to be able to re-watch them next year.
And don't get too frustrated if you finish somewhere in the 300s in your first tourney. There's 800 people from all over the world playing it. And more than half of them play it for the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time. Keep notes of this year's tourney, and base your info for next year on that. If you can keep your motivation up, and do it again, you'll see yourself improve by the time.
And to finally come to an end with my long-ass pseudo-knowledge:
Hope this helps anyways. Tight lines and good luck!