Let’s talk about fishing the biggest tournament of your life. I don’t care if it’s the Bassmaster Classic or the Friday Night River Rats Championship. It’s the biggest one you’ve ever fished, and you want to win it.
The first, and last, thing that you want to do is not spin out. What I mean by that is don’t let the big one cause you to forget everything you ever learned about tournament bass fishing. Stick with the fundamentals of our sport and remember that no matter how big the event, it’s still a bass fishing tournament. What you’ve learned in the past is still important, and it applies.
One of the most important fundamentals is that this is a sport of positives and negatives. Catching fish is a positive. It helps you catch more fish. Not catching fish is a negative. It makes it harder to catch fish. So, you need to catch fish to stay positive.
In most big events you need to catch quality fish to win, whatever quality might mean on the water you’re fishing. It stands to reason that’s what you’ll target. But what if that doesn’t work? If it gets to be the middle of the day and your livewell is empty, don’t panic and don’t go running around the lake like a crazy man. Don’t spin out.
Instead, pick up your spinning rod, grab a finesse worm and go somewhere and get a bite. The fish you catch probably won’t be enough to win. They may not even measure. They will be enough to get you started, however, and that’s what matters. They’ll boost your confidence, and then you can settle down. You’ll have a chance to catch a couple of better ones.
Look for those better ones by falling back on your practice. If you did it right you either know about a few good spots or you at least know which spots aren’t good, and you know what the fish are doing — moving shallow, moving deep or doing something else. That information is huge if you keep your head on your shoulders.
Regardless of the specifics, you can start fishing with a plan. But you need to control the plan; don’t let the plan control you. Think about what’s most likely going on and attack the lake or river with the same skills that got you to the big one in the first place. Change baits if you need to do so but again, do it with a plan. Think. Don’t spin out.
It’s also important that you not let your pretournament mental attitude set you up for a fall. In the Bassmaster Classic you hear some of the guys say that it’s been their lifelong goal to fish a Classic. “I made it. I’m just happy to be here,” is the way they usually phrase it.
I’ll not criticize them for reaching their goal, but I will say they don’t have a winning attitude. If making the Classic is your goal then you’ve already accomplished it just by showing up. There’s nothing left. I’d rather hear a guy say that his goal is to win the Bassmaster Classic. That tells me he’s still hungry.
And finally, please do not adopt the attitude that you just don’t want to embarrass yourself. “I really hope I catch a couple of keepers so I have something to weigh in. I don’t want to walk across the stage with nothing in my hand.”
Say that and the only thing you’ll do is weigh a couple of fish. You’ll never win. You win by taking chances and being willing to come up short. But that’s not the same as spinning out.