Recently several people have asked me about my offseason and my preparations for the 2009 Bassmaster Classic. It's a fair question. It's also one I have trouble answering.
The best answer I can try to give to the first part of their question is, what offseason? I just got back from a Bass Pro Shop appearance and I'll be doing several TV shows for them. After that I have obligations with the PAA (Professional Anglers Association) and then a writer's conference with Strike King.
That isn't an offseason; it's the other half of my career. And not the second half, either. My professional obligations to my sponsors are every bit as important as my fishing. They don't pay me money to sit at home watching TV. They pay me to help them develop products — and promote those products — that help anglers catch more fish.
My Classic preparations at this point amount to nothing. Every angler has his or her own way of getting ready for competition. Mine is to fish in the now.
By that I mean I don't do anything — except watch the weather and get my boat and tackle ready — before a tournament until the official practice. I've been to the Red River two or three times. I know where it's at and what it looks like. That's all I need to know in October.
Our Classic is in February. What I find there now will have little to do with fishing it next year. The water level will be different, the water color will be different and the current is likely to be different. And, most importantly, the fish will be different. Fall is not early spring to a bass.
If I go now I'll catch a few in certain places. That'll put a thought in my head when I return in February, a thought about where and how I can catch them. That thought isn't likely to be right. In fact, it's most likely going to be wrong.
I don't intentionally sow weeds in my garden. A bad idea or plan is just like a weed. It needs to be removed — or never allowed to get started in the first place — before it takes over.
The same line of thinking applies when it comes to advice. I never ask tackle shops, local anglers or look on the Internet for information about how to catch bass at a particular venue. Who knows if what I hear is good or bad?
I don't know the guys working in the local tackle shop or launching their boats at the ramp. Maybe they know what they're talking about, maybe not. I'm not willing to learn the answer to that the hard way.
My recent appearances with Denny Brauer at a promotional event for Bass Pro Shops are examples of what I'm talking about. We were on Table Rock in Missouri with our sweepstakes winners. It was our job to show them a good time.
The best way to do that was to spend time with them and help them catch a few fish. My time is mine; that's no problem. Time with them wasn't an obligation as much as it was a privilege. But what about the fish?
I hadn't prefished Table Rock and didn't know what the bass were doing. I needed advice, reliable advice. I called my longtime friend, Stacy King. I've known him for years and trust his judgment. I knew he would know what he was talking about.
I did not, however, ask local anglers or tackle shop people for help. Now, they may be good, but I don't know that. I'm not going to let someone plant a bad seed in my head that will make finding bass more difficult. It's hard enough to catch them without starting your search with the wrong idea. No idea is better than a wrong one.
One final thought: This is my way of preparing for an event. I'm the first one to admit that I'm not like most anglers. They'll fish a place all they can, regardless of the season or the conditions. They believe the more information they have the better. That works for them. I'm not criticizing them or their style.
And I am certainly not saying you should prepare like I do. This is an individual sport that every competitor must work through for himself or herself.