This is not a story about a new technique or a killer lure. It's much more important than that. Rather, it is about choices — how to make the right ones and how to learn from our mistakes.Do you stay with a game plan, or follow your instincts? Do you move or stay put? Do you switch lures or stick with the ones that have been working? Quite simply, do you take what the water gives you, or not?Like a riddle where no choice seems like the right one, an angler must weigh two seemingly contradictory options. The first is to accept what the conditions dole out, make the most of that opportunity and learn from it. Or, resist the temptation to follow a traditional path, step out of the box and learn from it.
The answers are rarely obvious. When the situation makes one choice or the other abundantly clear, the results are easier to accept. Second-guessing comes into play when the choices are less distinct (which is most of the time), and when an angler doesn't correctly evaluate the situation.Unless a fisherman is merely content with fishing and not catching, this daily decision affects everyone — from weekend warriors to professional fishermen.
Here's how Tim Horton of Alabama and Davy Hite of South Carolina, BASS Angler-of-the-Year winners in 2000 and 2002, respectively, deal with the daily dilemmas of bass fishing.Know the water's history as well as its current conditions"If you look at the history of a body of water over the years, you can get a good feel for what to expect," notes Hite. "Don't set your expectations too low, but you need to be realistic. I believe in swinging for the fences, but there are times when all you need is a base hit."I like to know a few things about a lake or river beforehand," Hite continues. "Is there vegetation? Is there wood or standing timber? What's the water clarity? Then I go into my standard routine. The seasonal pattern will tell me where bass should be and/or where they're headed. So I just go out and do my own thing."Along these lines, Hite is careful to acquire only the basic information and then avoid any other dock talk like the plague.Establish realistic goals
Early in his career, Hite received some valuable advice offered by veteran pro Guido Hibdon."I was asking him questions I'm sure he had been asked a thousand times before," recalls Hite. "Then Guido told me something that just blew my mind. He said that it took just 9 pounds a day to become BASS Angler of the Year!
"You think, 'Gosh, I can do that! I can catch 10 pounds any day of the week!' But when you zero one day, the next day you have to catch 20 pounds. If you zero two days, you need a 30-pound day. Then if you really get to gambling — having to roll the dice in desperate times — you dig yourself into an impossible hole."
Recognize what you've found
Although Horton says he never wants to "fall into the trap of being satisfied," he also recognizes the fine line between being resourceful and just plain stubborn.Unfortunately, one of Horton's most vivid memories of stubbornness occurred at the 2000 Bassmaster Classic in Chicago. Unable to get any action from his primary spot in Lake Michigan, Horton refused to join the crowds of competitors elsewhere, opting instead to run up the Illinois River to unfamiliar water. As a result, he ended up zeroing all three days.To avoid such disasters, Horton learned that his first instinct should be to expand whatever water he has found, even if that means fishing near a crowd. He makes a habit of understanding what he has already found in an area before deciding whether to go somewhere else.Neither Hite nor Horton would discourage anyone from making changes, but the emphasis is squarely on doing so with a clear purpose. In other words, you need to be running to something, not just away from something."The worst thing you can do is think they're not in one part of the lake and move to another part. If you have more than one day to fish, go experiment somewhere else the next day. But try not to run too much," advises Horton."My worst tournaments are when I'm running a lot. If I have confidence in certain areas and try to expand on them — this is when I do best."The diabolical nature of this eternal struggle between taking what you've got or wanting more leaves one undeniable fact: There is always a flip side.While Hite and Horton caution against running, hunkering down on a spot can be equally destructive. More often than not, this is the reason local anglers rarely beat pros on their home waters.Avoid emotional attachments to spots
"This is the total key to success or failure for a tournament fisherman — or any fisherman. Here's what happens with a local angler or someone who tends to fish the same bodies of water: He finds an area that becomes personal to him. Instead of moving with the fish and going with the flow, he tends to have too much confidence or faith in that area. Or, he's afraid that if he leaves a good place, someone else will come in and catch the fish," counsels Hite.
"It has happened to me right here on Lake Murray in South Carolina. You know what the potential is for a certain place. Even though it's not happening, you try to wait it out. If the bite doesn't happen, don't take it personally — move on."
The advantage for tournament fishermen comes at the end of each day, when their decisions to stay or run are either validated or refuted by hard, cold statistics. Unlike a recreational angler who can fool himself into thinking he took everything the water could offer, tournament anglers have their results documented.What the weekender can take from that example is learning to resist the notion that there is always another bigger, better, more productive area just around the next bend. A practice method that Horton uses to blunt this aspect of human nature is spending entire days never going any place where he has caught fish before."This goes against the grain of taking what the water will give you — by not going to places where you know you can catch fish. To me, this is the only way you're ever going to find new places," says Horton.In Hite's opinion, this resistance to fishing familiar water is precisely the reason he is able to win tournaments, while others are not. Although Hite is quick to point out that his preference has "burned" him at times, it reflects his personality on the water. Other anglers seem to be very good at fishing around people and taking what the water gives them, admits Hite, but his comfort zone is clearly going the other way.
Heed your instincts
Even so, Hite listens to his inner voice, especially when the fish are saying the same thing. A case in point is the 2001 Bassmaster Tour event on Louisiana's Red River, when Hite caught two bass while waiting to lock downriver on the second day.As he sat in the lock, he wrestled with his options. Should he stay with his carefully constructed game plan, or shelve it for what could be a fluke?When I went into the lock, I was saying to myself, 'I need to stay, I need to stay.' I already had my game plan, but the fish were saying, 'Hey, we're here. There's enough of us to do well.'
"I wanted to resist that 'take what the water will give you' concept. I already had this big game plan to run 70 miles and catch them in that creek. Then when I got in the lock, I talked to Stephen Browning, told him I had just caught a couple and it could happen right here. He said, 'Man, I had a terrible day yesterday — I need a big bag.'
"Well, I didn't need that so much. I had a decent first day, and I felt that if I could catch 10 pounds a day on the Red River, I would be right there and maybe win this thing. That's why I chose to turn around and go back."
In taking this process one step at a time and recognizing that each decision may not be completely obvious, a fisherman slows things down enough to at least question his decisions. In doing so, he can see if what he is doing is moving him closer to his goals.In Hite's predicament on the Red River, his ultimate decision was based on goals, not a game plan. By correctly assessing the situation, he saw how consistency was a better move than going for big limits. He knew what he wanted to accomplish, and then took the best route to get there.Some might argue that taking what the water gives you demands good instincts as much as good decisions. No argument there. Listening to your inner voice is often the best way to sort through the confusion. Of course, the trick is making sure it's your instincts doing the talking, not your ego.