"Staying positive during the tournament is the thing," says Bryan Talmadge, winner of over $50,000 as a co-angler in BASS competitions. "But that doesn't just happen. It's your responsibility to do the right things. You make yourself positive."
That sounds good on paper, but what are the right things? What specific things does this Alabama angler do to keep himself in the right frame of mind? The answer comes in three parts.
1. Don't waste your practice time
According to Talmadge, practice should be about building confidence, not patterning the bite or finding the big ones.
Try to catch a few bass on each of several different types of lures and rigs. Catch 'em shallow and deep, with hard baits and with plastics, or with anything else that seems appropriate. That way you'll start the tournament feeling you can catch fish no matter where your pro fishes or what may happen.
"Hey man, you're with some of the best anglers in the world. At an Elite Series event you're going to spend the day around bass. There's no question about that. They all know how to find fish. Take advantage of that. Relax and have a good time. No angler — not even KVD when he's hot — can catch them all. You'll do real good collecting the leavings off their table."
2. Respect your pro, his water and his boat
Getting along with your pro is important. That relationship starts the night before you launch. Talmadge asks about bringing ice, water, drinks, snacks and anything else that might be needed. "That helps right from the get-go," he says.
It's also important to have realistic expectations of what your pro will, and will not, do. These men are fishing for a lot of money. Maybe a slot at the Classic is on the line. They aren't going to give you the first cast or position the boat to your advantage. Don't expect it and you won't be disappointed when it doesn't happen. They aren't your weekend fishing partner.
You won't get blocked out if you stay away from their water. Never cast in front of them or try to throw to an obvious target before they can. Don't try to compete with them. In the first place you can't, at least not successfully. And, in the second place, they aren't your competition anyway, the other co-anglers are.
Don't spill coffee on their carpet or spit sunflower hulls around their boat. And don't even think about messing around in their storage lockers or tackle cases. (The one thing professional anglers have in common is organization. Their livelihood depends upon it. Don't touch anything unless you're told to.)
3. Learn to cast
Talmadge recommends anyone wanting to fish a high-level professional tournament as a co-angler practice their casting skills every day until they can throw any bait, on any rig, from any angle, under any conditions, with any rod and reel combination, accurately.
"That's more important than many guys realize. Even pros with a reputation for fishing slow move fast," he says. "There's always good water to fish but it's hard to get to. Your casting angle will usually be bad and there's stuff in the way most of the time.
"Learn to hit the good spots when the wind's blowing, when you're in a hurry and when you have a bad angle. You should be especially good at skipping lures and throwing from behind as the boat is leaving a target. Most of your casts will be that way. Accurate casting is the way to catch the fish they don't. And there's no better way to stay positive than to catch fish."
A positive mental attitude doesn't just happen. Take responsibility for it and your success from the back of the boat will improve.