During my 10 years of serving as a press observer for Bassmaster Classics and Superstars events, my most memorable day in a boat with the pros was June 12, 1993. That's the day I watched Denny Brauer overcome the tough fishing conditions on the Illinois River to catch a limit and win the Bassmaster Superstars tournament.
While I dozed off a couple of times and had trouble deciding whether to eat my ham sandwich or an apple for my next snack break, Brauer kept pitching his jig to any visible cover throughout the day.
I was amazed at how he kept his concentration after two days of line watching on a fishery where bites were scarce for everyone. I recalled Brauer had one brain freeze when he threw a Carolina rig, but after losing the lure in a snag, he got his mind right again and stuck with his trusty jig the rest of the day.
"That was a case when I knew I wasn't going to get a lot of bites and that every bite was a key bite," recalls Brauer. "If you have a lot of options, you can make a lot of changes; but if you don't have a lot of options, then it is time to buckle down on what you have and try to get every bite you can out of the situation and hope for the best."
Staying mentally sharp is often the edge the pros count on to win a four-day Bassmaster Elite Series marathon since all of the contenders are highly skilled anglers. "It is very tough [to stay mentally sharp] because there are so many things that can distract from it," says Brauer. "The physical part of a four-day event may not seem that tough to people outside the sport, but once you participate in a week-long event like that it is grueling." The three practice days are the most important part of the week in getting him prepared mentally and physically for the tournament.
"When we get into this part of the year when there are extremely warm temperatures and very long practice days, you really have to be careful about not burning yourself out. You have to give the best effort you can in practice so that you have got something left mentally and physically for the tournament. So you have to pace yourself a little bit."
Brauer emphasizes avoiding the mental highs and lows that occur throughout a multiple-day event. "Keep your work ethic the same," he says. "Work as hard as you can and try to make as good of decisions as you can." Breaking up the monotony can help you stay mentally sharp. "Every 15 minutes you need to ask yourself if you are in a robot mode or if there is something different you should be doing," he suggests. "If it seems like you are in a trance and just going through the motions with the clock ticking away, maybe it's time to gut out a situation or time to make changes and make something happen."
Setting goals also helps keep you in the right frame of mind in tough times. "When I fish a tournament, my goals are to win, so I am not real concerned about catching a limit of fish to look good or save face," says Brauer. "So my time frame is a little bit different than some people, and I am willing to take more gambles during a day." Concentrating too hard can cause you to lose that mental edge though. Brauer believes experience can help you from falling into this trap.
"Be willing to trust your instincts," he advises. "The more time you spend on the water the more you realize it is those gut feelings that can turn into very successful days."