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My wife and I started bass fishing on a regular basis last summer. While we enjoyed being out on the water, we struggled to consistently catch fish. We spent the entire summer fishing by trial and error based upon all of the misconceptions that had been passed on to us by every friend and family "professional" angler. We knew that there had to be more to consistently catching bass, but had no idea where to begin.
One day we were flipping through the channels on the TV and saw the The Bassmasters. From there we logged onto Bassmaster.com and had our first look at this whole new world of fishing. We immediately became members. We read every book and article and watched every video we could get our hands on. We also subscribed to every fishing magazine that came our way.
We spent the entire winter learning as much as possible about bass fishing. We also spent the winter upgrading our equipment to better compliment all of the new tips and techniques we were learning about. We replaced our small fishing boat with a used bass boat so we could start fishing bigger bodies of water.
Near the end of winter I felt pretty confident about my newfound knowledge, and I wanted to start fishing in tournaments. Through Bassmaster.com, I contacted our state's Federation Nation president. He then put me in contact with a local club in the area. When I first started talking with the local club president, I was very hesitant to join. He told me about all the different benefits of becoming a member and that it would speed up the learning curve.
I just wanted to become a member so I could enter tournaments, not to learn from them. I just spent an entire winter studying all of the different aspects of bass fishing. I also thought the cost of becoming a member was too expensive. I wanted to move forward but was worried about all the things I didn't know.
After several long conversations with the club president of the Green Bay Bassmasters, I joined just in time to fish in the club's first yearly tournament. Now was time to put all my learning into action. I came up with a game plan for how to fish the tournament and executed it to perfection. The only problem was the fish must not have known where they were supposed to be. And I didn't take into account that reading about a technique is not the same as performing the technique.
I struggled all day to try and control the boat in the wind and the waves. I spent eight hours fishing faster and harder than I had ever fished before in my life, and I didn't catch a single fish. That was alright, though. I had a month to prepare for our next tournament. My wife and I spent the next month pre-fishing for my next tournament with little to no success.
As I left the launch, this time with a nonboater, I felt confident with my game plan. As we fished my first spot, I was still fighting to keep control of my boat in the wind and current as the nonboater landed a 4.74-pound smallmouth. As we continued, I lost four lures to snags, docks and overhead wires. The nonboater landed two more smallmouth. I again finished the day without a single fish while the nonboater finished third and took the big bass prize with his big smallmouth. Even after all that, I was still too proud to start asking for help.
I kept fishing with little to no improvement and was getting more discouraged every time I went out. Everything I read about and watched was not working. I felt like I had just wasted a lot of time and money for nothing. It got to the point where I was ready to just give up.
After an absolutely horrid day of fishing, I finally made a call to the club president for help. About a week or so later he took me out fishing. It was the greatest day of fishing I had ever had. We caught about 30 smallmouth, including a 3.5-pounder I landed. After that day, I threw my pride aside and realized that I needed more education. It wasn't that what I learned was wrong; I just needed an interpreter to help me understand what I had learned.
My fishing needed a little adjusting and direction and that is what I found in the Federation Nation. Once I allowed myself to be helped by the other members in our club, my learning curve was drastically shortened. I have learned more in one month than I have in the past year. They have helped me out with everything from equipment, seasonal patterns, finding fish on new water, techniques, boat control and attitude just to name a few things. Although I still have a lot to learn, my level of success and enjoyment is better than it has ever been.
After that month of learning, I was able to start fishing with confidence in my own ability. I started to build off the tips and techniques they shared with me to develop my own style. And most of all I had a much clearer perspective on what it actually takes to put together patterns and consistently catch fish.
For the next club tournament, my only goal was to weigh in one fish. That may sound like a simple goal, but this was a lake that I had only fished once before. In the past two tournaments, I had a chance to pre-fish and I did not catch a single fish. This time as I was driving to the tournament, I did not come up with a master plan to follow. I was going to wait to make my decisions until I saw the lake conditions. I kept it simple and was able to achieve my goal. I was able to bring back a largemouth bass that weighed 2.43 pounds. As small of a goal as that was, it felt like I had just won the Classic.
Looking back, it's hard for me to understand why I was so concerned about the cost of the Federation Nation after I had invested so much in equipment. And the investment in the Federation Nation has been the one with the greatest return.
Now that I have seen the value of belonging to a club, I will always be a member. I have come a long way in a short amount of time, and I'm excited to continue to my education. A club is a great place to take your experiences, combine them with other people's experiences and drastically shorten the learning curve. It is also a great place to go to find out that you are not alone. Other people experience the same things that you do — the success, excitement and the struggles of bass fishing.
I look forward to the day that I might be able to help a fellow angler out the same way that our club president helped me out.
There is certainly enough information out there for you to learn on your own, but joining the Federation Nation is a much more productive, fun and relaxing way to learn. It does not matter if you are a weekend angler or fishing competitively, you will improve your enjoyment and success. For me, the Federation Nation was the translator for how to put what I read and saw on TV into action. Along with learning about bass fishing, you develop great friendships with people who share our passion.