Becoming a stronger competitor

Undeserving is not a word you want in your vocabulary, especially directed toward yourself. I’m not proud to admit it but “undeserving” is how I feel about my effort at the last two Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens presented by Allstate.

For both events I spent several pre-practice days on the water prior to the start of official practice, but I strongly believe I did not put in enough sun-up to sun-down days and my performance was affected. Tournament fishing at the top is not an eight-to-five job; it is a 14-plus hours a day commitment. And those who make that commitment tend to excel come tournament time. Anglers who qualify for the Elites do not qualify by taking practice easy; if they did just enough to get by on the Open level and still were able to qualify, I doubt they will last much past their Rookie year at the Elite level.

Conditions change every day. The only way to understand how the fish will behave is to be on tournament waters while a particular scenario plays out; experiencing that scenario playing out in different areas of the lake (up river, mid-lake, south-end) is even better. What do I mean? Say water is being pulled from the lake. The fish down south by the intake area will respond to the current and water dropping in one way (whether they move shallow, hug to certain structure, position on a certain side of structure, or even shutdown feeding), while fish up north in the same system will react in their own way to the same event. Where do you want to be when water is being pulled from the impoundment? That varies from lake to lake, river to river. That is why the more time and experience you have on a specific body of water, the better.

If an anglers has been in a similar scenario (water being pulled) on another lake, they can develop a sense of confidence in what bass will automatically do when water is pulled and will try to apply that situation to all bass in all other lakes but you take a major risk assuming you can apply experience on other bodies of water to the water and fish you are in the process of dissecting. Yes, you should use prior experience on other lakes to develop strategies to approach the current lake you are tackling, but your mind needs to be more open and hungry to learn. And I strongly believe you should assume the fish will behave and react nothing like the fish did in prior situations.

However, more than my experience on the water, the mental aspect of not giving it my all in practice affects my game time performance most. Being on the water during a tournament and knowing that I did not give my all in practice weighs heavily in the back of my mind when I should have peace and be focused solely on getting the job done. Instead, I think to myself, “So-and-so outworked me, and I do not deserve to catch a solid sack.”

The mental aspect of giving your all in practice is crucial.  If you did not give your all in practice, that lack of effort can play heavily in your mind come game day, whether you are fishing well or your performance heads south. The thought will be: Do I deserve to do this good or what would be the outcome if I had pushed a little harder in practice?

Spending the full day on the water is part of keeping on your toes. When you push through being tired, hungry or wanting to take a break, you sail through tough situations much more easily on game day.

On Amistad, the first day was the coldest day I had ever fished. You want to talk about mental? Your mind wants to shift to the fact that you cannot feel your extremities instead of on the objective of getting fish in the boat. During Day 2 of the same event, I blew a motor 10 minutes after my takeoff number was called. Your mind naturally begins to wander, thinking that my tournament could be over when I should immediately turn to what needs to be done to get back on the water before the day is a complete loss.

Several times, I have gotten off the water to get equipment fixed in practice and then taken the rest of the evening off. I called it a day. I need to get my equipment fixed and condition myself to get back out on the water and continue fishing so my body is trained for those scenarios. Even if my equipment cannot be fixed at that very moment, adjusting with the broken equipment and continuing to fish can be a huge benefit, in case that same unlucky scenario were to play out come tourney time. Working through each situation without taking a breather and committing to as much practice time as possible makes you that much stronger as a competitor.

Elite anglers are a different breed. They push harder, work harder and do not bow to tough conditions. Instead of bowing to unfortunate circumstances, they put their brains to work and figure out how to make less-than-ideal situations work to their benefit. They keep their boat on the water focused on the task. Successful Elite fishermen are geared to figure out those adjustments when scenarios change, from the hours they put in on the water and the emotions and pain they push aside to keep moving in practice. Yes, some of the very experienced and successful Elite fishermen call it quits around 5, but those that do spent three-fourths of their career sun-up-to-sun-down and have earned normal 8-hour days.

My next tournament is my test to see how bad I want this Elite career I obsess about. If I give it the sun-up-to-sun-down treatment each day, I am confident I will be fishing on Day 3 and still in the hunt to qualify for the 2015 Elite Series.