Finding the right balance

Fishing and life are all about balance ... at least that's the way it seems to me. I know that when I've got my personal and work lives in balance, both are better, I'm happier and my family is better off. On the fishing side of things, when my gear is organized and balanced, I do better on the water.

While I can't offer any advice on the delicate balance between work and personal life, I'd like to take this opportunity to share some things I've learned about balancing my fishing tackle — in particular, my rods and reels.

Years ago I read how Rick Clunn simplified his approach to bass fishing by using the same rod and reel combos for a wide variety of baits and methods. When he went from casting a spinnerbait to throwing a crankbait, he wanted that transition to be seamless and maintaining consistency between rods and reels gave him that. He may have been setting down the spinnerbait and picking up the crankbait, but the rod and reel were the same. He didn't waste several casts getting the feel of a new combo.

I tried doing the same thing — more or less — and found that I couldn't use the same gear for as many methods as Clunn did. It just didn't work for me, but the effort streamlined my approach quite a bit and let me focus more on my fishing and less on those little adjustments that can be distracting.

Using rods and reels from the same manufacturers can help. Whatever brands you like, if you stick with them for all (or nearly all) of your techniques, you'll find that your casting gets better, your focus improves and you catch more bass.

I use Bass Pro Shops rods and reels and have grown extremely comfortable with them over the years. I tend to use the same models for a long time — probably a lot longer than most pros — because I develop a comfort level with them that I would lose by changing more often. It takes me a while to warm up to new equipment, and that adjustment period can be costly when you fish for a living.

Right now, all of my rods are Bass Pro Shops CarbonLite models. They're light, strong, sensitive and I love the P-Tec polyfoam grips.

Recently, I've added another item to the rod and reel mix that I think you might like, too. It's called the Cush-It, and it's made by Luna Sea. The Cush-It caps the end of your rod and serves several purposes. First and foremost, it provides a great balance to the outfit. A rod and reel can get a little tip-heavy when you tie a lure on, and the additional weight of the Cush-It balances that out nicely and makes your rod more sensitive.

The Cush-It is also really comfortable. Because it's made of an almost indestructible foam, it cushions your body from the abuse it might take from a rod handle, especially when you're flippin' or pitching or deep cranking. Rods with long handles can be tough on your ribs, but the Cush-It eliminates that problem.

Here's a shot of me and Uncle Charlie with a couple of nice brown bass. Can you tell we had fun?

Finally — and I hope you never need this feature — a Cush-It will float your rod and reel. If you drop it overboard, you won't need to mark your location and break out a deep-diving crankbait or jigging spoon to try to retrieve it.

Another thing I love about the Cush-It is that it solves one more problem. If all your rods and reels are made by the same manufacturers, they tend to look just alike. When I'm fishing and ready to change baits, I don't want to have to look around to find my topwater rod or cranking rod. The Cush-Its help because they come in different colors. You can coordinate them to your fishing — black for flippin' and pitching, yellow for spinnerbaits, blue for crankbaits, silver for something else. That way you know immediately what to reach for on the deck.

I have to admit that when I first saw the Cush-It, I didn't think it was for me. It looked cumbersome and awkward, and I resisted trying it. Now I want them on all my rods, but especially for flippin' and pitching and deep cranking.

So far, I've spent all my time here talking about gear. Now I want to balance it out with a little personal stuff. I've posted some photos to go with this column, and I want to tell you about them. After our last Elite event on Chickamauga Lake, I went up to an Optima Batteries event in Wisconsin and had a great time with the wonderful people there. One of the highlights of the trip was a drive in the fastest car I've ever been in, an AMC AMX owned by Jimmy Day. It was part of "Optima's Search for the Ultimate Street Car."

It's hard to see, but that's me inside the AMC AMX muscle car. If you like to go fast, this thing can do it.

When the Optima event was over, my Uncle Charlie Butcher flew up and we did a little smallmouth fishing. Charlie's one of the best people I know and a really good fisherman, but he had never caught a smallmouth bass weighing more than two pounds. I wanted to change that, so I suggested he fly up for a couple of days. If you take a look at the pictures, you can see that he upped his personal best quite a bit and we enjoyed some fantastic fishing.

In a few weeks I'll be headed to Orlando for ICAST, so next time I want to tell you about that and what it's like to work the floor of the industry's largest trade show.

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