When the going gets tough

I just got off the water at Lake Shelbyville in Illinois after the first day of the Toyota Trucks All-Star Week competition, and I can tell you that it was tough out there. I caught just two keepers that weighed a total of 4 pounds, and I’m in sixth place going into Day Two. Only the top four anglers advance to the next round, so I have my work cut out for me.

Over the years I’ve fared pretty well in some of the tougher tournaments. I love the events where everyone seems to catch a limit and the fish are big, but I also enjoy the challenge of the tougher times when bites aren’t so easy to come by and a 2-pounder is a welcome addition to the livewell.

Learning how a tournament winner caught a sack of bass that weighed 30 pounds is important, but I think learning how to stay in the game and gut things out when catches are much smaller is just as critical — maybe even more so — for most bass fishing experiences.

If I had to identify just one element that will help you through the tough times, it would be keeping your mental focus. Of course, that’s also the hardest thing to do.

At any given bass tournament, you can watch anglers fall apart when their primary pattern or key spot doesn’t produce. They simply melt down and don’t recover until the next tournament. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but there are ways out.

One way out is to have a Plan B that you have confidence in. Those are great — when they work — but a Plan B isn’t always possible. You may not have had time to create one.

The other way out — and a method you can always use — is to take a breath and analyze what might have changed to cause your primary pattern to fail. You can do this anywhere, anytime, and you don’t need a Plan B. Instead, salvage Plan A.

Did the wind direction change? Is the water level up or down? Did it get muddy? Is there a front coming through?

If you can figure out what happened to get the fish off your pattern, you can usually make the necessary adjustments and get back to them. They probably haven’t moved far, maybe not at all; maybe they’re just positioned differently. Quite often a subtle change in your presentation, line size, retrieve speed or bait color will make a big difference and get you back on your game. The details can be everything.

Making the right adjustments is all about being aware of your environment.

To keep you mental focus, you also have to make the most of your opportunities. When the fishing’s tough, that’s even more important since you’re not getting a lot of bites. You can’t afford to let an opportunity get away.  That means making every cast count, staying sharp and making sure each presentation is on target and properly delivered because an errant cast could be the difference between spooking a bass and catching it.

Ultimately, keeping your mental focus is not about tricking yourself into believing that you’re going to figure things out and make something good happen. It’s about confidence and honestly believing that your next cast or your next stop is going to pay dividends.

And that’s why you need to …

Remember, it’s all about the attitude.

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