Winging it sometimes doesn't cut it

The B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championship qualifies six anglers every year to go to the Bassmaster Classic.  That’s pretty crazy if you think about it, and it's the main reason I fished the Fed Nation. There is no other tournament circuit for weekend anglers that even comes close to comparing.

Along with the College B.A.S.S., I started fishing the Federation Nation in college.  I didn’t have to miss many classes since the tournaments were on the weekends, and I still had the opportunity to make it to the “Super Bowl” of bass fishing. 

I was fortunate enough to qualify for the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championship two years in a row (2009-10).  I was so close to reaching my dream of fishing in the Bassmaster Classic, yet so far away.  I didn’t make it either year.  It was pretty disappointing that I had a poor performance in both.  However, I did learn something that helped me improve as a bass angler and that was preparation.

On the long drive home last year after the Championship, I started to think about what I could have done different.  The only thing that kept coming to my mind was my lack of preparation. In the past, fishing around Tennessee and Kentucky, I had decent success just showing up and fishing a tournament.  I used to love just showing up to lake and fishing a tournament with little or no thought put into it before hand. 

I took the phrase “fish the moment” a little to the extreme.  I would not buy a map ahead of time and wouldn’t do internet research. It is good to fish the moment, but not until you have gained knowledge about a particular fishery. 

Both years the “show up and fish” attitude worked out well for me in the Southern Divisionals, but it bit me at the Championships.

The Fed Nation Southern Divisionals were held on Lake Gaston, N.C., and West Point Lake, Ga.  Both fisheries reminded me of lakes that I grew up fishing and I felt at home.  I looked for patterns that had brought me success on lakes back home and it worked out.

In contrast, the Championships were held on Harris Chain of Lakes, Fla., and Red River, La., and both fisheries were like nothing I had ever seen before. Quite frankly I was a little overwhelmed, as I tried to “wing it” on these huge fisheries that did not look like any lake or river that I had ever been on. 

Last year after the third day of the Championship, it really hit home as I was talking to fellow competitors who finished higher than me. They talked about their endless hours of research as they looked on Google Earth to find the areas that they had success in. 

I had a lightbulb moment, as I realized that if I want something, I have to go get it, as it doesn’t always fall in my lap.  Since that time a fellow pro pointed out that is a site a lot of anglers use to research new lakes.  It has a lot of very helpful features, including mobile applications.

Through that learning experience, I was more focused and determined than ever this year as I fished the Opens. My preparation for those tournaments really helped me get in a comfort zone and find fish quicker during practice. 

I still “fished the moment” as I took some pretty big gambles during competition days, but I felt more confident with those decisions as I had knowledge gained from research to back up each decision.  

Five out of the eight Elite Series stops and one of the B.A.S.S. Opens in 2012 will be new water for me.  That means my preparation will be key.

“Success is a by-product of preparation.” – John Wooden

Remember to Chase Your Dreams!

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