Elite Series preparations

It was an incredible Bassmaster Classic and Edwin Evers is a worthy champion. Congratulations to Edwin, he was definitely overdue to win one.

As I worked the Classic Expo floor in Tulsa for my sponsors, I kept finding myself drawn to the Bassmaster LIVE coverage of the tournament. There is something about watching the anglers go through each and every move while out there on the water. I could almost feel the bite when I watched someone's rod bow up. It’s almost as addicting as fishing itself! Whether you’re a complete beginner or a Bassmaster Classic champion, you can always learn more about the sport just by watching the best of the best in the midst of competition.

For example, the first day there was a live camera on Kevin VanDam. I’ve always admired the way that Kevin fishes and his record speaks for itself, but as I caught brief snippets of the activity I saw him backlash. Here’s the greatest angler of all time, and I realized that he’s still human. Seeing the pros in action in something other than an edited slugfest we watch on TV makes you realize that it's never easy for anyone. That's a mental note we all need to keep in mind while competing. 

In four full seasons on the Bassmaster Elite Series, I’ve not yet had a campaign that I’ve been proud of. I finished 78th last year. This year I'm going to change some things up a bit. The quote "in order to have something you've never had, you must do things you've never done" couldn't ring truer this time around.

Sometimes I feel like I need to make huge changes to my game to get where I want to be, but it's really not the case. Even though I’m not a huge golf enthusiast, I compare it to a golfer who needs to adjust his swing by just a degree or two. He doesn't need to start on a whole different swing and change everything. But "change," even just a little bit, can be difficult. On this tour, the difference between a 20-pound bag and a 10-pound bag may appear large, but a lot of times the efficiency gap is smaller than it seems.

One of the first steps I took this offseason to continue my forward progress was to seriously reduce the amount of tackle that I carry with me in my boat and in my truck. My first year or two on tour, I had just enough tackle to fill the inside of my boat, and I caught them pretty well. Things were simple. As I added more and more tackle things seemed to get more complicated, and it didn’t seem to improve any of the results.

This year I went through every item that I own – and trust me, there’s a lot of tackle – and asked myself whether I’d use it during crunch time. I still have a lot of tackle along with me, but I bet that I reduced the overall amount by more than 50 percent. Like many fishermen, I'm a tackle junkie. This was a difficult thing to do, but I narrowed everything down to carrying only gear that I have confidence in using. 

I also have rigged up several "go to" technique specific rod-and-reel combos to carry with me in my boat everywhere I go. Once again, rod combos and baits I have confidence in. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten out on the water thinking I was going to catch them a certain way and ended up having to dig out a rod with a confidence bait to save the day. Having access to all of the different lengths, gear ratios, actions and styles can overcomplicate matters. It's time to get back to the basics and keep my "go to" combos with me at all times.

Perhaps most importantly, this offseason I hired a sports psychologist that Ike had relied upon to settle him down on the water. He said that she really helped him, and I wanted to get her input to help me make the most of my talents and experience. It’s not so much about going back to the drawing board as it is about improving different skills in small increments – but together I think they can add up to a big difference. After just five sessions, she has unlocked a couple of key points and some subtle things that I might not have learned without her. 

Finally, I’m going to put the fun back in fishing. When I wasn’t fishing professionally, I could hook up the boat every day after work and be on the lake in a matter of minutes. Ironically, now that I do it for a living, I fish much less. At times, getting in the boat has subconsciously become associated with going to work. I’m convinced that if I can still take it seriously while also remembering why I loved it in the first place, the results will be a lot more positive. 

These efforts might not make me the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year in 2016, but they’ll get me moving in the right direction. Whether it’s my tackle, changing my preparation or my mental state, it’s all about identifying the things that I need to focus on and eliminating the distractions. I'm looking forward to this year, and we can’t get things started soon enough.