During a recent Elite event weigh-in, I made a comment that several of my close friends made fun of me for saying. I told Dave Mercer that when I head out on the water every day I have a new goal and that is "to make new memories." It sounded pretty cheesy, and it was, but I want to clarify what I meant by that.
It’s easy for every angler, from the weekend guy to the top level pro, to fall into a trap of fishing the same stuff, in the same way, every time out. I know that it was a problem for me earlier in my career. I’d often have an excellent first day, one that had me well inside the cut line, and then on Day 2 I’d run the exact same program and I’d end up getting my tail kicked. I'd fish memories, and it's hard not to when those memories were so good. You can't help but think it would happen again just like it did before, but for me it rarely does.
After a while it dawned on me that my best day was often the first day of practice on a new body of water. I’d just go out there and do what felt right. If I got an itch to throw a buzzbait, I’d throw a buzzbait. If I saw a good looking mat, I’d flip it. The more I thought about it, the more I gained confidence in my instincts and my ability to adjust to changing conditions. It takes guts to go out there and actually chart a new course, but it’s a path you need to take if you’re going to succeed on any level.
I finished 20th at the Potomac, my best Elite Series tournament of the year so far. Not a stellar performance, but I'll take it. On the first day I had a 4 p.m. check-in, and at 2p.m., as other boats raced toward the weigh-in, I made a 20-plus mile run south and quickly caught a 3-pounder to fill out my limit. Then I immediately picked up and ran a few more miles and caught another similar fish. There wasn’t necessarily a rhyme or reason to it. I just felt like that was what I needed to do. With those fish safely in my livewell, I packed up and headed back to the scales. Did I go back there on Day 2 or Day 3? I did not. I’d keyed in on the fact that the little bit of afternoon outgoing tide would help the first day, but I wouldn’t get it on the second day, so it wasn’t worth a repeat of the long haul.
The Potomac isn’t the only example of that phenomenon. In all of my better tournaments this year – and I’ve finished in the money in four of eight Elite events – I’ve fished almost entirely by the seat of my pants. Sometimes that means running and gunning. Other times it means switching areas or staying in the same area and making a bait change. Some of my best results have involved picking up a bait or area that I never considered in practice and then catching a key fish during the tournament. Look at what Justin Lucas did to win – he fished a spot that was historically known to produce big bags. Not only did he commit to it, but he fished it with finesse tactics, an unconventional approach.
I’ve tried to commit to this strategy at home, too, even on lakes I know like the back of my hand. It’s easy to go to the same stretches week after week, especially if what you’re doing is working, but it pays to spend some time trying to make a new memory. Searching for a new area or technique to catch them is exciting to me. It won’t work every time out, and that's the beauty of it. Sometimes not catching fish and understanding why can be just as important as actually catching them.
On the road I often travel with John Crews, Ish Monroe and Mike Iaconelli, the latter of whom is known for his trademark phrase “fish the moment.” I’m sure that part of this new attitude comes from their influence, but I really believe that an angler has to figure out what that is on their own. I’ve developed a strategy for "making new memories" or "fishing the moment" on my own in a way that works for me. A big part of success in this sport is keeping things fun, and to me that means keeping things fresh. If you manage to do that, you’re on the right path to becoming a better angler.