Should I specialize?

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James Overstreet

Should I specialize? You know, get really good with one type of lure or with one technique, and then fish it to the exclusion of everything else? 

I’m asked about that by anglers all over the country. The answer is more complicated than you might think. Nevertheless, here’s what I have to say… 

At the professional level specialization is sometimes misunderstood. Just because a guy is really good with crankbaits, and he talks about them all the time, doesn’t mean he’s a true specialist or that’s the only way he can catch a bass. 

Most of us at the Bassmaster Elite Series level can do most things well. When we talk about specialization we’re really talking about something we’re better at than most of the other guys, or we’re talking about fishing a lure or using a technique that we like better than anything else. We rarely, if ever, do anything to the exclusion of everything else.  

I’ve won four professional level tournaments. All of them were won either with a frog or by flipping and pitching shallow grass, and the majority of my other 31 Top 10 finishes were fished the same way. I’m pretty good when the bass are shallow, especially if they’re in grass. It’s also my favorite way to catch them. You might say I’ve specialized in that over the years. 

But, I’ve fished a total of 235 professional level events with B.A.S.S. and probably that many more with other circuits. In most of those tournaments the bass weren’t shallow, my skills with a frog and a flippin’ stick didn’t count for much. I did manage to catch some fish, though, and I caught them with my flippin’ stick and my frog rod on the deck, not in my hand.  

That’s the way I bass fish. I’m willing to suffer a lot of pain in exchange for the occasional 15 minutes of glory. 

There is, however, another group of anglers — the guys who are good at a variety of things. They might not have four wins, but they’ve made good money with high finishes and they’ve qualified for a lot of Bassmaster Classics. Many have made a run or two at the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year crown, too. 

Specialization cuts both ways. It’s a good deal when the bite goes your way but you have to be willing to accept a lot of pain when it doesn’t.  

For recreational anglers, and those who fish local club tournaments for fun, the choice is the same. If you want to have the occasional spectacular win or unforgettable day, concentrate on one technique or one group of lures. When that bite is on you’ll be able to show your stuff. If you want to consistently catch bass, you should learn to do four or five things well. That way you’ll be able to catch them most of the time.

Whether or not to specialize is a decision every angler has to make for himself or herself. I will say, however, that if you’re in this for fun you probably want to catch bass. Being versatile is the way to do that.  

The angler I haven’t mentioned up to this point is the one who only wants great big, giant bass. That is the definition of a specialist. It requires that you only fish a few spots and with only a handful of lures. And, just like specializing in tournaments, you have to be willing to accept the fact that most of your days will be spent fishing, not catching. 

Should I specialize? It depends…