Gearing down for 2018

As I started to pack up my gear for the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series, it occurred to me that my plans for the new season might make a pretty good resolution for the New Year for a lot of anglers — not just me.

Because it’s my livelihood, the garage at our house looks like a tackle shop exploded. There are hard baits in one area, soft baits in another and rods, reels and terminal tackle just about everywhere else. My wife, Keri, says I don’t even know what’s in there.

I’d argue with her, but I know she’s right. There have been way too many times I’ve asked her to pick up green pumpkin Trick Worms on the road only to realize I already had 10 packs stuffed somewhere in the back of the truck.

And that’s where my resolution — and 2018 game plan — comes into play. No, this is not a column about organization (though that’s important, too). I’m talking about simplifying my approach to bass fishing, stripping away what’s not important or what’s distracting and getting back to the basics — the baits and approaches that give me confidence on the water.

It hit me as I was going through crankbaits the other day. Now, I couldn’t tell you how many crankbaits I own, but it’s certainly in the thousands. I love them. They’re all beautiful in their own way, they’re fun to fish and there are certainly times when having the exact right crankbait for the job can make a big difference. But as I was going through them, I realized that I was packing about 90 percent of what I own even though I’ll use less than 10 percent of it.

I was looking at a particular crankbait and thinking, “You know, if we get out on Lake Martin and the wind blows from the south and the water’s got 3 to 4 feet of visibility and I’m in the first flight and there’s a total solar eclipse within the first hour after launch, this bait is really going to be the ticket. I better carry carry five or six of them.”

When you think like that, you’d better have a tractor trailer as a tow vehicle.

You’ll also spend more time rummaging through gear than actually fishing. But worst of all, you’ll never be content with your choice because as soon as you tie a bait on, you’re thinking about the hundred other baits you almost picked. Instead of giving that bait a fair try and fishing it with confidence, you’re focused on the next lure you want to use … and the one after that. Pretty soon, you're out of time, you’ve fished 40 different baits — none of them very well — and you have a poor catch to show for it.

I realized that I was carrying dozens or even hundreds of baits I was never going to use, or — if I did tie them on — I couldn’t fish them with confidence. In my business, that’s a huge mistake and one that I need to avoid.

I started paring things down, remembering the advice of an old basketball coach who was helping me with my shooting technique — “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

I suppose that the KISS concept works almost everywhere, but I can certainly vouch for it in basketball and bass fishing.

When I was done going through my gear again, I was actually amazed at how far I had pared things down. I cut my basic crankbait selection down to 80 or 90 lures. I eliminated around 75 percent of the soft plastic colors that I used to carry, and I’ve probably cut the overall weight of soft plastics in my boat and truck by 40 percent. I still need a lot of soft plastics, but now everything I carry is something that I have real confidence in. I have the colors I believe in and not a bunch of colors that I used to fish defensively because someone else was using them. If you look in my boat this season, you’ll see a lot of green pumpkin, watermelon, black and junebug. They catch bass everywhere I’ve ever been.

I cleaned up the garage — a lot — and I even donated a bunch of stuff to my son’s high school fishing club (that's them in the photo above). I’m not sure that J.C. was excited about that since some of his friends might use that gear to beat him in a tournament, but I also know that the son of an Elite pro has more than enough fishing tackle.

Maybe it’ll help teach him that tournament performance is more about finding bass and figuring them out than it is about having a lot of gear.

That’s obviously a lesson that I needed, too.