Find your own kind of fish

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Steve Bowman

While there’s plenty of fishing left to go, so far this year has not played out the way I’d hoped that it would. Two events in particular – Conroe and Toledo Bend – left me frustrated because not only were they held in my home state, but they were won offshore, which is where I feel most comfortable. That has led me to a pretty unorthodox conclusion: Maybe, whenever that bite exists, even if it’s not a dominant pattern, I should just push the issue as far as I can. 

I consider myself to be a pretty versatile angler. I can flip. I can sight fish. I can even fish a spinning rod pretty well if I have to. But day in and day out, I’m at my best when I’m using a crankbait, whether that means a lipless bait, a 10XD or anything in between. This sport is all about winning, and I haven’t won in a few years. Every time I take the cranking stick out of my hands I feel like I’m lessening the chance of it happening again.

I’m not just talking about events where the crankbait is the dominant tool. Of course that’s what I’m likely to be doing in those situations, but I’m also talking about tournaments like Conroe and Toledo Bend, where only a small percentage of the field is doing it. In fact, those are the tournaments where I may have the best chance of winning that way, because all of the best cranking spots won’t be covered up with other boats. Face it, the competition is so good these days that most of the field is going to discover and exploit the primary and even the secondary patterns. As I fish more Elite Series tournaments, I know that if you find the best way to catch them in practice, just about everybody else will, too. The way that you consistently win is to find the pattern that will emerge during competition. If you can do something a little bit “off,” it may not be the best way to get a check, but if a brief window of opportunity opens up, you can be sure you won’t miss it. Those windows are the key to winning.

A few decades ago, we saw several specialists dominate. Denny Brauer had a field day flipping a jig. David Fritts won lots of money with a crankbait. Eventually, conventional wisdom told us that was no longer possible, that you had to be extremely versatile to come out on top. I know that both Brauer and Fritts can do plenty of other things besides flip and crank, respectively, but it was their choice to be specialists. A jig and a big crankbait catch bigger than average fish, and they win tournaments. That’s why they stuck with them. Look at what Brett Hite has done with a Chatterbait in recent years – it’s not that he can’t do other things, it’s that he wants to consistently be in the hunt for the win. You could say the same thing about Greg Hackney or Jason Christie – when their bite is in play, they not only know how to stick with it but they understand how to make certain subtle adjustments that will lead them to a big blue trophy. That’s what really matters to me, too, and that’s what has me thinking about making this change. 

I’m not saying that I’m definitely going to go down this route of even more cranking. It would take a lot of discipline and a certain amount of self-denial to make it work. Nevertheless, I can’t begin to express how much it hurts me when a tournament gets won on a crankbait and I miss that bite. I want to win, now more than ever, and I feel like the best way to get that done is to stick with a crankbait even when it’s not the tool that seems logical to use.

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