Fishing history

No, this week’s column is not about history like that. I’m not going to tell you about the earliest bass anglers or who invented the spinnerbait. 

This column is about the tendency we all have — including me — to fall into a comfort zone and continue to fish the same way and in the same places even when we should know better.

When I say, “fishing history,” I’m talking about a double-edged sword — going back to the same places and fishing the same ways can be a terrific shortcut to success … or it can absolutely kill your chances to be successful. It all depends on how intelligently you approach the situation.

We’ve got some good examples of fishing history on the Elite Series schedule this year. In early April, we were at Toledo Bend Reservoir. That was the fifth time in the past six years that we’ve had an Elite tournament there —all within a month on either side of early May. We know Toledo Bend very well.

This week we’re at Ross Barnett Reservoir, and I haven’t been here since I was 17 years old. I’m using part of my practice time just learning my way around the lake. I’m starting with a clean slate here because I have no preconceived ideas.

Fishing history on Toledo Bend is an issue. Most of us have no history at all on Ross Barnett.

At Toledo Bend, if you’re having a tough day or things are a little slower than you’d like, it’s easy to go to that spot where you caught ‘em last year or the year before. It’s easy to make the same run, pick up the same bait and make the same cast. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best move. 

I like coming to shallow water fisheries — like Ross Barnett — without any preconceived ideas of what the fish are doing. Things change quickly in places like this, and preconceived ideas can get you into trouble. Maybe the vegetation is different, maybe the water’s up or down, maybe the water clarity has changed. In a shallow water environment, you can get caught up quickly and, hopefully, get on the right track.

It can be especially hard to avoid fishing history if you do most of your fishing on one or two bodies of water. You begin to know them really well — or think you do. You remember the time you whacked ‘em five years before, and you start digging through your tackle boxes to find that same lure even though that was in June and this is April. The water level was down then, but it’s up now. Those fish were moving to a summertime pattern, but now they’re just coming off the beds.

Before you know it, you’re just checking old spots rather than trying to find a successful pattern and learn what the fish are doing.

If conditions have changed since the last time you had success doing a particular thing, odds are good that you should be doing something different. It’s important to have a good memory about what worked (and what didn’t) but even better to fish the current conditions.

You can avoid a lot of the pitfalls of fishing history by studying weather patterns for a week or two before your trip. What is the seasonal pattern? Keep an eye on changing water levels. Check the water clarity. If you do these things and formulate your fishing plan around them — not history — you’ll fish in the moment and be focused on what the bass are doing now. You’ll also catch more fish.

It’s great to remember past successes — whether they’re our own or someone else’s — but if you’re tournament fishing, it’s usually just the big picture things that are important. Rather than a spot, focus on a pattern. Rather than a lure, focus on the right tool for the job.

Focus on conditions, not history.

And remember that it’s all about the attitude.

Kevin VanDam's column appears weekly on You can also find him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.