High school anglers: Never give up

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Brenden Kanies

by Tommy Abbott

In one of the most memorable quotes from Mike Iaconelli, he made a profound statement at a moment when it was appropriate: “Never give up!”

He knows this statement well. He was and still is a seasoned pro angler, so he’s been around the block a time or two. He’s not alone. There are plenty of other anglers out there who understand exactly what that statement means. They know that on five consecutive casts, they can put a monster limit in the boat.

Just this year Chris Zaldain saw it firsthand during the Lake Guntersville Elite. Had he been able to fish just a few more minutes on the final day, he’d have witnessed an even more amazing miracle than the one he did witness.

In his final 10 minutes he went from from a 10-pound bag to an 18-pound, 10-ounce limit. He ended up 6 ounces short of first place Jamie Hartman. Anyone who’s seen the video knows that if Chris had five more minutes, he’d more than likely have been the champion. You see that’s the point. Had Chris given up with 10 minutes to go and said “I can’t catch the leaders,” he’d never had that opportunity in the first place.

It’s something that I’ve tried to drill into the minds of my high schoolers the entire time that I was a captain. I’ve seen comebacks in my own boat, and I know that at any time and any place, a miraculous comeback is possible. 

But there’s only one way that a comeback can happen, and that’s to keep grinding and fishing with every bit of enthusiasm you can muster. Remember that every cast is an opportunity to gain on the leader.

Just ask professional angler Dean Rojas who had a single five-fish limit on the Kissimmee Chain for for a total of 45 pounds, 2 ounces. It went down as the heaviest five-bass limit in B.A.S.S. history. Four of the five fish came on the first four casts. Those four fish could have just as easily come on the last four casts of the day.

So young anglers out there … take notice. If you have a passion for bass fishing, or any tournament fishing that exists, you better make sure that you never, ever give up. Winners keep working when the odds are stacked against them. When you’ve reached the zone where you are no longer comfortable, that’s when you make the decision whether or not you have what it takes to be a champion.

Kentucky Lake wasn’t kind to the majority of the field at the 2019 Bassmaster High School National Championship this year, but many teams and individual anglers took a step toward to becoming champions by never giving up. Even if they didn’t catch a single fish in the tournament, they can be proud that they finished and did their best.

Heck, just the opportunity to be one of the 300 teams to qualify makes them the elite of high school fishing. They obviously didn’t get there by quitting, but in the same breath, thousands of high school teams would do just about anything to be in their shoes. To trade places and have the opportunity to see themselves walk across that stage or be shown on national television.

So if you’ve had the opportunity to have success at the high school level, you probably know what “never give up” means, at least to a certain extent. But no matter where you live, where your comfort zone is or what your favorite technique may be, you will see adversity if you continue to fish. 

I listened to one of the Louisiana captains on Day 2 of the National Championship as he made a great statement, and it shows the positivity that he must be passing on to his anglers. After finishing up Day 2 in ninth place and making the Day 3 cut, Richard Capdeboscq made the statement, “All we have to do is go out and catch a 20-pound bag, and the other teams zero and we win.” That is exactly the mentality that every person who participates in any sport has to have. That's a positive mental attitude. But the way, they overcame much adversity and moved all the way up to fourth place on the final day, more than likely because of PMA.

Like the line from the movie Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re saying there’s a chance?" As long a you can visualize a comeback, it’s possible. 

If you aspire to fish beyond high school, you probably will be outside of your comfort zone more than you will be in it. You won’t be the one of the big dogs on your local waters anymore. You will be challenged and tested. How you react to that is where you will draw a line in the sand. Either you will quit or you will use every moment available to get better, even if it’s in the middle of a tournament against insurmountable odds. And I can guarantee you that you will have the opportunity to learn more in those tough times, in failure, than you ever will fishing inside your comfort zone. 

Perseverance is part of the mental game. The mental game drives so much of the success of an angler. Understand that with every step you take upward, the field narrows. The competition gets tougher, and the most challenging thing that any young angler will face is dealing with unfamiliar situations. Water you don’t know and that most of your competition does. 

If you don’t have your mental game ready, you are probably in for a short and disappointing ride. But if you can take each moment and each experience then cherish the good with the bad, you probably will become successful at the sport, or any sport you chose for that matter.

When times are tough, you are going through the same type of fire that refines gold and makes it more valuable. You cannot become a champion without being refined in the fire of adversity or failure.

So high schoolers and junior anglers, cherish every moment. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, and understand that you will experience tough times. Have fun and enjoy the company of those you are sharing the experience with. Understand how blessed you are to compete in a sport that you love.

And most of all, "Never, ever, give up!”