Intensity is required to achieve success in any sport, including tournament bass fishing. Every pro competes with passion regardless of their outward appearance. Steady Todd Faircloth rarely shows it, but you can be certain he’s wired during a tournament. At the other extreme is Michael Iaconelli whose intensity often boils over in the form of emotional outbursts.
What may surprise you is how intense many of the pros are when they go fishing without the pressure cooker of a tournament.
As someone who has written for Bassmaster Magazine for more than four decades, I’ve fished with a host the country’s top pros at what are called media events. A company that sponsors a tournament pro staff brings their pros to a particular lake and invites a select group of media folks to join them.
The outing results in articles, photos, television and internet videos, as well as radio interviews that pertain to bass fishing. I’ve been to countless media events hosted by many companies over the years.
During a very busy few days, each member of the media gets together with as many of the pros as possible. I typically work with three or four different anglers each day. Much of the limited time I have with each pro is spent taking photos and developing story lines.
However, I also like to turn the pros loose to fish for a while so I can watch them in action. I want to get a sense of how they handle their tackle, work their baits and attack whatever conditions are present. This often turns up something worth writing about.
Although bass are needed for photos at media events, the pressure to catch them is nothing compared to tournament competition. Even so, most of the pros still fervently want to catch bass. They can’t help themselves. It’s part of their DNA.
For example, when I’ve turned Kevin VanDam or Greg Hackney loose at a media event, they go right to work with much the same focus, pace and intelligence they apply to their tournament fishing. These exceptional pros simply don’t have a low gear. They are also very upbeat mentally, even when bites are hard to come by.
There are also a few pros who take intensity to a fever pitch when things weren’t going well at a media event. Indiana pro Jacob Wheeler is one of them. This year I spent a few hours in his boat during a Lew’s/Larew media event at Toledo Bend.
Wheeler already had a nice bass in his livewell, so we didn’t need to catch a bass for photos. But he was frustrated that he had not been able to catch anything on offshore structure. I turned him loose to see if he could make this happen.
Wheeler excels with his electronics and soon found a school of fish on a point that was 30 feet deep. He was convinced that the fish were bass, and he went after them with an intensity that surprised me.
Wheeler started with a drop shot. Whenever he saw a mark that looked to be a good bass, he would watch his drop shot plummet down to it. A fish would often rise up to greet the bait on its way to the bottom, a good indicator that a strike is about to happen.
Then Wheeler would raise the bait off the bottom and watch the fish follow it up, an even better sign that a strike is imminent. But the bites never came no mater how he work the bait. All the while Wheeler talked to the fish, which I’m sure he also does when he fishes alone.
“Bite it you sucker,” was an oft-repeated phrase. “Dang” stung the air whenever a fish would reject his bait.
He spent 90 minutes working on those fish with a variety of lures before our time ran out. The more the fish refused to bite the more upset Wheeler became.
He took it personally. He was honestly ticked off.
The only pressure on Wheeler was his intense desire to make the bass bite. No doubt, this is part of the reason for his success.
Every pro is intense when they fish a tournament, but I’ve never seen anything that comes close to Wheeler when the only thing on the line is the satisfaction of outsmarting a bass.