Protect your Instinct

As a pro angler, I often approach an upcoming tournament by over-thinking things. It’s hard not to. It’s the anxiousness and excitement of an event that I greatly look forward to, and I start planning ahead — maybe a bit too much. It’s part of the fun, preparing for an event then executing the plan. But, how often do fishing tournaments go as planned?

Very seldom.

Now this doesn’t hold true for the guy that’s about to fish on the lake he lives on, rather this is about fishing an event on a lake we rarely get to fish.

I am a firm believer that what separates good anglers from great anglers — more than anything — is instinct. Mechanically we are all pretty close to the same level. But instinct is our most effective tool, and we have to protect it because it can easily be taken away from us.

I can be my own worst enemy by ignoring or destroying my own instinct during a tournament. Things that often cause this are dock talk, trying to duplicate how a guy won on a lake last year, getting help, too much pre practice, etc.

I’ve put a lot of thought into this subject this year, and I feel like towards the end of the season I had a moment of clarity. The clarity was so obvious that I was literally mad at myself for the way I had approached events in the past.

There are two ways, in my opinion, to do well in an event. One way is by getting help from an expierenced guy on the lake. To me, this is the rarest form of success at this level, and it’s hard to truly appreciate a blue trophy in that scenario. In my opinion, it doesn’t hold the same honor as a guy that showed up on unfamiliar waters, found the biggest fish and beat the entire field.

The other way to win is by showing up at a lake with zero pre-conceived notions, and let intuition take over. These decisions are raw, uncontrolled by outside influence and help make decisions based on the fish and what’s in front of him.

Those kinds of anglers win more than anything at various fisheries around the country.

You see Instinct is defined as the natural tendency that a person or animal has to behave or react in a particular way. Key word in that definition is “natural.” Any outside information at all deteriorates the natural part. It’s not natural when you are throwing a white spinnerbait because the last tournament was won on that, but it is natural because you picked it up during a shad spawn that you noticed that morning.

When you enable your own instincts to dictate your decisions, you have a better chance of understanding exactly what to do and when to do it.

I also feel the more often you approach fishing this way the better you get at controlling outside influence. Let’s face it, avoiding it is almost impossible. I understand this is probably one of the hardest things to control in fishing.

Think about it this way: It’s kind of like starting a giant puzzle. In the beginning, it seems as though it will take forever to figure it out, but once you start putting together one piece at a time things start coming together. That’s when you build legit confidence to compete.

Once you complete one puzzle without help you gain that confidence and become very dangerous to other anglers in the field. Soon no puzzle will intimidate you because you have completed enough of them on your own.

I feel like when we turn to help or outside influence it’s because we lack the confidence to complete the puzzle on our own. Until you prove to yourself that you are capable, you’ll never have the necessary confidence to be good at this tournament-fishing thing.

Don’t get me wrong, it is important to do your research and talk to people about a lake, within the confines of the Elite Series rules. My point is we don’t give our natural instinct enough credit.

Try fishing an unfamiliar lake without any prior knowledge — basically from scratch. It may start off slow, but give a few hard days of practice without anything but you’re your own instinct, and see what you come up with.

You may surprise yourself, and in the end you can be very proud of yourself. And that’s when winning will start to happen.