Resilience pays off for Browning

Sometimes the “one that got away” fishing proverb doesn’t always apply to bad luck. Even when you lose a tournament by 1 ounce.

That sums up the week Stephen Browning experienced at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open presented by Allstate on Lake Amistad.

Browning is well known for his mental resilience under adverse conditions. He thrives when the going gets tough. The Open provided yet another case study.

Andy Young’s three-day winning weight of 39 pounds, 6 ounces can equal a single-day catch on Amistad when the prespawn conditions are prime. That scenario failed to pan out after unseasonably cold weather settled in for the week. 

Browning returned to the scales on Day One with 2 keepers weighing 4 pounds, 1 ounce. The next day he vaulted from 65th to 3rd place with a limit weighing 20-14. The final day was equally as productive while disappointing. Browning’s limit weighed 14-6 to put him 1 ounce shy of the win.

The worst day of the tournament proved the most enlightening for Browning. It set the course for his comeback.

With little practice time, Browning started the tournament fishing with a Carolina rig. He based that decision on nothing more than the prevailing conditions. Those were lethargic bass holding on long, tapering points on the main lake.

“I felt a really light tap, and it was a fish,” he said of his first strike. “It came off after three turns of the reel. It wasn’t really there at all.”

Neither was Browning’s confidence in the Carolina rig. That ever so subtle, brief connection with the bass prompted him to make a change that made the difference in his entire tournament.

“I would have committed to the Carolina rig had I caught that fish,” he admitted.

“Lake Amistad is the kind of magical place where the next cast can produce a 10-pounder,” he continued. “I knew I had to make a radical change to put myself in that situation.”

Browning isn’t a fan of the umbrella rig. He also knew it had the most potential to connect with the lake’s prolific double-digit weight bass.

With one hour’s fishing time remaining, he stopped on a long point and tied on the rig. It produced a keeper. He made a short run and stopped near the weigh-in site. Another keeper went into the livewell. And a pattern was born.

“Normally just two fish wouldn’t be a game changer, mentally,” he said. “But under those conditions it made sense. The fish were deep, sluggish and hanging around the bait. It was the right move.”

Browning spent the next day drifting across main lake points. The tactic produced the 20-14 weight that put him in the Top 12 championship round. The odds were very much against Browning upstaging the leader when looking at the scoreboard. Twelve pounds separated him from first place.

Yet Browning is one of those guys you can never count out. That’s because of his mental resilience.

“Those two fish on the first day gave me just enough confidence to give hope to what potential I had for the (Top 12) cut day,” he explained. “Sometimes you have to just grind it out, no matter what.”

When the going gets tough, the tough produce.

“Being on a good lake under its worst conditions is my strength as an angler,” he said. “Figuring it all out is about paying attention to what’s not working and making sound decisions from there.”

You don’t do that by going through the tacklebox until the right lure produces.

“It’s all about staying very mentally focused,” he said. “I knew the lake had potential to produce bigger fish.”

The 710-mile drive home back to Hot Springs, Ark., gave Browning time to think about the one that got away. He lost the tournament but came from the middle of the pack to nearly win it.

Next week is the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro.

Browning will be there and so will the world’s best anglers. They will compete on a fishery capable of producing the same weights as Amistad. The competition will be tough. Lake Guntersville has the potential to produce record-breaking weights.

Are you seeing the similarities? This time, 1 ounce might make the difference. The one that gets away could really matter. Browning knows that, and it means he’ll just turn up the intensity on his mental focus. He can never be counted out when the going gets tough.