Decision making and distractions

It’s been far too long since I’ve made a post, but the reasons behind my absence have given me the subject of this column.

Most of my columns tend towards the mental side of tournament competition. When you’re fishing the higher levels of our sport, the differences in equipment, skill, technique and effort are minimal and rarely deciding factors. Sure, our sponsors love it when we tell you the reason we won was the brand new lure we had or the unrivaled performance of some must-have piece of equipment, but the distinction between winners and losers usually boils down to who had the better strategy and made better decisions.

How we deal with distractions influences our ability to make decisions. Distractions come at us in many forms on competition days. Co-anglers, other competitors and equipment are the most immediate and usually the most manageable. But weeks go into preparing for a tournament, and during that time many more distractions must be handled. Things like families, kids, jobs, weddings, funerals, oil changes, doctor appointments, band recitals, soccer games, football season, sponsor obligations, birthday parties and electric bills all conspire to take our minds off fishing.

A few columns back, I reflected on my 2015 season — one that didn’t leave many fond memories. Coming off two solid years, I was struggling to understand what went wrong.

Heading into the first Bassmaster Open of 2016 at Lake Toho and not wanting a repeat of 2015, I was trying to figure out how to get back on track. Shortly after launching the Triton for the first day of practice, I got a call from one of my sponsors that required immediate attention. A few hours later, another call came from my “day” job as an environmental consultant. After that 45-minute conversation, I picked up my flipping stick only to feel a sharp pain in my right shoulder. I had noticed a little soreness after the last 2015 Open at Lake Seminole in October, but hadn’t been fishing enough since then to think much about it.

Then it started to rain, then pour, then lightning and high winds. I pulled the boat up behind some cattails, put the Talons down and hid under my Simms for about an hour. As all this was happening, my daughter was getting ready for the first game of a soccer tournament. She had just been promoted to the top level team for her age group in a very competitive league. These would be her first matches with the new team, and she had put in lots of effort to get there.

But I went fishing.

That’s when I realized what was wrong. I had a terrific team of sponsors, but to get and keep them, I was facing ever-increasing demands on my time. My consulting job was getting busier, projects were moving at a faster pace, and clients were demanding more of my time. My opportunity to prepare and practice for tournaments was being sacrificed to respond to emails or prepare reports from hotel rooms, cabins or interstate rest areas. I was often driving around the lake, not looking for fish but for cell service so I didn’t miss a conference call. During all this, my daughter was growing up, becoming a competitor in her own right, and I was missing way too much of it.

I spent several hours that evening parked at the boat ramp, talking on the phone with my wife and several of my fishing mentors. Moving forward on all those fronts wasn’t realistic. A few days later I talked with my main sponsors, and all supported my decision to dial back my tournament and promotional efforts to focus on my family and “other” career. Over the course of the tournament season, the pain in my shoulder grew to the point I cut practice days short. Now I’m wrapped up in sling, early in the 10-plus week rehab program following surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and labrum.

For many, tournament fishing is an escape from the grind of making a living. When fishing becomes a part of that living, things get complicated. For me, the distractions of two careers, a young family and nagging injuries were too much to overcome. So I’m cutting back a little. I’m focusing on my “other” career because I can’t pass up the opportunity and security it provides.

I’m not quitting tournaments. In fact, I’m already making plans for at least one division of the 2017 Opens and looking forward to fishing more around home. If the stars align and I’m finally able to get that Elite Series berth I’ve been chasing … who knows?

Perspective is a wonderful thing … once you find it. In a very real sense, the “distractions” I was fighting as a tournament angler were my “real” life, my real family and my real job. My fishing goals are still there, and I still hope to make them a reality, but I need balance.

I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time at the soccer field.