There are two basic ways to approach a bass tournament: Fish to win or fish for points. This is a common conundrum among anglers during the season, but let me be clear that one approach is not necessarily better than the other. Every one of the Elite Series pro anglers, myself included, launch on Day 1 with the intention of winning — as you know, it doesn’t always end up the way you planned.
I think the decision to fish for points often gets made at the end of practice when a solid pattern hasn’t materialized, or during the middle of an event when a promising pattern has fizzled out. When I realize that I’m not on the winning fish or I have no clear path to victory, I work on catching and weighing a good limit each day hoping to move up in the standings and points — being as productive as possible is important.
This season has been great for me so far. I finished fifth at the Classic, which doesn’t generate points for the AOY race, but it does get the momentum going in the right direction. I managed 51st at St. Johns, which was the last paying spot, fifth at Winyah Bay, 17th at Bull Shoals/Norfork and 23rd at Wheeler. I bring this up to make my point: I made very specific decisions at each of those events that impacted the final outcome — some better than others.
Fishing conservatively doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t take risks. At the St. Johns event, I made it into the first cut by the skin of my teeth, so I had nowhere to go but up. So I gambled, and ran up a river that I hadn’t been in for a couple of years, in hopes of doing something great, but it backfired on me and I wasn’t able to improve. Had I stayed with my original plan, I probably would have caught a limit and saved 10 to 15 AOY points, but at the time, I was feeling lucky!
In fact, I’d likely be sitting higher in the AOY points than I am right now, but sixth place is not a bad place to be halfway through the season.
It really comes down to one or two decisions over a season that can have a negative or positive impact. The bottom line is you have to live with the results; making smart, calculated decisions is a major aspect of this game. A mentor of mine once told me, “Sometimes you make good decisions, but sometimes you’ve got to make your decisions good.” That means at noon when you realize you made the wrong decision you’ve got to figure out how to make it good by 3 p.m.
Over the years, I’ve been a consistent angler, but I’m always trying to learn more and get better in hopes of creating more opportunities to WIN! My 23 years in the sport have also taught me to always be looking for ways to improve upon the current situation.
If I feel like I’ve stumbled or made a few bad decisions that didn’t pan out, I immediately look for the best possible outcome. It’s times like this when I turn to the AOY points and do the best I can to finish as strong as possible. That’s when tournament fishing can become “conservative.” At our last event on Wheeler Lake, I was faced with this scenario on the third day while on Bassmaster LIVE, and I blew it! I was in third place and I thought I could win when the morning started, but as the circumstances played out, it became evident it wasn’t going to happen.
This was one of those classic learning experiences that I wish I had another shot at. I caught two quality fish early so I thought it would be easy to stick to my guns and grind out three more good bites in the area I was fishing. In the end, I should have taken my Senko or my Howeller and hit the bank until I finished my limit, and I likely would have been fishing in the finals on Sunday. I ended with a 23rd-place finish and gave up 12 to 16 points because I was too hard-headed! I’ll say it again, “I’ve learned my lesson.” I pray that one doesn’t cost me!
I don’t want to complicate my point, but the reality is every time an angler decides to go for the “chance to win” over the “points” it’s a completely unique situation; you can’t predict it. I also feel that experience is the best educator in this type of scenario. The thought of it makes me step back and wonder how many times I might have missed my chance at the AOY title because of a simple game-time decision during the regular season that didn’t pan out.
But, that’s the beauty of professional bass fishing: You just never know. A risk could pay off big time, or you could totally bomb, but you’ll never know unless you take the shot. Sometimes sticking to your guns is the best bet, and you have to make that call based on what you’re currently faced with.
This year, I’ve got my sights set on the AOY title more than ever. How will that impact each tournament I fish? Well, in recent years, you basically have to win at least one tournament during the regular season to have a shot at AOY, so I’m still going out to win. But, at the end of the season we may revisit this conversation and see how those individual decisions (good or bad) impacted the final outcome — hopefully with a Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year trophy on my mantle.
God’s in control!
Good luck and God bless!