The frustration and pressure of tournament angling

Winyah Bay proved to be a grueling battle and a true test of survival. It put our minds, bodies and equipment through rigorous challenges each day, and I had the tournament under control for the most part. Or, at least I thought I did.

The Bassmaster Elite Series anglers are no joke; these guys flat out catch them every day, everywhere. Many rookie anglers probably question themselves and wonder if they can last at this level. I have put a lot of self-inflicted pressure on myself because I expect more than what I am doing, but I believe that I have the ability to compete at this level. The learning curve is very different, though.

Pressure in the Elite Series comes at you from every direction, but one place you don’t want it is from yourself. The pressure and frustration of tournament fishing can be overwhelming if you don’t contain expectations. That’s something I am learning. Thankfully, I have a support system that I can lean on while I try to keep a clear head on the water.

At Winyah Bay I was in 22nd place with 9 pounds, 11 ounces after Day 1 and was within sight of my first Elite Series check and Top 51 cut. As many know, bass fishing can be a humbling sport, and it just wasn’t my time on Day 2. When a tough fishery presents opportunities to excel, you need to capitalize, but that just didn’t happen.

In the early moments of Friday morning, I jumped off a 4- to 5-pounder, which is a genuine giant for the region of Winyah Bay I was fishing. I never could get back on track, and the rest of the day eventually followed suit as I tried to shake it off. I brought two fish to the scales and dropped to 75th. That is nowhere near what my expectations were, but my execution was off and that is a part of the sport. Nothing is guaranteed on the water.

Throughout practice I had numerous bites and established a solid pattern with a Reaction Innovations Trixie Shark, which is a soft plastic frog. When the Day 1 storm rolled through, I sat in my truck hoping and praying that it wouldn’t kill my bite. The thunder and lightning along with the downpour of rain kept the fish from coming to the surface for me, so I had to take the bait to them and adjust. I never landed another keeper on a frog the rest of the week so I resorted to flipping the Smallie Beaver instead.

People always ask about the importance of pre-practice and what impact it really has on a tournament. At Winyah Bay, it was everything for me. That system is huge. There are over half a dozen rivers that you can fish and thousands of shoreline miles to cover. My pre-practice scouting allowed me to see a lot of the fishery and zone in on the type of cover and water I wanted to fish. I didn’t make the trek to the Cooper River, but rather stayed around the Waccamaw River.

We now enter a back-to-back situation at Bull Shoals/Norfolk and then to Wheeler Lake. I’ve never been to any of those lakes so the next two events should be interesting for me, and adjusting will be important. Since the season started, I’ve realized the slightest details can make the biggest difference on the water.