Kayak pro angler Kristine Fischer recently won the Hobie Bass Open Series Tournament of Champions on Lake Eufaula, and she scored the win by leveraging an often overlooked side of competitive sports.
In her case, the ability to master the mental side of the game transcended the superior execution of mechanical skills and lure presentations needed to win in an ultra-competitive environment.
The Nebraskan was among a field of 50 top anglers in points invited to the championship at the conclusion of the regular season. Payout was $75,000, with Fischer collecting the top prize of $35,000.
Fischer had never fished the legendary southeast Alabama lake, its deep ledges along the Chattahoochee River contrasting with vast backwater areas of heavy cover and winding creeks. Putting together the pieces of the puzzle would be challenging during the three-day event, given the size of the riverine impoundment, and post-frontal conditions.
Faced with the unfamiliar water, Fischer chose to fish her strengths, which are breaking down shallow structure with power fishing methods, then dissecting the sweet spots at a slower pace.
She landed in 11th place after Day 1, with the cold front dictating constant adjustments to stay in the game. Fischer fished new water each day, while making the necessary tactical adjustments to her patterns.
Above all else, she recognized cerebral tactics would help her stay on top of the changing conditions.
“I remained so level-headed that honestly, I don’t know how I was able to harness that type of mental strength,” Fischer said. “It was on another level of just how relaxed and calm I really was, compared to the KBF letdown.”
That meltdown occurred just prior to the Hobie championship. At the Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship, Fischer sat in 11th place in its angler of the year points race going into the event. A stellar practice fell apart on Day 1 with Fischer landing in 190th place.
“I literally spun out from the pressure and was so disappointed in myself,” she said. “Everything was off, from execution to being mentally focused. I knew I needed three fully consistent days, and I blew it.”
With the title no longer in reach, she let go of all expectations, fished with a clearer mind, and ended the tournament with a check and 22nd-place finish. With the Hobie championship coming up, she went off the grid to decompress, recharge and clear her mind. Fischer’s place to do that is a remote, scenic river where she finds solitude while stimulating her mind through fishing for muskie. It all lines with her equally as free-running spirit.
The self-proclaimed vagabond has no home base where she can regroup between events. Airbnb rentals provide some semblance of home, but the stays are overshadowed by the rigors of preparing and competing. Life is a constant cycle of travel, competing and preparing for the next tournament.
Fischer, now in her fifth year on the kayak tours, admits that striking a balance between mental and physical stability is a challenge with her schedule. This season she competed in 25 tournaments, from January through November, with the travel time between events often overlapping.
“Fishing at the top of your game requires every ounce of concentration that you’ve got, but at the same time if you aren’t maintaining diet, fitness and rest, then you cannot maintain that high level of performance.”
Fischer, 33, is making taking better care of her body a priority. She carves out time for meal planning, exercise and unplugging from the chaos. She sets aside a day between events to recharge, relax and take her mind out of gear.
For the first few years, Fischer was up hours before daylight and on the water until well after sundown. Mental and physical fatigue made change necessary.
“I might have squeezed in a few more hours on the water, but in the end, it took a toll on me,” she said. “Now, if I need an extra hour or two to recharge then I take it.”
She continued, “I don’t have it perfected by any means, but each season I find little ways to make my body perform better, my mind to stay sharper.”
Spin outs still happen, as they would for anyone competing virtually nonstop through a season, but recovery is much more manageable.
“After the Hobie win, I never got on a cloud nine high,” she said. “I was excited, but now that I understand how this game works, I stayed level headed, kept my ego in neutral.”
The ability to keep the mind in check only comes with a commitment, experiencing the highs and lows, and spending time on the water. Fischer can check those off, while moving on to the next goals.
“It’s a tricky thing to navigate right now because I have so many goals,” she said. “Fundamental is winning a kayak angler of the year title.”
Fischer competed as a co-angler in two 2021 Basspro.com Bassmaster Opens events, and she plans to do more in 2022. She has no immediate plans to leap from a kayak to the front of a bass boat and go full speed into the pro ranks, but the desire is there. She wants to spend more time in a bass boat, maybe compete in small tournaments to continue testing the waters.
“The competition in the Opens is very tough, very challenging, and that appeals to me,” she said. “I want to get a better perspective, see what this world is about, and go from there.”
In the meantime, the offseason will allow much needed downtime with family and friends, while gearing up mentally and physically for the season to come in January.