Catch the biggest bass of your life (part II)

In the first installment of "Mike Long Wants You to Catch the Biggest Bass of Your Life," we covered Long's approach to locating the best water for trophies in your area. This edition is all about the attitude. If you're waiting for stories about how he customizes swimbaits or his methods for fishing giant plastic worms, you can find those stories and videos on his site. They're terrific, and they'll help you.

But if you're looking for the big picture of what Long does to catch some of the biggest bass the world has ever seen, you're in the right place. Stick with us. You'll learn a lot.

In this 10-part series, Long tells his story in the order he believes will help you the most. He started with choosing the right water because fishing in the right place gives you at least a puncher's chance of catching a trophy. Next comes attitude or your mental approach. To borrow a line from the classic film "Cool Hand Luke," you've got to "get your mind right" if you want to have a legitimate chance of catching big bass on anything like a regular basis.

For Mike Long, it's no exaggeration to say that attitude is everything.

Finding the zone

"If you follow sports, you know about 'the zone'," Long says. "It's that metaphysical place where top athletes go from time to time and everything falls into place — shots go in, baseballs leave the park, passes find their targets — time after time after time.

"That zone is where I want to be with my fishing. I want to be totally in the moment, totally focused on the task and completely in tune with the factors that affect my success. When I'm there, great things happen. When I'm not, they don't. It's as simple — or as complicated — as that."

Long admits it's a lot easier to get into "the zone" when the weather's nice, the family's happy and all is well at work. But what about when things aren't right, when it's raining or cold, when your wife said you could go fishing but you know she didn't mean it or when your to-do list at the office is so long you'd need to clone yourself to get through it? What do you do then?

"For me, preparation has always been the key to keeping the right attitude and focus," he says. "I know I can't control everything about my life or my fishing, but when I have a grip on the things I can control, everything's better ... including my fishing."

Long puts himself in position to have the right attitude by keeping his "plate" as clean as possible. It helps to remove the distractions and other little demons that take his mind off fishing and catching big bass.

"It starts with the basics," he explains. "Your boat needs to be ready, the batteries need to be charged, the gas tank needs to be full, you need to have the right clothing for the conditions, you need a first-aid kit, you need sunscreen, the truck has to be ready and gassed up, rods and reels and line and baits have to be checked and lubed and spooled and tied on with good knots, I need a good lunch and plenty of drinks. All of this stuff matters because if you forget it — even something small — it takes you off task and you're not focused the way you should be or you're not prepared at the moment the fish of a lifetime finally bites.

"When I look back at my life, I realize there were times when I was able to put all of these things together and make fishing my priority," Long says. "I was able to devote the time I needed to getting things right and removing distractions so I could fish to the best of my ability. In the last couple of years, as my focus has shifted to teaching and building my website, it's a lot tougher to get back in the zone and do things the way that I personally have to do them to be successful. It's a serious commitment, and it's not something you can do for an afternoon here or there. You've got to be dedicated to it or you're just hoping to get lucky."

The last word in lonesome is "me"

Three Dog Night sang "one is the loneliest number," and somebody else said two is company and three's a crowd. And while there might be "safety in numbers," for Mike Long, trophy bass fishing is much like hunting, and that's best done alone.

"I love fishing with a buddy," he says. "It's a lot of fun. We joke around, and I can be a real goofball on the water with friends. But if I want to be serious about my fishing, I go alone. That way I'm not worrying about someone else and whether or not they're catching fish or having a good time."

Long even has a special term for when he's serious about his lunker hunting.

"I'll tell my family and friends that I'm on a 'blood trail.' It means I smell blood and I'm going in for the kill — not literally, of course, but that I'm serious and focused and ready. That's not something I can do when I'm fishing for fun with a friend."

How do you keep score?

Some anglers measure success in numbers of fish caught while others measure in the pounds and ounces of a single bass. The standards are equally legitimate but tend to be mutually exclusive.

"If you're hunting for big bass," Long says, "you're not fishing for 20 or 30 or 50 bites a day. You're hoping to get one or two or three. That requires a different attitude than other types of bass fishing, and it requires a different kind of discipline."

For the average angler, a fishing trip is gauged by numbers and perhaps a quality bass or two. For a tournament fisherman, it's typically about the best five he can put in the livewell. If you're serious about catching the bass of a lifetime, however, it's all about a couple of bites and what you do with them.

"When you're after the biggest bass in the lake, there are a couple of things that really prey upon your mind," Long says. "First is the fact there just aren't that many of these quality fish to go around, so you're not going to get a lot of action. Bites are going to be few and far between — sometimes days or even a week — and that's especially true when you're just getting started. You have to maintain your attitude and confidence all day, day after day, so you'll be ready when that bass of a lifetime hits.

"The other thing you have to fight is the desire to take the easy way out and just catch a couple of average fish because you see everyone else doing it. You might be out throwing a giant swimbait, cast after cast after cast, knowing it's your best chance at a trophy. You could pick up a little crankbait or spinnerbait and beat the bank for a couple of two pounders, but you need to fight that urge and realize that's not why you're there. It's OK to show up at the ramp empty-handed, and it's OK to tell your buddies you didn't catch anything that day, because you're not after the same fish they're chasing, and you're not measuring your experience they way they measure theirs. It's an important adjustment, and some guys just can't do it."

Every minute you spend chasing average fish is a minute you won't or can't catch the fish of your dreams and a minute spent not learning something about trophy bass.

Dealing with adversity

If you think you've had some adversity with your fishing, consider this. On at least three occasions Mike Long has hooked and lost the world record largemouth bass. He had the Holy Grail of fishing just yards from his grasp, but each time it got away. How do you regroup from that?

"I'm 47 years old now, and I have to admit that it's taken most of those years for me to figure out how to cope with the bad stuff that can and will happen when you're fishing," he admits. "If you fish long enough, you're going to lose fish — especially big fish — and your engine is going to fail and your line's going to break and your reel's going to lock up and everything else you can imagine is going to go wrong. That's just the nature of things, and even the best preparation can't prevent all of it.

"When those bad things happen, there's only one thing you can control and that's how you cope with it."

In earlier times, Long would "cope" with that sort of adversity by blowing up at the situation and getting mad — at his equipment, at the conditions, at the bass and at himself. He would fume and rant and get angry, often for long minutes or even hours.

"All that did was take me out of my zone," he says now. "It was natural and maybe it even helped a little to release that frustration, but it was counterproductive. I deal with things much better now."

Long likens his new method for handling adversity to resetting a computing that's gotten locked up or otherwise stopped working properly — he "reboots."

"When something goes wrong now, I take a moment to regroup and regain my focus. I'll take a deep breath, maybe close my eyes for a second or two and try to relax. For me, at least, that helps to put everything back in its proper perspective. I get the oxygen flowing back to my brain, and I usually start to feel better right away. The important thing is that you acknowledge that something has happened and deal with it. Don't ignore that something has taken you off your game; wait a beat, reboot, and go back to zero, start over."

But what if it's bigger than that? What if the wheels have come completely off your wagon?

"In extreme cases," Long says "I'll do some sort of productive task that helps to reset my mind on fishing. Maybe I'll sharpen a couple of hooks or oil a reel or retie a knot or two. The key is doing something fishing related that requires some attention so you redirect your negative thoughts and attitude. After that, I'm back on track."

Next: Personal Care.

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