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By : Danger Kelly
At the conclusion of a tournament this past summer, a fisherman just starting out in the sport asked me what was most important to achieving success in professional fishing. And as I recall, I responded that perseverance, confidence, and refined technique are not only important, they are essential.
Having had the opportunity to gain some valuable experience in competitive fishing, I have come to the conclusion that while there is no question it is a charmed life, there are some very difficult hurdles that stand in the way to success.
One of the most difficult aspects of competitive fishing is the incredible toll it takes on an angler mentally. Between the weather, life on the road, constant maintenance issues, difficult to evaluate fisheries, pressure, and the multitude of other factors you have to face, keeping your mind clear and in good spirits is essential to executing on the water. This is not something you hope for, it is something that you have to work on until your outlook reflects positivity regardless of the difficulties you face on and off the water.
This is where perseverance is absolutely essential. It’s not enough to weather the cold, you need to go one step further and train yourself not to feel the cold. Becoming an excellent planner and being flexible will assist in insuring life on the road won’t let you down.
Maintenance used to worry me on a regular basis because of the number of things that go wrong in conjunction with the difficulty in getting work done on the road within the time constraints. Again, perseverance was required in becoming my own mechanic, which required years of diligent effort and a whole lot of trial and error.
The evaluation of fisheries is all about practice, practice, practice. But struggling through 100s of days where I was left with less than what I was hoping for allowed me to get to the next day, learn a little more, think more critically and develop an eye for subtle detail. But the most difficult aspect of it all was learning to change my own mindset—in a moment if I had to—to remain positive.
And this begins with confidence. Out on the water, you are not on a team, you don’t have a coach, and there are typically 174+ competitors on the water looking to beat you regardless of all your planning and effort. Out on the water, you will rarely find any help in the form of a friendly suggestion or advice. This is the nature of competitive fishing.
It’s not that we don’t practice great sportsmanship. Quite the opposite. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a fisherman assist another competitor in fixing an unexpected malfunction or loan a bait. I’ve even seen a group of fishermen donate tackle, rods, and reels to a fisherman who had been robbed so he could finish a tournament.
But sportsmanship does not imply providing competitive advantage or relinquishing one. And we know not to ask advice from others no matter how bad things are going during practice.
You gain confidence via three pathways. The first is to know and trust your equipment. When I fish, I have the benefit because of excellent sponsors’ equipment that is the result of tremendous R&D and has been proven at the highest levels in the sport. With Lew’s rods and reels and Strike King Lures, I don’t have to worry about an inability to execute on the water when it matters most.
Upon this foundation, I add extensive preparations to insure I understand the water. Before a tournament, I research the lake, its history, topographical formation, tournament results in the past, and keep track of any commentary regarding fishing conditions leading up to the tournament. I watch the weather carefully, and try earnestly to see the subtle clues in the water that make a crucial difference. I even go as far to read articles and books written by fishermen who live at the lake or hold it in high regard as they cannot help but embed little gems within their pages.
Finally, during practice, I have a leave no stone unturned policy. I fish every part of the lake without exception, regardless of how good the fishing in a particular area is during the practice session. In fact, over the years I have seen so many fishermen have great practices and bad tournaments that I am skeptical of fishing too well before the tournament begins. I have learned the hard way that as conditions change, you may find yourself moving into parts of the lake that hold fish, but at the same time are unfamiliar. This is not what you want during a competition day. So a deep focus on understanding the entire lake, not just the temporarily active portion, is essential.
All of these things serve to build confidence, but in the end, you have to take that final step, which for me is encompassed by a single quote that I have held in high regard for years.
‘When I let go of who I am, I become what I might be.’ -Lao Tzu.
This is a continuing benefit of studying philosophy. But this quote, I believe, is critical to being a professional angler. The grand meaning here is absolving yourself of identity in order to establish yourself according to what you want to be in life. And yes, there is no question that taking on the challenge of being a professional fisherman, you are benefitted by such a sweeping concept. But taken on a smaller scale, it can be highly effective as well. This is about absolving yourself from the events of this day, the past moments, and continually allowing your perspective to remain fresh and optimistic.
To be successful, you must shake bad thinking and difficulties in catching fish. Mentally renewing your perspective, or focusing on what could be, is a highly effective method of accomplishing this end.
Finally, there is technique. All the preparation and optimistic mental outlook in the world will not overcome an inability to put the bait where it needs to be, and ensure the presentation is something that entices a bass. If you want to achieve this third requirement, you need to practice.
Practice does not mean fishing practice, it means casting and presentation practice. You need to be able to make every cast, and present a lure in every way applicable to catching fish before you find yourself in a situation where a particular cast and presentation is the difference between winning and losing.
These three concepts are central to success in professional fishing, and mastering them take a lot of work and dedication, but there is no shortcut to winning in fishing, there are too many competitors, and bass don’t want to be caught. But these concepts will provide you with a foundation upon which to build a success story on the water, all your own.