Stay Focused!

It’s high noon on Saturday. The outside temperature is ninety degrees and the water temps aren’t far behind that. Your back is aching along with your feet, and the brim of your new fishing cap you were so proud of yesterday is soaked with sweat and stained with salt…

John Emery Ultimate Bass's Newest Contributing Writer





It’s high noon on Saturday. The outside temperature is ninety degrees and the water temps aren’t far behind that. Your back is aching along with your feet, and the brim of your new fishing cap you were so proud of yesterday is soaked with sweat and stained with salt. Your partner in the back of the boat is sitting down now, eating a sandwich, looking all around sort of uninterested, and mumbles “maybe we should move”. There is only one fish in the live well that barely measures and your partner caught him four hours ago. Your wrists are tired from throwing that deep diving crankbait all day long…you know, the one you caught them on last time you were fishing a tournament on this lake. You are starting to feel that all too familiar feeling again of the time crunch, plus the confidence drop, the overall fatigue, and impending defeat.

How many of us have been the exact depiction of the first paragraph. Whether you have dabbled a little bit in local tournaments or you are a full time competitive angler, chances are you have experienced what I am talking about. If you are like me, you have experienced this day on several occasions. I can’t tell you the number of times the above situation has gotten the best of my mental approach and cost me a paycheck or at the very least, the post loss feeling of pride at knowing I gave it my all until the last cast. When these situations arise, and they will more than not, the competitive angler needs to stay focused. Let me try to convince you why and then you need to store this information in the back of your tournament strategy mental files to draw from in a tough time of need.

I will give you a few examples from my own experiences but chances are you have had very similar instances if you spend any amount of time out on the water chasing Mr. Bucketmouth. First of all, have you ever caught a keeper fish near the end of the day during a tournament, even if it was a fluke and you had pretty much already thrown in the towel and were just killing time until weigh in. And more times than not that fish was caught within sight of the weigh in too. Maybe that fish was an intricate part of your days strategy…to hit that secret stump nobody else knows about (doubt that) before going to the scales. Or maybe, it was just as I spoke of a moment ago, you were killing time, your mind was on a double cheeseburger, and you….”Ooops, fish on, get the net…she come off that secret stump right there that I bet nobody knows about” (umm huh).

How many times have you gone out pleasure fishing with a friend or family member and once again, right there before heading for the truck, one of you sticks a hog…perhaps after going a couple hours without a strike. What time of day did you catch that fish? Many of mine have come at a variety of different hours. My point being, once that “morning bite” we all rely upon so much is over…it’s not really over. If you are tournament fishing it is crucial to remember that. Watch the competitive professionals on Saturday morning television and see how they have their day managed right down to the last cast. The consistent money makers are as enthusiastic about their last cast of the day as they are about their first one. Staying in the game mentally, staying focused can be the difference in cashing a check or going hungry.

I can recall several days where had I not trudged on, even under the toughest conditions and even an empty live well; I would have been nothing more than a monetary contributor to the winning stringers. On one of those occasions, I was doubly beat down mentally because not only did I have an empty live well within an hour of going to the scales, but I had also boated countless really good fish in practice. I knew this particular fishery had yielded several last minutes winning fish in the past for my father so I tried to keep that knowledge at the front of my thought process and continued to methodically pick apart every piece of shallow brush I came across with my Mann’s Jelly Worm. I will usually opt to slow things down when the bite is tough…not always, but nine times out of ten it will increase your chances. Within minutes of pulling up the trolling motor I felt that “tic” I had been searching for hours for and reared back on the heavy action flipping stick. A few moments later I placed the five and a quarter pound fish in my live well and headed for check in. I headed home that evening with a nice check for “big bass” and seemed to have forgotten the other grueling seven and a half hours of the fishing day. Those last few minutes had made my day successful.

On another occasion, during the second day of a two day tournament, I was struggling after a decent string on day one. I had started out the second day in ninth place, but by two o’clock my live well was quite light with only one small keeper. I was fishing shallow nearly a quarter mile across a flat that I could only cross by holding the trolling motor half out of the water. After several minutes of trying to cross back over this flat to access the main channel, fire up my trustworthy Yamaha outboard, and speed to the check in…and with a “beat” mindset and the feeling I had let this one get away from me…I spied a single tiny twig sticking out of the water about fifty yards ahead of me. There wasn’t another visible stick up within two hundred yards of that one. Like a quarterback throwing the last second hail Mary pass at the end of a losing game, I quickly slammed my trolling motor up onto the deck of my boat, picked up a spinner bait as the boat glided towards the twig, and launched the heavy white bait with big willow leaf blades to my imaginary receiver just beyond the tiny stick. A moment later as the big bait “waked” just under the surface it neared the twig and disappeared in a giant boil of water. After what seemed like an eternity of thrashing, splashing, and line slackening aerial jumps I finally lipped the monster bass and placed her in the box. That last minute six plus pounder not only won me tournament big bass money, but also jumped my weight into second place and a substantial payday. My point is to never give in, and it can be extremely difficult to keep your focus when it seems things are not going your way.

I can remember having a personal unwritten rule for myself when fishing at the local level on local lakes and more times than not this rule held true for me. That rule was that if I could catch eight pounds a day, whether it was a one day or a three day tournament, I had a good chance of cashing a check. I probably would not win with this weight but it would most likely get me into the money. Granted this is a location specific rule and fit the area of the Midwest I was playing my skills at the time in. Many smaller local lakes can be quite finicky simply because of size and diversity of cover and depth…or more so the lack of. A single keeper fish can have a great impact on your place of finish many times in these situations, making the need to keep casting away that much more important. I have since graduated to the national tournament level and most lakes will have a number of productive patterns going at any one time due to the size and diverse choices of strategies available to the angler. Many times, those strategies include a “later in the day” or “afternoon” bite that may be dictated by current, or water temperatures, or a number of reasons. In these situations it is crucial that the angler have patience, confidence, and the ability to stay focused late into the fishing day.

I imagine that if you think back you too can remember many “surprise” fish or last minute bites that came at the least expected time. Bass can turn on or off at any time caused by a number of stimulators we humans just haven’t figured out yet. The next time that sun is beating you down and the silent aerators are driving you crazy…remember those unforgettable moments that turned a terrible day into an ever memorable one. Staying focused may just improve upon an enjoyable outing for you and your child…or it may mean the difference between the winners circle and a long drive home. Stay focused!

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