Eliminating Mistakes and Bad Habits

I guess bass fishing, in and of itself, might be considered a bad habit, at least to the wives or husbands left lonely at home, while the angler of the family tries to get a fix for our bass fishing addiction.

While mistakes and bad habits would most definitely get you in the doghouse at home, they are also two of the biggest keys to not catching fish.  Yes, I did say “not” catching fish.  Of all the things you do while on the water, whether it’s fishing just to catch fish, or trying to win a tournament, mistakes and bad habits, or lack there of, will always be determining factors in your success rate.  I would also go as far as saying that these two factors, above all others, will separate the bad angler from the good angler, and the good angler from those who have been fortunate enough to figure out how to fish for a living.  These two elements are so important to your bass fishing success that every angler should take time to analyze each day you spend on the water.  Look at all of the factors, the water conditions, the weather, your actions, your successes, your failures, and so on.  You should analyze your tactics, your habits, your planning, your equipment, and your skill sets, and then make a determination on how to improve that particular aspect of your fishing.  And keep it in mind that even the things you do well can, and need to be improved upon.  If you determine that a particular aspect of your fishing involves bad habits or mistakes, develop an exercise that will help you fix the problem the next time you go to the lake.  Let’s discuss them, one by one.

What would be considered a mistake?  Forgetting to check your knot, or not retying often enough would be two mistakes.  Failure to make sure your hooks are sharp might cause you to lose fish.  Setting the hook too hard, or too soft will cause you to lose fish.  Not using the proper line size or even the wrong amount of flex in your rod can cause you to lose fish.  Horsing a fish to the boat instead of playing the fish out may cause the hooks to pull out.  Handling the fish improperly while landing, or poor netting skills will not put a fish in the live well.  Did you choose the wrong bait for the fishing conditions?  Did you spend enough time studying the map?  And a little more argumentative, a mistake would be leaving biting fish to go to another spot.  The next one will take some thought.  Even catching a fish might be a mistake.  I’m guilty.

The best part about making mistakes is that you don’t have to make them the next time you go to the lake.  Concentration will take care of most of them.  The biggest problem with mistakes is that very few anglers take the time to figure out if they have actually made one.  And granted, there are many bass anglers that may not be serious enough to care whether a mistake has been made or not.  But what if you could have caught one more fish, or landed that huge greenback that “had to be at least six pounds?”  Professional anglers make very detailed notes about everything, and keep huge logbooks on each different lake, or tournament, or simple fishing trip, for every day, month, and year they have been fishing.  Some, like Shaw Grigsby even carry mini tape recorders in their pockets to keep track of everything that happens, everything they see, or even the things they feel.  It doesn’t take much time, before you can finds simple ways to make fewer mistakes, and catch more fish.

And then there are the bad habits.  A bad habit is basically what you might call a “mistake with legs”, or simply a mistake that happens over, and over, and over again.  Mistakes are primarily about single actions, where bad habits are more about methods, tactics, skills, and planning.  Obviously, bad habits are hard to break, and may require repetition of exercises and practice to break them.

Let’s start with setting the hook too hard.  Setting the hook is definitely a method that continues to be misunderstood.  How many times have you witnessed a hook come flying back into the boat with a set of bass jaws attached.  Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but you know what I mean.  On the flip side, how many anglers have tried to lead a fish all the way to the boat without setting the hook?  This is not an exaggeration.  You can do it.  When a bass takes a soft, plastic bait, it is normally done out of hunger, or a feeding action, and not normally about a reaction.  That means the fish is looking for a meal, and really doesn’t intend on letting the bait go.  A Carolina rig would be one example.  There have been times, while practicing for tournaments, when I have brought fish all the way to the boat, and in some cases, landed the fish, using soft plastics with no hooks.  But there is a fine line.  Letting a fish have a bait too long is also a bad habit, and generally done when you have not fully developed your ability feel a bite.  If you wait until the fish moves to actually confirm that the bump was actually a fish, you will lose the fish more often.

To feel the bite better, make sure you move the bait with the rod tip.  When you move the bait picture in your mind what your bait is contacting as it moves, and tell yourself what’s underwater as your bait makes contact.  Tell yourself that your bait is bumping a stump, tugging through grass, popping across a gravel bed, pulling over a rock, whacked by a fish. Set the hook.  You’ll learn the difference.  And when you set the hook, remember three things, quick, precise, and steady pressure.  Never confuse quick, with hard.  Replace hard with steady pressure, and a quick, smooth, precise stroke.

Let’s discuss the shoreline.  The shoreline is probably the most widely implemented bad habit.  When you go to the lake, where are most of the boats?  You’re right, slamming the bank.  Why?  The bank is easiest place to find the fish.  The bank has the most visible cover.  The fish on the bank are the easiest fish to locate, but they also receive the most fishing pressure.  While using the bank to get a feel for what the fishing conditions will be like for the day, don’t let it become too habitual.  There are plenty of targets offshore, hidden structure, likes ledges and break lines, edges of cover, like submerged timber, beds of vegetation, or stump fields.  Expand your horizons by looking for a ditch, ridge, or underwater hump, or maybe a hidden rock pile in a structurally vacant cove.  Which leads us to yet another bad habit, your “honey hole.”

Too many anglers go to the same spot on the same lake, time after time, because they had a few good days on that spot during a previous fishing trip.  Or similarly, banking on an area you had success in during the last tournament you fished on a less familiar lake.  Maybe you know of an area where an angler won the last tournament on a lake.  Remember that fish will not locate themselves in the same areas all the time, based on many different factors.  Maybe the baitfish are no longer at the same depth, maybe the water quality changed due to fall turnover, or maybe the lake level has changed since your last visit.  It’s perfectly natural to go with what you know, but plan on fishing where the fish should be based on the conditions present at the time, not what the conditions were way back when.  You’ll have far greater successes.  Spend a day on your home lake exploring the lakes bottom and contours, instead of fishing.  You might be surprised what you learn.

Getting wrapped up in “dock talk” can be another bad habit.  It’s true, nobody should know the lake better than the local anglers, but take advice at face value.  Here are some examples.  Many times, one person’s magic color could be very dependent on the water in a certain part of the lake, that the person experienced at a certain time, and the same may not be true for the entire lake in general.  Maybe somebody had success two days ago, but got skunked for the last two days.  You are going to hear about the great day, it just may not have been today.  And in tournaments, could it be that not very many anglers will actually tell you the truth about what they have been doing, or how many fish they have caught?  Be confident in your own abilities, do your homework, fish hard and constant, and find your own fish.  There are few things that equal the satisfaction that comes from proving to yourself that you can have success all by yourself, and the more you do it, the more it will happen.

Another habit is wasting time on the water, especially evil when you are fishing a tournament.  Learn the lake, and learn how to run the lake.  You are wasting time if your boat is at an idle speed.  Learn how to get to your area safe and quick.  Rig all of your gear before you get on the water.  You’ve done your homework; you know what you should be doing and where you should be doing it.  Keep your line wet, and a hook in the water.  If you are depending on a certain color and size of crankbait, have several, all tuned, so if you break one off, you’ve got another one ready.  Make sure your boat is organized so that you don’t have to look for anything.  If you need pliers, they are at your feet.  If you need another hook, they are under your feet in the box marked hooks, and the chartreuse spinnerbaits are under your feet in the box marked chartreuse spinnerbaits.  Eat your lunch while casting, or when running to your second area.  You get the basic idea, and you can see where wasting time could mean catching one less fish.

The basis of this entire article is to demonstrate how you can improve your fishing by eliminating factors that can work against you.  Mistakes and bad habits are controllable factors, meaning that these things happen because you let them happen.  The fish participating in your fishing trip is an uncontrollable factor.  Do what the fish want, not what you want.  Other anglers are uncontrollable factors.  Do what you know how to do, not what everyone else is doing.  You will have greater success in locating and catching bass if you set your mind to controlling all of the factors you can control, and then concentrate on them relentlessly.  We will always learn from our mistakes, because we will always make them.  We will always develop bad habits, but we can break them.  We always remember the bubblegum worms, but we often forget our minds at the house.

Nathan Noble


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