This article is not about modifying baits, a secret technique, hot new bait, or anything of the like; it’s about something far more critical to successful bass fishing. I’m talking about the mental aspect. The mental element can determine the difference between a good day or bad, far more than any bait or technique. The mental game can be the difference between cashing a check on tournament day or not. Even for the weekend angler, the mental part can make the difference between a successful day of catching bass or a day of casting practice.
Keeping one’s head in the game starts when we first start thinking about our next bass fishing trip. It’s about careful preparation. It’s about getting our gear ready early, so there are no surprises. If you have a long trip, it’s about making arrangements for sleeping and meals, launch facilities, stores for food and snacks. Make sure there is a solid game plan all set.
It’s finally time to launch; whether it’s for a day of fishing after a long week or a bass tournament, it’s all the same. My typical scenario for a tournament would be, I’m all checked in, I’ve done my boat check and boat in the water when you notice the weatherman lying through his teeth. Panic time? Not if we want to do well, time to get our brain in gear and think about what this weather change will do to the bass. Are the bass going to move? If so, will they move to hard cover, or maybe it won’t influence them at all? If fishing for a relaxing day on the water, we still need to apply these thinking processes.
If I have a partner for the day, I will include him in my thought process, and we’ll discuss a game plan together. If we decide we need to make changes because of the condition, we’ll also carefully consider tackle changes. Accomplish tackle reconfigurations while figuring out what the location of choice will be. Anglers must have confidence in what they are doing; it shouldn’t take long to see if decisions are correct; if not, make adjustments. Making adjustments takes the mental ability to throw out a game plan and adjust to conditions on the fly. Should I downsize, move to cover, or maybe head for windy banks. Should I try horizontal baits? Because everybody knows the windy side gets stirred up, moving baitfish, and putting bass in an eating mood, correct?
If an angler finds bass with the new plan, it’s time to find the size of bass we need to have a shot at a high finish. Simple adjustments like speed followed by up or downsizing, lastly color, perhaps a different bait can improve the size of our catch. It’s all part of the game, and so far, you’re adapting pretty well.
Everything has come together, and it’s a battle with the bass of a lifetime; as fast as it happened, it’s over and swimming free. Deflation! Don’t slump to the deck in depression, cuss up a storm to the bass gods, lay on the deck whining and crying up a storm like a 4-year-old who can’t have the cookie he wanted, throw tackle about including out of the boat. Instead, suck it up, check the bait and make another cast? I never saw KVD, Denny Brauer, or Rick Clunn lose fishing time complaining. All I saw were guys who shrugged their shoulders and went back to making casts; this is what they did to not panic or give up. Staying cool-headed is what sets them apart from most of their peers.
I like arriving the day before instead of making a long drive, a quick check of my gear and boat, then a good night’s sleep. Arriving the night before makes it easier to adapt to unforeseen changes. Also, make sure there are plenty of snacks and drinks in the boat; if blood sugar gets low or dehydration sets in, the mind becomes sluggish, and it cannot think in an emergency. Keeping the body ready keeps the mind ready and prevents a mental dumper when things happen, like losing a big bass, thus making it easier to get back into the game.
The third Saturday of June 2005 was the opening day of bass season and an ABA bass tournament on Cayuga Lake. I got there early because I was six weeks out from a hip replacement and didn’t want to hurry around. The wind was howling up to 45 mph out of the north. The saving grace for me is the tourney launched out of the north end of the lake. I had the smallest in the tournament fleet at 16 feet. All the anglers went south. Since I didn’t want to battle the weather, I stayed close, leaving me docks and clear water; there were a few grass patches close enough I could reach them, but they were still in the canal channel and in the wind, so I couldn’t work them. I tried to fish the grass for 15 minutes and had to go back to the docks. I had a perfect day; I didn’t let any of the crap bother me; I was just happy to be fishing. I caught a limit, five bass for 7.65 pounds of dinks but legal dinks. I have the trophy for first place, and I was the only one to weigh a limit and won by less than half a pound. I fished very clean and never lost a bass; nothing bothered me; I wouldn’t let it. I wish I could say this about all my tournaments, but I can’t. The ones I kept a positive attitude were good ones; the tournaments when my attitude went south weren’t.
It’s hard work at times, but we must have a good attitude and not lose our ability to think through tough times, the more prepared we are to have to adapt, the better the fishing will be, trust me. The ability to forge ahead no matter what is the most critical part of the game and will help turn adversity into a good day.Rodney