Keep Your Mind Right

Mike Cork

You can’t win a Bass Tournament if you’re beat before you launch your boat. Your confidence, your abilities, and keeping your mind correctly focused is what will put a pay check in your hands at the end of the competition. If you let your focus shift from the bass, you’ll miss the details of what they are telling you and spend a lot of time doing the wrong thing. Most bass tournaments are at least 8 hours; it only takes five casts to win a tournament.

My district’s American Fishing Tour two day Championship was this past weekend. I have had a great season winning two events placing second in two events and a third. We had 8 tournaments in all, and I was able to take a check in five of them. I’m proud of this accomplishment, as one of the largest districts in the American Fishing Tour, we have a lot of very good anglers competing. Going into the final tournament of the year, I had a six point lead over second place for angler of the year. Behind him, there were several that were only another point or two away. Normally this would be a strong lead; however, the last tournament of the year being a two day event is worth double points. So, in reality, a six point lead is cut to three.

I almost psyched myself out of this tournament before it even started. Pre fishing did not go well. I found a few bass, but size was a real problem. The tournament was held on the Red River south of Bossier City Louisiana. Lunching in Pool 4 for day one and Pool 5 for day two. These pools are connected by a lock, and you were allowed to fish either pool either day. Many times when the Elites or FLW Tour anglers fish the Red River you read about anglers locking through to different pools. I find this very hard to do; I have trouble convincing myself that the time lost in the lock and traveling 40 or 50 miles to catch my bass is worth it.

During my pre fishing, I was able to find bass in Pool 4, but I knew they were not large enough to win the tournament. I also believed that traveling to Pool 5 wasn’t an option, because of lost fishing time and the fact that it’s late June, having baits in the water before the sun hits it is crucial. Also, my pre fish in Pool 5 was at a point that I had decided that if I found quality fish in Pool 4 during the first day of competition I would go ahead and sacrifice the lock and travel time. All this rambling is basically to state that, for the tournament, I had decided to stay in the pool that we launched from each day, to maximize my fishing time. Since I didn’t feel I had found a winning stringer of bass, I was going to need the time with a bait in the water to figure out game plans as the tournament hours wore on. If you have the big motor running, you’re not going to catch a bass, legally.

Pumped up and ready to fish, Day One launched without a hitch. I pulled into the only area I had found bass and jumped up on the deck of the boat with my spinnerbait rod in hand. I didn’t even have the trolling motor in the water before two other very good competitors, to include the angler that was in second place for AOY pulled in directly behind me. It’s a big area, and we are all good friends so it was almost calming to know that we all basically had the same idea. Now it was up to each of us to put it all together.

It didn’t take long for Josh (the angler in second place) to holler out that he had one; trying to put the ‘mind game’ on me. However, in his excitement he managed to lose that bass in the pad field he was fishing. Two casts later for me, I boated a solid two pound bass. Not 5 more casts I boated another 2 pound bass. Then 50 more feet, yet another 2 pound bass. This turned the tables on Josh, and he was scrambling. I saw him switch baits 5 or 6 times, but being a respectful angler he never put on a spinnerbait. I’ve been in this position before, having another angler catching bass after bass just in front of me, I handled it by leaving. I couldn’t concentrate on my game plan or make adjustments while trying to figure out what he was doing, for me leaving was the only option to get my mind back in the game.

It took me about 20 more minutes to finish my limit. When the sun hit the water, it was over. It’s amazing what a quick limit of bass in the livewell can do for a person’s outlook and confidence. Though, it was a small limit; the pressure is gone. Now able to think about a variety of ideas and put a new plan together. I found some main river bass that were willing to eat the way I like to fish, punching hyacinths. I closed out day one with only 9.88 pounds. First place had 16 pounds and second place had 14 pounds. I was in 8th place. Fortunate for my confidence, only one of the anglers that had to beat me by several places in this tournament to take Angler of the Year was ahead of me. Unfortunately, it was John a very good angler. He’s in second place with 14 pounds, a five pound lead on me, if it were a one day event he would be Angler of the Year. George, who was the day one leader with 16 pounds, had a 7 pound lead on me for first place.

This all leads up to Day Two on Pool 5. I haven’t been catching any quality bass. Well let me take that back, I have one spot that produced two weeks ago. I have checked it and shook fish off. I honestly had it pegged for three fish at about 6 pounds total. I caught such a quick limit in Pool 4, the day before, I considered making the run from Pool 5 to Pool 4. However, it was a small limit, and the majority of the bites had come before the sun hit the water. It would be a 35 mile run with lock time, if everything went perfect I would get there just as the sun hit the water. This coupled with the fact that weekend anglers that launched in the area would have already scoured it, made it a non option for me.

I’m sunburned, it’s going to be 102 with a light a variable breeze, clear skies, and I’m several pounds behind the leader. To say it was a tough drive to the launch was an understatement. I have learned many things through my many years of bass fishing; you can’t win if you don’t fish, you have to be confident, and bass can surprise those of us still learning.

Boat numbers are called, as I wait my turn I’m running the numbers in my head about who has what and what I need to catch to pull this off. Another thing I’ve learned through my years of tournament angling is that you are going to have your livewell handed to you if you worry about what the other anglers are doing instead of what the bass are doing. As they called my number and I traveled to my first spot, I convinced myself to let it all go. Go fishing, give it what I got, and that it’s me against the bass, not another angler on the water can change what the bass and I do.

My first spot was a set of laydowns. On the first laydown, I was able to put three fish in the boat. Two of which kept. On the next laydown, I hooked and lost a very good bass. Then, on the third laydown, I had a moment that could have went either way for my confidence. My first cast to the laydown I hooked a 3 pounder; fought it to the boat and in my excitement I horsed the bass only to have it jump free just outside the net. I quickly gathered my composure and made another cast at the same angle and was hit again, this time I boated a short bass. A couple more casts and nothing. Then a cast along the length of the laydown, the water erupted and I hooked another three pounder. After beating myself up for losing the first three pounder, I took my time, played the fish and just before netting her, she jumps, hits the side of the boat and comes loose. Literally hitting the side of the net as she swims away. To say I’m about ready to quit is an understatement. “Sometimes it’s your day, and sometimes it’s not.” I’ve heard that so many times that it frustrates me. I don’t believe it; I believe we have control. Sure occasionally there is nothing you can do and you’re going to lose bass. However, I believe if you take your time, do your preparation work and pay attention when battling a bass, you should be able to boat nearly all of them. I have now lost two good fish in a matter of a few casts.

I have the power poles down and think about it for a few seconds. I realize my pattern is working better than I thought, but I can’t make any more mistakes if I want to pull out AOY and a possible win of this tournament. I take more time, retie my bait, make sure the boat is lined up for the next set of casting angles and take a deep breath. With a flawless cast across the end of the same laydown, I hook up again with a 2 and a half pounder and easily put her in the boat, just like you’re supposed too. I took another deep breath, made my cast, and again hooked up with a solid two pounder. I have one more laydown in the area, and I’ve got four fish in the box. If I can pull just one fish off this last laydown, I’ll have a limit and can go “hawg” hunting. I pull up on the laydown nice and quiet, set my power poles and work my spinnerbait perfectly at all the angles, but nothing. I know there is a bass on this laydown. It’s the same depth as the other laydowns, on the same ledge to deeper water, everything about it is perfect. I picked up a worm and pitched it to the most likely spot. It never hit the bottom; I set the hook on a 3 and half pounder.

The ledge that I thought would produce three fish for six pounds, has produced a limit for 12 pounds. As I said before, for those of us still learning, bass will surprise you.

This allowed me to look for bigger fish. While I only had 4 more fish the rest of the day, one was 3 and half pounds, and one was 4 pounds. Giving me a total of 15.65 pounds on a day that I thought 10 pounds would be excellent. At weigh in, this turned out to be the largest limit of the second day of competition. While it wasn’t quite enough to take the lead, it did jump me from 8th place to 2nd Place for the tournament. George, day one leader, caught another 11 pounds, and I just couldn’t catch him. John who had me counting numbers before launch didn’t fair to well and didn’t have a limit to weigh in. Several of the anglers that were on my heals did well on Day Two; however, because I was already ahead of them after day one they didn’t catch me.

You can’t win if you don’t fish. Even though prefishing may have been tough, if you keep your confidence high and your mind on the task at hand, you can be competitive.

Get the Net it’s a Hawg
Mike Cork
Ultimate Bass
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Mercury Marine
Dobyn’s Rods
Power Pole
Elite Tungsten

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