THE MENTAL SIDE OF BASS FISHING
article by Kenny Covington
Fishing is a complicated sport. The weather, choice of lures, areas, water clarity, seasonal habits and movements of the fish, the list goes on and on, is what gives this sport the intrigue it does. There is no such thing as overnight success just as there is no guarantee you will catch them every time you go out on the water. This sport is ever changing and evolving, and with the advancements of technology, it’s even more so.
The one aspect about the sport of bass fishing that hasn’t changed is the mental aspect of it. The human mind is a complex unit, and everyone is programmed differently. I have seen times when great fishermen are beat mentally before they ever put their boats in the water and made their first cast in tournament competition. I have seen average fishermen get on successful rolls and win back-to-back tournaments, events where they seem to do no wrong, simply because they believed strongly in the technique they were using or the lure they were throwing. In the end it’s all about the mindset.
Legendary fisherman Bill Dance once stated, “confidence, without a doubt, is the most important lure in your tacklebox.” I remember reading Bill’s quote and found it to be an interesting observation. It wasn’t until I started studying and following the career of Rick Clunn that I became totally aware and immersed in the human mindset and its power while fishing. While I don’t profess to have all the answers when it comes to developing a strong mental outlook while on the water, I do have a few things I would like to share in hopes they work for you as well as they have worked for me.
The following is a list of guidelines that I follow and while I don’t profess to have been the first to come up with these ideas, I have found them to be effective and have helped make me a better fisherman. By following these rules, I have learned to control my own mindset and not concern myself with the way my competition thinks, allowing me to block out distractions and focus on what I am trying to do on the water. Let’s take a look…..
Do not believe in luck. Many years ago, I learned I couldn’t allow “luck” to be the determining factor in my success or failures. I put too much time and effort into this sport to leave my fate up to the luck factor. With this mindset, I have always believed the more I prepare the luckier I get, and I have proven to myself this is not a coincidence. At the tournament weigh-ins I always hear things like, “well, we lost a lot of fish today” or “my partner lost a five pounder at the boat” or “I had two fish break me off.” When I hear these things, my mind automatically goes to “were you using the right rod and reel for the technique you were using” or “were you using the correct hooks for the lure and technique” or “when was the last time you changed your line or were you using the correct line for the technique you were using and did you tie a good knot?”. Bad luck? Maybe, but I am willing to bet it is more due to human error and element than it is the fishing gods not being on your side on a particular day.
No matter if it is good or bad, you create your own luck.
Do not listen to dock talk. I love a good tackle store as much as the next fishermen. I like to walk around and look at the colors, makes and models of all the lures. It’s almost like a drug. I might find something new that catches my eye, or I may just restock on some things I am currently missing. Tackle shops are an important part of any fishermen’s success, but they can also be a contributing cause to their failures. Unless you totally trust the person providing you the information, be careful when believing what you are told.
My being skeptical of people is a trait I have carried with me since childhood. When it comes to talking to other fishermen, this skepticism has come in quite handy. Some fishermen’s three pounders are always five pounders in conversation. If they tell you “We must have caught forty today,” cut that number in half. Too much specific information is not a good thing. Instead of asking about particular lures and specific areas on a body of water, I am more interested in what the fish are doing. If someone tells me they are catching their fish on a spinnerbait then I can determine the fish are actively feeding in shallow water. If someone says they are catching their fish on a jig, chances are they are fishing cypress trees or in a situation where they can flip or pitch.
Building a plan off general information you have gathered is what wins tournaments. Relying on specific information another angler told you is what gets you beat.
Regardless of the conditions, someone always wins. I love bad weather tournaments. They are the easiest ones to win. I have always had a theory, the worse the weather, the better my chances. When I hear my competitors talk about how miserable the weather is, I know I already have an advantage. I have fished in sleet, snow, rain, high winds, you name it I have fished in it. I have also been successful in each scenario. I have never fished a tournament when no fish were caught. Ever. Someone always catches them, so why can’t that someone be me?
I allow the conditions, regardless of how bad they are, to help determine what I can or even can’t do to be successful. As a rule, if it is windy, then I probably need to use lures like a Rat L Trap, spinnerbait or a crankbait, something I can feel in the wind, and doesn’t require me to work the lure. If it’s raining, I like to slow down and flip or pitch jigs and soft plastics, which is contrary to what you a lot of the fishing magazines would have you believe. On cold days when it is cloudy with bits of sleet or even snow, I have done exceptionally well throwing a big spinnerbait. The higher the weather pressure system, the deeper and slower I usually fish.
I have learned the worse the weather scenario, the more patience I must have as an angler.
Keep your mind in the game. I have always believed most tournaments are won or lost in the final two hours of the event. It is during this time, regardless of the time of year or weather conditions, when your mental focus tends to lack the most. You haven’t had a bite in a while, your back is hurting from standing up all day, your hot, tired, hungry or whatever else may be going through your mind. And now is when you will get the one bite that can make or break your tournament day. From the conversations I have had with other fishermen, it usually breaks them. I have seen or heard it happen too many times to count.
At twelve o’clock each tournament day I tell myself, “Let’s refocus and get this thing done.” During the day, I make sure I take a minute to drink something or eat a snack. I may think about relocating to another part of the lake or maybe even refresh my thoughts on what I have been doing up until this point in my day. Everything or anything I can do to make sure I am just as fresh at two o’clock as I am when I started at six in the morning is the goal. It’s your job to keep your mind sharp and make good decisions.
The lost lunker, like the worst tasting pill, sometimes is the best medicine.
Mind games. Fishermen are good at playing mind games. Anything that is within the rules to gain a competitive advantage is fair game so why not try to psych out your competition. Usually the older the fishermen, the harder it is to get under their skin, and I fall into this category. I guess that is why I never hear much from my competitors. Once an angler sees they can get under your skin, the mind games will continue. Not just from other fishermen but what you will do to yourself.
While I am on the water, I do not answer my phone. For the most part I do not read text messages or respond to them. I know people who will call their buddy at ten in the morning and ask if they have caught anything. If you call me that is a wasted phone call because I am not answering. I don’t want to know what you have caught; how tough the fishing is or what you heard so and so caught earlier. I will find out at the weigh-in what everyone else has done, so why concern myself with that information beforehand?
Before you allow someone to live in your mind rent free, you must first decide if that person is worthy of free rent.
Control the controllable variables, prepare for the ones you can’t. As an angler, you must always take into consideration the “what if” factors of being out on the water. In some earlier articles I have discussed this at length, but it is worth mentioning again. Anything you can control to make your day on the water more successful, you should try and do. If you can’t control it, then you should at least prepare for it.
A lot of non-fishing things that mentally destroy anglers on the water are things that could have been easily avoided. Not preparing for the current weather is the most common culprit. Not having enough clothes to stay warm. Not having the proper rain gear to stay dry. The wrong shoes, the wrong clothes, all these things play a role in your success as an angler. Don’t overlook these things, they will come back to bite you.
When you are tired, wet, cold, hot, hungry, thirsty, or any combination of these things, you will have a hard time being successful on the water.
On a quick side note, by the time you are reading this article the Major League Fishing circuit will be fishing (the week of February 5th –10th) on Lake DarBonne, Caney Lake and Bussey Brake Reservoir. If you are wanting to go watch your favorite anglers in action, please have respect and be courteous not to be in their way. This is how those guys make a living, don’t be a reason they don’t want to come back to this area in the future.
Well, it looks like we have run out of time and space again for another month. I hope we were able to share with you some thoughts and ideas that will help you become a better angler and make this sport a more enjoyable one. Be safe out on the water and remember to catch one for me! See you next month!