(The writer's opinions and observations expressed here are his own, and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views, policies or positions of FLW.)
There are few guarantees in tournament fishing, other than the fact that the sport is an emotional roller coaster. The highs and lows are guaranteed with the same certainty as sunrises and sunsets.
If you’re to survive in this sport, learning to deal positively with failures and letdowns is as critical as anything else in fishing. I have some experience in that regard, given the fact that despite having a successful career in this sport, I’ve also felt some epic letdowns during the past 25 years.
Among my list of disappointments is knowing that I had enough fish hooked – but lost – to win more than 15 tour-level events over the years, and losing a fish that cost me winning the Bassmaster Classic.
The one that haunts me the most revolves around the 2002 Ranger M1 tournament on the Mobile River Delta. Although history reflects the fact that David Dudley won the event, I actually topped him by nearly 10 pounds heading into the championship round. The weigh-in format in those years called for the weights to be cleared going into the final round, and that was my undoing. In that decisive last day, he caught 15 pounds, 15 ounces, and I had 14 pounds. The format has since changed to the current cumulative weight scoring.
In that 2002 event, I was qualified to win a life-changing $900,000 counting incentives. To finish second and win $110,000 while catching nearly 10 pounds more weight than my nearest competitor was all the incentive I needed to seek how to deal with letdowns.
For any angler, the intensity level of a letdown depends on a lot of variables. The most intense for me are the events where I lose fish, have someone hole-jump my key area or have a mechanical breakdown that ends up costing a lot more money than just the repair bill.
The mental severity of a letdown such as these largely depends upon one’s financial situation. An angler who has a financial safety net and doesn’t have to depend on winning prize money to pay mortgages, bills, etc., probably doesn’t undergo a mental setback equivalent to that of the fisherman who relies mainly or solely on tournament winnings and sponsorships to pay his bills.
For the latter type of angler, a letdown can be devastating, in more ways than one. Gleaned from my own personal experience, which is more substantial in this area than I would otherwise wish for, consider this advice:
1. Allow yourself to feel.
Depending on the circumstances, you’ll be mad, angry, sad and frustrated. You might even feel fear for what your future in fishing holds. You might even develop misgivings about whether you want to continue putting yourself through this wringer after it’s happened for the 50th time. It’s important to let yourself feel, process these feelings and not try to cover them up. Find a way to vent and let it out.
2. Release the anger.
This will be your biggest challenge. For some, it might take a week; for others, it can take years. The quicker you accomplish this, the better, because the negativity such feelings generate has zero value to your future performance. The best way to rid yourself of negative thoughts is by practicing gratitude. Count your blessings – literally. Remind yourself of the things in your life that you’re grateful for on a daily basis. What are they: your family, your health, a sense of overall accomplishment? This will reduce the intensity of any letdown pain tremendously.
3. Don’t compare yourselves to other anglers.
If you try and judge how well your career is going as compared to Andy Morgan’s performance over the years, you’ll be miserable. Again, gratitude is key. Be grateful if you get a check and are able to continue to the next event.
One of the most irritating things an angler can say is, “Well, even though I finished in the top 20 in AOY and made the Cup, I don’t consider it a good year,” or, “Yeah, I pretty much sucked … finished 37th and just made $10K.” Such an attitude reflects very little gratitude – much less humility – and has no place in our sport. That $10k would pay for a lot of bills for many anglers, and they would love to have it.
4. Remember what is important.
You endure the highs and lows of this sport because you love it. Not all anglers really LOVE this sport to the extent that, if they couldn’t participate in it, they would just be a shell of a person. If you LOVE this sport, the Power that controls the Universe has a way of presenting you with opportunities to continue doing what you love.
Rest in that faith, for it’s the one thing I’ve found in this sport that you can count on.