For most tournament anglers, the first tournament of the season is long awaited. Time off renews enthusiasm and gives everyone the excitement of a fresh start and unlimited possibilities.
I spend the downtime leading up to a new season trying to analyze my successes and failures from the past season in order to improve for the coming one. Some of my analysis is related to technique and approach, but some is mental. When speaking of the mental side, it’s important to realize that everything is mental to some extent.
A huge mental exercise any angler needs to practice is to not compare his or her performance to that of anyone else. If you do, it will eventually make you miserable. I’ve had some great seasons, and I’ve had some pathetic ones. You probably have too. Either way, don’t let it affect your confidence because you are a better angler now, even after a poor season, than you were right after a stellar season several years ago. We all experience ups and downs.
One way to master this approach is by practicing gratitude and appreciation. Stop this kind of talk: “Well, I’m just not happy about the way I fished this year.” I’ve heard it said after a top-20 finish in the points race. This just makes someone sound cocky and arrogant.
Look for the positives because there is always something to be grateful for, even during those challenging tournaments or seasons. Appreciate the experience, regardless of the outcome. This will lead to humbleness, and even if you don’t attain the level of success you want, it will make you a better person outside of fishing as a result.
Attitude is one of the most important elements of tournament fishing, but the other mental aspects attribute to this as well.
For example, each angler must enter the new season with the decision of choosing to fish his strengths or to be versatile. Much of this depends on each person’s philosophy on tournament fishing, and an angler can be successful going either route. The key here is commitment. Begin your season by making a commitment to your style and approach. By committing with both feet in, you’ll gain the kind of mental confidence that often creates momentum. It’s all about being comfortable with your approach.
In my opinion, the financial burden of tournament fishing is the single biggest mental challenge to most anglers. If you are fortunate enough to be financially independent or have family support, it’s hard for you to comprehend the mental challenges and stresses that most anglers feel each and every day as a result of financial concerns. Tournament fishing on the tour level is expensive.
Just to break even for the year on tour, an angler must have a banner season. To make a profit, you must have an exceptional season … like winning an event or finishing in the top 10 in the AOY points. This doesn’t even factor in expenses at home, such as mortgage/car payments, food, insurance, etc.
Each angler must plan and consider finances before the season begins to take as much mental energy off of this topic as possible. You can’t perform at the top level unless you do. Very few anglers have zero financial distractions, but most anglers have the ability to block this out when the throttle goes down on the morning of the tournament. This is most critical.
Along with the financial distraction goes how you approach each event. In tournament fishing, we often hear the cliché “I fish to win” or “I’m fishing to get a check.” Don’t get sucked into these mind-sets. It will serve you best to stay in the moment. Focus on each cast. Take it one fish at a time. Fish for the fish you can catch.
Try and do things that increase your confidence and boost your positive mental attitude along the way and in your downtime. It could be working out in the offseason to improve physical fitness or coming up with a new bait color that you’re confident in on the water. Or simply try to realize that attitude is something you have power over based on how you choose to look at a situation.
And finally, just relax when you are on the water. You can’t fish at the best of your ability if you slop through an area fishing too fast, make poor casts, stress about making a check or worry if your co-angler the next day will be rushing your pace and casting in front of the boat all day.
Examine your past season and make adjustments for 2017. Knowing you have become smarter from another season on the water will add to a stronger mind-set this year.