Brandon Coulter is coming off of a fifth-place finish during Stage Three. Photo by Garrick Dixon

It’s not really a secret that I struggled on the Bass Pro Tour last season. I finished in 73rd place, and definitely wasn’t fishing my best. I think my struggles last season had a lot to do with getting inside my own head and thinking that I needed to fish MLF a different way than I had on previous tours in the past.

That’s just not true, and I think that’s something I’ve finally figured out just three events into this season.

Doubting My Strategies

I’ll give you a prime example of what I’m talking about.

Last year for Stage Five on Smith Lake, I was feeling good about it. I cut my first professional check on Smith Lake during an FLW event for making a Top 50. I got that check thanks to rolling a Rebel Pop-R through places where you would normally flip a jig. Got me a good amount of bites and got me some money.

I get to Smith Lake for the Bass Pro Tour years later, and I didn’t even take the Pop-R out of the box. I convinced myself that Smith Lake was full of spotted bass so it was going to be a numbers game because of our format. I tried to catch numbers of fish and failed miserably on my first day of competition.

With nothing to lose, I picked up my Pop-R on my second day and absolutely crushed them. If I would have just trusted myself from the beginning, I probably would have been able to make a cut and have a good tournament. Instead, I was going home early. That was the epitome of my 2019.

In the last event of 2019, I finished fifth up in Wisconsin for my best finish of the season. I got that Top 10 because I fished how I wanted to fish, not because of what I thought I should try to do. That event is really what spring-boarded me into this season.

Seeing Things Clearly in 2020

I had a great event at Stage One in Alabama, making the cut for the Knockout Round but missing the Championship Round. I struggled in Okeechobee for Stage Two, but that was mainly my fault for poor decision making. Stage Three was really where it all came together for me on Lake Fork.

I’m not a good sight fisherman, I can admit that. So I knew going into the event on Lake Fork that I was going to have to find something productive offshore if I was going to compete while everyone was catching bedding fish on the bank. I was able to find a few schools of fish that carried me to winning my Qualifying Round and moved me on to the Championship.

That strategy that I executed on Fork I would not have done a year ago. I listened to myself, believed in my instincts, and knew my strengths. That’s what took me to the Championship Round. I feel good and ready to go at it again, but COVID-19 had other plans.

Staying Sharp on Watts Bar

I’ve been able to try and keep my momentum going out here on Watts Bar Reservoir in Tennessee. I have a home here and I’m lucky to have my boat with me. There’s a community of anglers that live near me, and I’m lucky enough to be able to have a little bit of competition with them.

We’re all social distancing and going out individually, so we’re not competing directly with each other. However, there’s still some friendly competition going on once we get on the phone at the end of the day. I’m trying to stay ahead of these guys and have better days fishing than they are.

We compare notes every day, asking each other, “Are you catching them?” I don’t want to be the one guys who says, “No, I’m not catching them.” That minuscule amount of pressure, I have found, keeps me pretty sharp during these unprecedented times.

This pandemic has been a strain on our communities, our businesses, our nation and the world. One of the few silver linings that has come from this virus, is that I have been able to have such in-depth conversations with fellow anglers about our league and the world of fishing. I truly feel that when we come out of this, we will all be closer as a league and as a fishing community.

Everyone stay safe, stay healthy, and I hope to see you soon.