You know, just because 2021 is here doesn’t mean that I finished all I wanted to talk about in this column from 2020. When I look at my notes from last year, I see a lot of loose ends — things I wanted to cover but couldn’t quite get to because the timing was wrong, or they just weren’t big enough subjects for an entire column or some other reason that took me in a different direction.
So before we get too deep into 2021 — Happy New Year, by the way! — I want to clean up some loose ends that will make me feel better and that just might help you catch more fish. Think of this a little like “junk fishing.” Rather than starting with one rod and reel on my deck and being dialed-in on the pattern, I’ve got 20 combos with every lure type imaginable, and I’m just going to fish whatever’s in front of me.
If you’re a regular reader of this column, you know that I love to hunt… especially when I can go with my son, Kade. It’s not only great father-and-son time, but it’s a teaching opportunity for me, a learning opportunity for us both and a chance to put some great food on the table.
But you might not realize that my hunting also helps my fishing.
That’s right. Time spent alone in the woods or with my son is a great chance to reflect on nature, animals and even fishing.
People think fishing requires patience because we can go long stretches between bites, but with fishing we’re always doing something — casting, looking, thinking about lure selection or location or trying to put a pattern together.
I don’t think of fishing as requiring much patience or as giving me much time to reflect.
Hunting requires more patience and allows for more reflection. And some of the time that I’m reflecting in a deer stand, I’m thinking about fishing. I’m thinking about how I approached a fishing situation, how I might have approached it better. Occasionally, a switch is flipped in my head and I can’t wait for that same fishing scenario to present itself so that I can try something I thought about in the deer woods. So hunting definitely helps my fishing.
When you make a living as a tournament angler, one of the questions you get — especially from serious weekend anglers — is: “What’s the biggest difference between the top pros and the good club anglers?”
After a lot of years answering that question, I’ve boiled it down to a couple of things. The first is time on the water. The top pros have spent tens of thousands of hours on the water under every imaginable condition. If it’s cold, we go fishing. If it’s raining, we go fishing. If it’s 110 degrees without a breath of a breeze, we go fishing. We’d rather be fishing than be comfortable, and that’s not true for a lot of weekend anglers. As a result, we have all kinds of experience under all kinds of circumstances to draw upon when we need it. Casual anglers don’t have this.
Another difference between top pros and good weekend anglers is that a top pro is just as good, just as sharp, just as focused and just as mechanically skilled in the last hour of a four-day tournament as he was when practice began. A lot of weekend anglers will lose focus over the course of a single morning. Maintaining that edge can be really tough, but it’s an important difference.
The older I get, the more I notice the changes in my fishing — mental and physical.
I think I’m mentally stronger than ever before. I have more experience and more confidence than at any other time in my career.
Physically, of course, I’m not the same as I was when I started. I’m 46 now, and I’m not as strong as I was when I was 25 or 30. I don’t heal or recover as quickly when I get hurt or after long days on the water. Overall, though, I think I’m near my peak.
The mental side of fishing is the more challenging side for most anglers, and I still face battles there. One of the biggest involves my tendency to speed up too much when the fishing is slow. Major League Fishing and the Bass Pro Tour put such a premium on catching fish all throughout the competition rounds that going for half an hour or an hour between bites can really wear on you mentally. When it happens, my natural tendency is to speed up — to go faster and harder and try to catch three fish on every cast. That’s usually the opposite of what I need to be doing.
And there are aspects of my fishing that I need to work on. I plan to work on my dock skipping technique. While I can certainly skip a jig, I also know that I could be better at it and that honing my skills will help me catch more fish. It’s on my 2021 to-do list.
What are you working on to make your fishing better or more fun this year? To me, that’s one of the most enjoyable things about the sport. There’s always something more to learn and things we can do to get more out of it.
I hope that 2021 will be full of that for all of us.