Losing fish is part of the game. But learning how to react to lost fish is a big key to "fishing clean." Photo by Garrick Dixon

The words “fishing clean” and “execution” have become quite the buzz terms in pro fishing over the last few years. These expressions commonly refer to getting fish in the boat or losing fish.

During post-tournament interviews, pros who did well will often talk about the importance of “good execution” and “fishing clean,” while those who lost key fish that cost them will bring up “poor execution,” or not “fishing clean.”

Personally, I have a little different view of what fishing clean really means.

My philosophy about converting bites into caught fish is this: losing fish is part of the game. If you fish, the fact of the matter is, you’re going to lose fish, period. Keeping a fish pinned on a lure is a process that is simply not going to go perfect every time. There’s no pro angler on Earth who has boated every single fish they’ve had on the line. The sheer physics of fishing itself guarantees that escapees are going to happen.

With that, “fishing clean” or “proper execution” to me really comes down to how an angler reacts after losing a fish. As soon as a fish comes off, the automatic emotion is to get upset; it’s a natural reaction. Some pros throw fits. Some throw tantrums. Some throw choice words around. Very few, however, just throw their lure right back out there and keep fishing like nothing happened.

To me, that’s truly what “fishing clean” and “perfect execution” entails.

I learned that lesson from Kevin VanDam years ago. I remember watching him in a tournament on TV where he was in first or second place on the final day. He lost the winning fish – a 5-pounder – that shook his crankbait right at the boat, yet he never flinched. He simply fired another cast back out there and said, “Well, the good news is they’re biting a crankbait now.”

In that instant I realized two things: 1) Lost fish are a fact of life – it even happens to Kevin VanDam; 2) How you react to a lost fish is a choice.

You can either let the negative of that unfortunate circumstance consume you and pollute your fishing process mentally; or, you can immediately make another cast, with the lure they’re biting and create another fish catching opportunity, and keep your fishing clean.