By John Emery
It's high noon on Saturday. The outside temperature is ninety degrees and the water temperature isn't far behind that. Your back is aching along with your feet, and the brim of the new fishing cap you were so proud of yesterday is now soaked with sweat and stained with salt. Your partner in the back of the boat is sitting down now, eating a sandwich, looking all around sort of uninterested, and mumbles "maybe we should move." There is only one fish in the live well that barely measures and your partner caught him four hours ago. Your wrists are tired from throwing that deep diving crankbait all day long...you know, the one you caught them on last time you were fishing a tournament on this lake. You are starting to feel that all too familiar feeling again of the time crunch, plus the confidence drop, the overall fatigue, and impending defeat.
How many of you have been depicted above? Whether you have dabbled a little bit in local tournaments or you are a full time competitive angler, chances are you have experienced what I am talking about. If you are like me, you have experienced this day on several occasions. I can't tell you the number of times the above situation has gotten the best of my mental approach and cost me a paycheck. The only upside to a day like that was the post-loss feeling of pride at knowing I gave it my all until the last cast. When these situations arise, and they will more than not, the competitive angler needs to stay focused. Let me try to explain to you why. Hopefully, you will store this information in your tournament strategy mental files and will draw from it in a time of need.
I will give you a few examples from my own experiences, but chances are you have had very similar instances if you spend any amount of time out on the water chasing Mr. Bucketmouth. First of all, have you ever caught a keeper fish near the end of the day during a tournament, even if it was a fluke and you had pretty much already thrown in the towel and were just killing time until weigh in? More times than not that fish was caught within sight of the weigh in too. Maybe that fish was an integral part of your day's strategy - to hit that secret stump nobody else knows about (doubt that) before going to the scales. Or maybe, it was just as I spoke of above, you were killing time, your mind was on a double cheeseburger, and you...."Oops, fish on, get the net - caught her off that secret stump right there that I bet nobody knows about."
How many times have you gone out pleasure fishing with a friend or family member and once again, just before heading for the truck, one of you sticks a hog; perhaps after going a couple hours without a strike. What time of day did you catch that fish? Many of mine have come at a variety of different hours. My point being, once that "morning bite" we all rely upon so much is over; it's not really over. If you are tournament fishing, it is crucial to remember that. Watch the competitive professionals on Saturday morning television and see how they have their day managed right down to the last cast. The consistent moneymakers are as enthusiastic about their last cast of the day as they are about their first. Staying in the game mentally, staying focused, can be the difference in cashing a check or going hungry.
I can recall several days when, had I not trudged on, even under the toughest conditions and even with an empty live well, I would have been nothing more than a monetary contributor to the winning stringers. On one of those occasions, I was doubly beat down mentally because I had boated countless really good fish in practice, yet now I had an empty live well within an hour of going to the scales. However, I knew this particular fishery had yielded several last-minute winning fish for my father, so I tried to keep that knowledge at the front of my thought process and continued to methodically pick apart every piece of shallow brush I came across with my Mann's Jelly Worm. I will usually opt to slow things down when the bite is tough. Nine times out of ten it will increase my chances.
Within minutes of pulling up the trolling motor I felt that "tic" I had been awaiting for hours and reared back on the heavy action flipping stick. A few moments later I placed the five and a quarter pound fish in my live well and headed for check in. I headed home that evening with a nice check for "big bass" and seemed to have forgotten the other grueling seven and a half hours of the fishing day. Those last few minutes had made my day successful.
On another occasion, I was struggling during the second day of a two-day tournament. I boated a decent string on day one, but I had started out the second day in ninth place. By two o'clock my live well was quite light with only one small keeper. I was fishing a flat that I could cross only by holding the trolling motor half out of the water. After several minutes of trying to cross back over this flat to access the main channel and speed to the check in, and with the mindset that I had let this one get away from me, I spied a single tiny twig sticking out of the water about fifty yards ahead of me. There wasn't another visible stick-up within two hundred yards of that one. Like a quarterback throwing a hail Mary pass at the end of a losing game, I quickly slammed my trolling motor up onto the deck of my boat and picked up a spinner bait as the boat glided towards the twig. I launched the heavy white bait with big willow leaf blades to my imaginary receiver just beyond the tiny stick. A moment later, as the big bait neared the twig, it disappeared in a giant boil of water. After what seemed like an eternity of thrashing, splashing, and line slackening aerial jumps I finally lipped the monster bass and placed her in the box. That last minute six plus pounder not only won me tournament big bass money, but also jumped my weight into second place and a substantial payday.
I imagine that if you think back, you too can remember many "surprise" fish or last minute bites that came at the least expected time. Bass can turn on or off at any time caused by a number of stimuli that we humans just haven't figured out yet. The next time that sun is beating you down and an empty or near empty live well are driving you crazy, remember those unforgettable moments that turned a terrible day into an ever memorable one. Staying focused may improve upon an enjoyable outing for you and your child, or it may mean the difference between the winner's circle and a long drive home. Stay focused!
John Emery is a 42 year old tournament angler and resides in West Tennessee
- Sponsored By: CRIPT Academy
- Advocate of Yamaha Outboards and Xpress Boats
- 17 years tournament angling experience with Redman, Golden Blend, ABA tournament trails
- Fished the Bassmasters Weekend Series by ABA, the Walmart BFL tournament series, and the Bassmasters Open Series