We all know how important it is to be in the right state of mind during a tournament and even during pre-fish days. If you keep thinking about problems at work or home, or if you keep wondering how the guy in that Stratos over there is doing, you will be seriously off your game. It’s not just your problems that can interfere with your fishing – fellow competitors are only too happy to mess with your head. Say you’ve had a great pre-fish, and you figure you can put 15 to 18 pounds in the boat, no problem. You’ve been pitching craws and landing some hogs. Life is good until you reach the dock.
You’re walking up the ramp toward your truck and spot one of your competitors in the wipe-down area. Worse yet, he spots you. “How’d you do today?” he yells? You can’t be rude, so you stroll over and tell him that you didn’t do too bad. Ego strikes, and you can’t resist telling him that you think you can probably weigh almost 20 pounds on the big day. Of course, he will tell you that he can weigh 25 pounds. That’s why it’s called competition! Rule number one: Fishermen lie, especially to other fishermen. Have two or three really good buddies you can trust, and dismiss all other jabber as dock talk.
What happens if you believe this guy? You casually eye up his deck to see what he’s got tied on, and you start racking your brain trying to remember if you saw him today. What part of the lake was he on? What was he throwing? There goes your confidence out the door. If that’s the way you think, you may as well pre-fish at home on the computer!
If you would man up, you’d probably have to admit that you have participated in a little less-than-truthful dock talk. I know guys who tie on completely different baits when headed for shore. I also know guys who pick up a different rod when they come within view of a tournament fisherman. Have you ever heard a guy up on stage telling everyone how he caught the winning sack, and you’re thinking, “that’s a damn lie – I saw you all morning!” You’ve got to get to the point where you have confidence in what YOU have found and stop trying to catch other people’s fish. That never works.
Sometimes it doesn’t even take words to psych an angler out. Let a particular guy show up at sign-in, and everyone else suddenly feels like they will be lucky to get second place. In all reality, it probably boils down to this. That guy has been on that lake so often and fished it so often that he has complete confidence in his decisions and actions. Nothing stops you from having the same confidence except one person – the guy in the mirror.
I hate to think like this, but tournament fishing these days is not like it used to be. Manners and good sportsmanship are a thing of the past. If you were seen pre-fishing a spot for several days, others would give you the courtesy of staying off that spot until you left it. Not any more. I’ve had guys hit my boat's side with their baits during a tournament. More than ever, being able to control your emotions and thoughts is of primary importance. You cannot let the rudeness or ignorance of others ruin your day.
It used to be that the dock talk and mind game stuff was almost funny – it was expected, and the experienced anglers would brush it off. But it can get nasty at times – people cut you off, run over your spots, or even come over and fish the same spot you’re on while you’re on it. But remember that these tactics only work if you let them. You can learn to control your thoughts and concentrate on your performance, and your fishing will improve exponentially.
In all sports, performance is self-fulfilling, according to sports psychologist Dr. Alan Goldberg. You always get what you expect. In other words, your fishing will suffer if you have a bad attitude. Letting your head get screwed up is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.
Change your focus to get control over your thoughts. Concentrating on things that are out of your control is a common mistake, says Dr. Goldberg. Don’t think about how you did last time, your opponent, or the weather. You can’t do anything about those things.
Change your focus by first being aware of what you’re focusing on. You can’t change what you’re doing wrong if you don’t realize that you’re doing it. Dr. Goldberg says you can learn to concentrate by recognizing when you’re focusing on the wrong things. Then you can bring your focus back to the right things.
“Images program performance,” says Dr. Goldberg. Change the pictures in your mind. Bad attitudes come from the wrong images. Regularly practice changing the images in your head, he recommends. Have images of being relaxed, confident, and doing well. Take quiet time before sleeping and rehearse your mental imagery. See yourself in as much detail as you can imagine, and picture yourself performing well. Make it as real as possible, but be sure you don’t start thinking about things you can’t control.
In other words, don’t try picturing yourself winning the tournament or landing a trophy. Focus instead on seeing yourself having a good time, being relaxed, and having confidence in your decisions. Repeat “I am confident under pressure” to yourself regularly.
Remember, those negative thoughts are no more accurate than positive ones. A nightmare can bring you awake in a sweat, heart pounding. Your brain alone did that to you, and your brain alone can also have positive results on your physical self.
A slump can result from negative thoughts. You let a lousy performance shake you, and then you carry the negative thoughts into your next performance. A vicious cycle can build, and you keep it going all by yourself. Remembering that thoughts are things can help you avoid making one of the biggest mistakes in bass fishing – giving up.