2017, The Year a Rung In The Ladder Broke
I recently made a post on my Facebook Fishing page discussing how 2017 was literally my worst tournament fishing season on record. It’s a really easy sport to start making excuses in. “The weather wasn’t right,” or “The fish were there but we just couldn’t get em to bite,” or my favorite “The moon was wrong.” It’s an absolute fact that we as anglers aren’t only battling to make a living predator attack a piece of metal and plastic as if they thought it was food, but we’re battling the conditions. Honestly, in my opinion, I think the battle is more with the conditions than the fish at all. We have tournaments scheduled sometimes six months to a year in advance. That means we don’t get the luxury of a recreational angler to choose the best conditions to be able to trick fish into biting plastic and metal. We just have to go fishing. It’s really about being able to read the water and weather conditions to be able to locate the fish that are going to bite in the first place. If we let a case of “lock jaw” take us out in a tournament, it’s no fault of an outside source; it’s our own. But I digress. The point I was starting to make was that I’m not going to sit here and make excuses for this season. I did not make the appropriate choices this year. I set too much in stone about catching a certain way and because of that I failed to read the water and fish appropriately. Think of it this way. If you were going out fun fishing and you weren’t catching, would you just stay in an area and grind it out? Or would you make adjustments to salvage your day on the water? I know when I’m out fun fishing I want to catch fish, and simply sitting and doing the same thing over and over again unsuccessfully is not an enjoyable day on the water. So why am I so willing to adjust in order to have fun, but when money is involved I’ll stay in one spot to force something to work?
You Can’t Force Success In Fishing
I wrote a piece earlier this year entitled You’re The Driver, and it really covered what I learned this year. The best part about this year is I developed a lot of different “strengths” I never had before. Before May, you’d never find me flipping a Bruiser Baits Big Stick to every reed along The Shoal on Okeechobee, but you better believe I have a hard time not having a Big Stick tied on anymore. So learning occurred. Lipless Crankbaits haven’t been my strength in Florida, until this fall. Honestly, I’ve caught more fish over 4 pounds this fall on lipless cranks than anything else; to include my beloved Head Shed Baits Wiggler. The Wiggler! Another outstanding bait I was introduced to this year.
It’s said that if you’re not winning you’re learning. That’s probably my favorite take away from this year. I DEFINITELY wasn’t winning, but I sure as hell was learning. Going back to my first paragraph in this blog. I described the moving around aspect of fun fishing. In reality every win I’ve had on Lake Okeechobee was done by doing exactly that. The best win I had was my first tournament with the BASSRATTLERS Association. I came back to the scales with 18# 15oz anchored by a 6# 7oz and a 6# 4oz pair of toads. Second place had roughly 12# 9oz total.
You Cannot Force Success (Yes I just said this, but I’m making a point)
Now had I subscribed to the exact same mindset I carried with me this year, I would definitely not have caught anything other than the 6# 4oz fish which was the only bite I had until about 11:30 AM that day. My gut told me to move to a shell bed and see if the fish were holding there. I tried it, and caught a 2# keeper and a 13 inch keeper along with about twenty 10 inch fish. Three fish in the boat and it’s 12:30 PM. I ran to an opening coming out of the hayfields with a lot of current. Threw a fluke and caught another fifteen to twenty 10 inch fish. It’s 1:00 PM, I have three fish in the boat for about 9#. NOT going to cut it with the guys in BASSRATTLERS. There are some STICKS in that club, and I knew it. So I had to adjust. Clean water was a hard thing to find that day. So when I was making a move to go back to my shell bed and see if any good fish had moved to it, I found myself driving through a bay loaded with hydrilla and was bath water clean. Only pure instinct told me to shut down and go fish. I also didn’t have any flipping stuff out, there wasn’t anything to punch anywhere I had been that day so it was pointless to have out. As soon as I saw matted up hydrilla right next to bulrushes, I popped out my flipping stick and punched the first one I saw… BAM that 6# 7oz beast hit it as soon as it went through the mat. Three flips later a 3# chunk nailed it, and then I was able to cull that 13 incher with a 15 incher. This was all out of the same reed head, and all flipping in the last 30 minutes of the tournament.
Why did I do well here?
The simple answer was one, I wasn’t stressing myself out all day. I had pretty low expectations and honestly it was my last tournament out of my 2004 Pantera IV, and my last fishing trip out of that boat as well. I was more concerned about having a good last day on the water in that awesome old boat rather than if I won that tournament or not. Because of that low measure of self-induced stress, I was able to think pretty darn clearly and fish how I know how to. It didn’t matter if I won that tournament, so I was willing to just go fishing. Very similar to the win I had about a month before that as well. I had Chris Van Vliet (co-owner of WOO! Tungsten) on the boat with me. He’s one hell of an entertaining interviewer, so in his natural fashion he just started talking. I honestly was just having a good time on the water with a friend and having a great conversation. I never felt stressed the whole day, even when I just barely couldn’t get to a TOAD he had hung up in the bulrushes. We both chalked it up to the “Hayfields Hook-Up Ratio” – which totally sucks by the way.
2017 Was an Epic Season in My Book
While my results were far from stellar, and barely mediocre for 2017, I still feel it was an epic year on the water. I fished so much new water and renewed my confidence in old styles, which means 2017 turned out to be an Epic year of learning for me. In a sport where the closest thing to a coach any of us have relies on watching videos of Mikey Balzz on YouTube trying to convey the best he can on how he has so much success; years like my 2017 season are invaluable. I’m at a lucky point in my life. I’m just starting out with Cross Bone Outfitters. I’m able to expand tournament trails, and if I ever get off the waiting list for the BASS Open, will be fishing 2018 at levels I never have. 2018 will see far less tournaments for me, but the ones I do fish will be some pretty good ones. That means a lot more time to dedicate on the water to simply learning this trade. My time away from tournaments in California where deployment scheduled negated any reason to spend money on tournament trails was probably my most valuable time on the water. Just learning how to read the water.
I Know I’m Not Alone Either
I know I’m not the only one to have a downer season either. This sort of thing happens to even the best of them. I was reading through Bassmaster.com and came across Jared Lintner’s reflection on this year’s Bass Master Elite Series Season. He too had an extraordinarily bad season. I’m not Jared Lintner, but I can tell you if he can struggle through a season, reflect on it, and bounce back, then I can too. His piece entitled “My 2017: The Elephant In the Room” was so raw, straightforward, and honest it’s astounding. He described in detail how he did well at the Classic, but then bombed at the Lake Okeechobee event. From there he struggled because he was doing what we all do. He was “Swinging for the fences”, and ended up simply spinning his wheels. With each tournament he was more focused on making up points from the previous event, he forgot to focus on fishing. Because of that he kept sinking further into the hole. You know this really is the heart of it all. Everything I’ve said here, you have to fish your strengths and not force anything to work that’s simply not going to. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go outside your comfort zone, but it does mean you have to do so with confidence.
The Final Takeaway
The final takeaway for me, and hopefully anyone reading this is that you have to understand bad years, bad seasons, and bad ruts will happen. You cannot let them get to you or you’ll end up burning yourself out. I hope my reflection here can really help you get to where you can understand bad seasons and move on from them stronger. Wisdom is not granted to those who haven’t struggled for it. To be wise on the water one must fail on the water – and that’s why 2017 was an EPIC year!
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