Luck not the key to fishing success
There’s one thing about competitive fishing that a lot of people don’t get. It’s a simple idea that probably seems logical to people not involved in our sport – but the idea is wrong.
The misconception I’m talking about is that there’s a lot of luck involved in winning a fishing tournament. And that’s just not true.
I’ll admit that occasionally luck comes into play, as it does in all sports. Every now and then, for example, an angler hits a small golden spot, one of those great holes that just keeps on giving - and he gets there in time to have it all to himself. But really, how many times does that happen? I’ll answer that question: it almost never happens.
I dreamed about finding those sweet spots 20 years ago when I was learning how to be a tournament fisherman - and I guess I still do. I dream and I search. But the reality is that when I find a super sweet spot, someone else usually finds it, too. Because there are a lot of outstanding, smart anglers on our tour, I won’t be the only angler that wants those fish. That’s why one sweet spot is never, ever enough.
Success at competitive fishing - and I mean consistent, top-of-the-pack success - isn’t luck. In fact, I would argue that in terms of who wins and who regularly does well, fishing offers more consistent results than football or baseball or pretty much any sport you can name. With football, one fumble or one interception can throw a whole team out of rhythm. A couple of serious injuries to Tom Brady and Randy Moss, and the New England Patriots aren’t so powerful. It’s the same with the other sports.
But in fishing, I can usually tell you how anglers on our Elite Series Tour are going to do in a particular tournament, and it’s not rocket science. I can predict who’ll do well because of this fact: the anglers who have the combination of skill, determination, experience, versatility and smarts on the water are going to be near the top over and over.
Another reason is that college and pro football games, without an overtime, require an hour of action: four quarters at 15 minutes each. Baseball games last nine innings unless the score is tied.
We, on the other hand, fish all day for four days. It cuts down on the luck factor.
My point is that it’s no great surprise that Kevin VanDam has always got a chance to win or finish in the Top 12, just as in golf Tiger Woods is a good bet to win any golf tournament he plays in. KVD is a great angler. Skeet Reese will always be at the top. Mike Iaconelli is a consistent threat – always.
Alton Jones has reached a level now where nobody is surprised when he leads.
Why are the good ones so good?
So the question is: Why? … Why are KVD and Skeet almost always in the picture? … Why do the same guys, with a few exceptions here and there, make the Classic every year?
And the follow-up question is this: If it’s not luck, what makes these guys so good?
I’d like to offer one important factor that sets the top anglers apart. The great anglers are versatile; they know how to fish in different conditions and different waters. They know how to change when change is required, how to leave their natural comfort zone and still find a way to be comfortable.
Knowing how to fish a muddy river as well as a clear lake
At local lakes and rivers across America, there are favorite players and top teams. Maybe one team is unbeatable in the spring, when the water is high. Another team is strongest when it’s hot and the water’s low. Some teams are strong in the fall when they’re chasing bait.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with having strength in some areas, and it’s always good to be able to go to your strength when the time is right. But the problem is that seasons change, water levels rise and fall, and fish have patterns that can be tricky to follow. The Red River in Louisiana doesn’t fish anything like Lake Martin, near where I live. But it’s just as important for me to know how to fish the Red River as it is to know how to fish Martin.
In fact, let’s take a quick look at our BASS Elite Series schedule this year. In order, we fished:
• The Classic on the Red River, near Shreveport . It was a muddy river with shallow backwaters. Most of the time I was fishing in 1.5 to 2 feet of muddy water, with heavy cover. I was pitching and flipping the first day and led the tournament.
• Lake Amistad , Del Rio, Texas , was next. It was gin-clear water, with a lot of standing timber. I found my best pattern to be in about 45 feet of deep water, and I was throwing a 6-inch swimbait.
• Lake Dardanelle in Arkansas , was the next stop and we were back fishing in a mudhole, 1 to 2 feet of water. It was post-spawn, and the fish were mostly in super shallow, grassy areas.
• Wheeler Lake, in Alabama was next. It is also a river system, but it’s deep water. It turned out to be pre-spawn, and before the tournament was over the fish were stacked on shallow ledges, they’re not in the flats.
• Smith Mountain Lake , in Virginia , was next. It was another gin-clear lake and it was pure sight fishing. Total finesse.
• Guntersville Lake , back in Alabama , followed Smith Mountain . The fish were in milfoil grass beds, and it was pure power fishing. If you didn’t have 25 pounds a day, you might as well not go to the scales.
• Kentucky Lake was next, and it was another giant-weight tournament. The fish were primarily on main channel ledges, with the ledges dropping from about 10 feet to 40. Deep cranking.
• Then we went to the Mississippi River in Iowa . If you describe that water as muddy, you to use need two or three U’s and a couple of D’s: muuuddy. You couldn’t see a thing. KVD actually had a zero day, his first in about 20 years.
And we’re not through. Now the tour is going north to Lake Oneida , where we’ll fish for smallmouth. By the way, the same guys are back on top.
Personally, I’ve had a decent season. Not great, but pretty good. I had two extremely bad days this year and they hurt my season. But if I do reasonably well at Oneida , I’ll make the Classic for the fourth year in a row. And a lot of outstanding anglers miss the Classic cut.
But my season has been pretty good because I know that I’m going to have to do something different just about every day on the water. Nothing stays the same and you’ve got to adjust.
Suggestion: Try something different
I’d like to suggest something fun and exciting that I’m confident will improve your skills as a tournament angler. When you’re on your home lake, try something different. Find fish somewhere you don’t usually fish. Even though you think your lake has one recipe for winning, it’s not true.
It amazes me at Elite Series events and at the Classic how the local anglers are pretty sure they know the formula for success on their lake or river.
And invariably, the champion will have found a different path to the title.
Two years ago, at Smith Mountain Lake , I finished sixth in a tournament that Casey Ashley won. I led two days of the tournament and the local anglers said they couldn’t believe I was catching fish that way. It’s because I caught them with a drop shot, and everybody knows Smith Mountain is a jig lake.
As the old saying goes, there are several ways to skin a cat. And to catch fish.
And the best anglers know almost all of those ways. If you want to become the best angler in your area, learn the key to success: versatility.
Click here to read more about Boyd’s thoughts.