Thinking man’s game
I feel like tournament fishing relates very closely to major league hitting. Both of them share the same rhythms in preparation, prediction and execution. Success and failure are measured by the end result, but just like a hitter can have a good at-bat that ends with a strikeout, tournament anglers can fish a good event, and not win or even cash a check. Batting averages are fairly similar to AOY standings, but neither tells the whole story within a season.
“If you build it……..” – Just kidding.
If you’re still reading this, please don’t think I’m going down some crazy “Field of Dreams” analogy for bass fishing. There’s nothing that Kevin Costner can build that will alter the results of my Bassmaster Team Championship event on Kentucky Lake last week (bomb.) The reason I relate this to baseball hitting, is good hitters always learn something from their at-bat with a pitcher, even if they strike-out. I believe growth with tournament fishing is similar. You can learn just as much or more from failure, as you can from victory. Keep reading and I’ll attempt to show you how my insanely intelligent fishing partner and I digested our major league ass-whipping during the 30 hour drive-o-shame from Tennessee.
Because neither of us had been to Kentucky Lake, let alone the home of Mountain Dew consumption, Tennessee, we decided to drive down before the cutoff. After 4 days of daylight to dark practice, we dropped the truck and boat off in Nashville, boarded a United Airlines flight, connected an iPad to airline Wi-Fi and ordered a bunch of tackle we’ll never use. Kentucky had shown a few good pitches like unusually warm water temps for November, super tough bite, and no deep fish to speak of. Local tournaments were getting won with 13-18lbs, and catching 5 keepers a day was considered light’s out. By the last day, we had a pattern that resulted in 22-23lbs stringers in very shallow water. We figured we were ahead in the count because the fish were close to deep water and current… how far could they go? Dumb.
The fall the winter transition usually involves a fish movement to deeper water. Threadfin and gizzard shad are said to die off if they get caught water temps below 50 degrees, and therefore migrate to deeper main river areas to avoid “fish-hypothermia.” During pre-practice the water temp was 62-65 degrees, and upon our return 10 days later it had dropped to 54-56, with more cold fronts coming. If you know the curve ball is coming, you’d better prepare for it, right?
If you haven’t read the 80/20 rule written by Professor Hogue, you need to (click here.) The rule basically states that 20% of you practice efforts create the majority of your successful results, and we generally waste the remaining 80% doing unproductive things. Jay and I were catching fish shallow all through practice, when many competitors were struggling. You could call that productive practice, right? We spent 80% of our time searching for more shallow spots that fit our pattern, with the small intention of searching for a backup plan in case our shallow fish didn’t bite during a winter cold front!!! I hope you find that funny, cause it feels pretty stupid just writing that last line.
Trouble with the Curve
The official practice was only one and half days long, and the first day involved a tornado warning and 50-60 mile an hour winds. The strong front dropped 2 inches of rain, removed 10-15 trolling motors and kept us shallow in protected bays and pockets… but we were still catching fish.
On the final day, we made our biggest mistake. In a conversation with another competitor in our hotel parking lot, we all agreed that the upcoming cold front on the first day of the tournament could complicate fishing up shallow. We laughed off the idea of spending the last day out deep by saying “Where would you even start?” That place is huge, and we’re not with KVD.
On the drive home, that comment haunted us (hindsight sucks.) I’ll never forget, for the rest of my life, my fishing partner, slamming his beer glass on the counter of some restaurant in Montana two days later… “Where do you even start….????? Um, I don’t know… how about in the area you’ve been catching 22-23lbs in practice!?!?!?!?!?!”
Dragging your bat in the dirt….
If you know a curve is coming, you’d better hit it, cause another one might be on the way. A strong WNW cold front hit during the tournament. The rains, which dropped 2 inches on Monday tripled the current and unlike our predictions, cleaned the water up. If the shallow fish we found stayed up, they weren’t biting.
To add insult to injury, we fished within eyesight of the winners. They fished safe structure (vertical) all day for 2 days, and won a 186 boat tournament with 2 fish short of a full limit. Their story is here… Good read. During the last day of practice, we pulled the trolling motor 50 yards away from the winning spot because it was “JV” in our minds (a couple barge dolphins in the main river.) We never even looked at it, and it hurts to even think about. Another good lesson is this, you don’t have to be catching fish to be practicing.
All that remains now is the way you walk back to the dug-out. Do you drag your bat in the dirt with your head slumped forward, or do you pull a Mike Trout, smile at the pitcher and strut back knowing a little bit more about the 3-2 curve ball.