A while back, I was involved in a discussion with a group of anglers. The discussion ended up going a dozen different directions but the main argument being made was this: Some anglers just have God-given talents that allow them to catch more/bigger bass. There was no use trying to consistently beat these guys and this is why you typically see the same small group of anglers at the top of the standings.
This discussion was one of the reasons why Game Over Angling was started because I wholeheartedly reject the premise that only a certain pre-ordained few will be the best anglers.
Are Great Anglers Born or Made?
To be sure this topic isn’t one limited to the sport of bass fishing. Every sport has had and continues to have a debate about what makes one great. Every sport has its stories of “can’t miss” talents that failed to live up to expectations as well as underdogs who seemingly overcame every obstacle on the way to greatness.
But bass fishing especially seems to have a real issue with identifying what it is that makes an angler successful. Even more challenging seems to be the question of what makes the top 10% well…the top 10%?
If bass fishing ever aspires to be considered a legitimate sport, it needs to first deal with this issue of what makes the best at the sport great.
Let’s start off with the idea that great bass fishermen possess a talent that makes them the best.
So what exactly is talent when it comes to fishing? Is it a set of physical traits that allow some anglers to cast with greater accuracy? Is it a by-product of hand-eye coordination? It would be hard to argue that a traditional set of athletic ability (running, jumping, strength) play an important role in bass fishing.
Endurance might be another issue. Since most everyone agrees that “time on the water” is an important factor to becoming great then how long you can stay on the water would seem to correlate somewhat with success. But I’ve never really heard this idea come up in regards to a talent.
When most anglers speak of greatness and bass fishing the conversations inevitably shifts back to a certain mental prowess. Great anglers seem to know things. They know where to go, what to use, how long to stay, how to operate their equipment and what the bass are doing and they have confidence in what they know.
So maybe this “knowing” is the real talent involved in bass fishing.
A Great Angler?
Knowledge seems to imply that there is a set of information that can be learned. But bass fishermen are at odds on whether or not that special set of fishing knowledge can be taught or if it just has to be experienced.
Take KVD for example. There is much less debate on his greatness than there is exactly what makes him great. This inability to quantify greatness is a unique feature of bass fishing. If we can’t identify what makes our sports greatest angler special then we are left with mystical catchphrases about being “natural” or “mentally tough”, or “competitive” without any real reckoning as to what any of that really means.
Other sports don’t have this problem of identifying what makes their great players great. Their talent and their skills are broken down, analyzed, taught and replicated by nearly all other participants, young and old.
But bass fishing still seems to suffer from the lucky fisherman stigma.
Take two anglers sitting on the bank both casting a nightcrawler and a bobber. One angler catches five, the other catches none. What are we to make of this? In some ways, bass angling is still saddled with this legacy of fishing being luck. The vast majority of the general public can relate much more with a lucky fisherman with a lucky hat than any idea of fishing talent.
I’ve heard countless versions of this same idea. When the topic of competition or practice as it relates to fishing comes up, someone inevitably asks,
“Well, how can you practice fishing. I mean, don’t you just throw something out there and hope a fish bites it?”
Very often you will hear that a great angler has great instincts. Again, what exactly does this mean? Usually, you will hear the following:
- They know where to go
- They know where to cast
- They know what to use
- They know when to change colors
- They know when to leave
- They know what the fish are doing. They “think like a fish”.
Not sure if we aren’t confusing “instinct” with “knowledge”. Just as we confused “talent” for knowledge.
Hands down, the number one correlation between angling success and angling effort seems to be the idea of “time on the water”. Makes perfect sense. I mean, the more I’m out there fishing, the more I learn and therefore the more I know. So let’s take a closer look at this idea by posing a series of questions regarding time on the water and experience?
Why aren’t the oldest, most experienced anglers always the best?
For a sport that seems to value mental abilities, knowledge, and experience, why aren’t the anglers that possess those things in spades the best? It’s a legitimate question. There should be no chance for an angler with 5-10 years of experience to compete with let alone beat another with 30-50 years of experience. Yet it happens all the time.
Is it possible for time on the water to be a negative?
Is there a way to spend time on the water that makes an angler worse? Is there a way to practice incorrectly? All things to consider especially if you’ve ever been in a situation where despite having years of experience with a river or lake, you felt as if you were getting worse there.
Experience vs Change?
If change is inevitable, then can it work against experience? Whether it be boats, baits or technology, every year presents new options. Some of those options end up making a real difference in catching fish.
The bodies of water themselves change. Everything from the cover, structure and forage base is in a constant state of change. If experience is measured by a list of locations and baits that will work, then having an “out of date” list so to speak would be a negative and all that “time on the water” could backfire.
Let’s hear from you. What’s the best road to becoming a great angler?