The old-timer looked frustrated.
“We tried everything. Crankbaits. Spinnerbaits. Topwater. Six colors of worms.”
Despite fishing all day on the river where he had spent most of his adult life, the veteran basser came home skunked. His boat, a vintage model from the early days of metal flake, looked as tired as he did.
“I guess all the rain screwed the fish up,” he added, walking off.
I was reminded of this conversation as I reviewed video footage this week in my office. Sorting through data cards, I came across film I shot at a recent Bassmaster Classic. Working as a media observer, I was granted a front-row seat as one of the best anglers in the country worked the shoreline. The angler’s name isn’t important; what he represented is.
Let’s take a step back. Throughout the history of this column, many of you have likely recognized the method behind the madness. As a diehard fan of professional bass fishing, I have long attempted to figure out just what makes the best in the world so good.
Competitors at any level in our game, and even those who simply fish for fun, have long recognized that certain human influences greatly impact our results, more so, at times, than any other variable.
Through my quest to solve the mystery, a number of traits have repeated themselves when carefully studying the most successful anglers of our time.
Confidence deserves first mention. Whether derived from experience, familiarity with a body of water or fishing method, or from a higher power, unwavering belief in one’s self seems to carry bass fishermen to the next level.
Attention to detail is another. This could come in many forms, from meticulous lure tinkering to observations in nature. The best fishermen seem to notice things that many of us simply overlook.
But in our example today, perhaps we are given insight into a third, fluid factor.
The Classic angler in the beginning of our story had a mediocre day. He caught a few, lost a couple, and kept himself in the hunt going into day 2. But my review of the film, along with my detailed notes from the day, revealed one shocking discovery.
The angler never changed lures.
Heading out in the morning, the pro had four or five rods on his deck. Three of those were used for over 90 percent of his presentations throughout the day. And each had the same exact lures tied on when we checked in late that afternoon.
This may come as a great surprise to many of you; even appear somewhat foolish. But, after being an observer in several Classic and Forrest Wood Cup tournaments, and carefully observing many pros who have surpassed the million-dollar mark in career earnings, I find this circumstance remarkably common.
In fact, over the course of a full day of competitive fishing at the highest level in the world, I would guess that most top pros completely change lures only a handful of times on average. This includes digging in the rod box and coming out with a new setup – for conversation's sake, a lure change in itself.
Remember, most of today’s pros have 10 times more tackle than the average bass fisherman. With access to virtually the entire Tackle Warehouse website just below their feet, why wouldn’t pros fit the same mold as the old-timer who began our story?
Because they know better.
Lures don’t catch fish, those casting the lures do. And somewhere, every day, someone is catching fish.
I once fished a bass tournament on the Ohio River in which 95 of the 100 competitors blanked. Yet the winner weighed in a five-bass limit, all caught on a small jig-and-pig identical to the bait in nearly every fisherman’s rod locker. In fact, the exact lure was a best-seller in that region for decades.
In addition, the winner fished waters well known to be a community hole, very close to the tournament’s take-off. So what was the difference? To this day, I’m not sure. But that’s the best part.
Fishermen catch fish.
In a roundabout way, we’re unveiling a third variable in our quest to reveal the champions’ secrets. For lack of a better term, we’ll call this one “flow”.
Along with confidence and attention to detail, the best in our sport continuously flow, or evolve, as they fish. We often see this termed “fishing in the moment” or “not fishing scared”; we’ve even heard the term “in the zone” tossed around in conversation.
The best pros flow with the fish, day by day, hour by hour and minute by minute. They change immediately when needed, relying on current information being learned in real time, rather than attempting to force information gained from experiences past.
Every moment must fit the flow, because that’s exactly what it does for our quarry. Remember, the bass don’t care what your favorite color is, why you’re using fluorocarbon instead of mono, or where you caught them last year. They just flow.
As tournament fishing continues to evolve, and competitors get better, we are more often seeing the fruition of the flow. It’s the culmination of decision-making and skill, as played out in sport. And it has nothing to do with digging deeper into the tackle box and trying another shade of worm.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)