Another season is in the books on the FLW Tour, and with it came more business-as-usual than surprises. As expected, Bryan Thrift took down the Angler of the Year title in spite of the customary superhuman feats of Andy Morgan. Despite dozens of interviews and years of attempts, I still struggle to explain what makes these guys perform at the levels they do. One thing’s for sure: that God-given gift lies between their ears more so than in their casting arms.
The Tour’s Potomac event brought a final surge toward qualification for the Forrest Wood Cup; the list represents a who’s who of FLW competitors. As many of the league’s stars have made the transition to the Bassmaster Elite Series, the remaining high-performers are quickly making hay. This year’s Cup cutoff filtered down to the 40th spot on the AOY list, and nearly all the big names are in. Gagliardi, Rose, Dudley and Martin. Strader, Wendlandt, Kenney and Nixon. It should make for a great championship in August.
But there were other headlines at the nation’s capital that can’t go without mentioning. We saw the first Tour-level win for Tom Monsoor. The Wisconsin angler is synonymous with swimjig fishing, so it’s only fitting that his favorite technique was responsible for his first six-figure check. I remember the first time I heard the name Monsoor: when he took my money, and that of everyone else, in the inaugural Everstart Series LaCrosse event in 2001. Swimjigging would consume my mind for the next 12 months.
Aside from Monsoor’s technique perfection, the Potomac also represented two very distinct mindsets in tournament bass fishing and proved how both can work at the same time.
In the post-game interviews, a few top competitors credited their ability to get away from heavy pressure as the reason for their success. Yet others, most notably perennial all-star Cody Meyer, decided to ride it out and “just fish where the fish live” despite incredible boat traffic. “These things are either the smartest or dumbest fish ever,” Meyer said, referring to the the Potomac’s bass refusing to stray from their predictable locales. “You’d think they’d just leave.”
Furthermore, Meyer credited his fishing success to downsizing his line and proper bait selection, which, as it turns out, was as basic as ever.
So what gives? How is it that some big stringers are the result of finding a secret honey hole, while others are caught beneath an armada of flailing bass anglers, all in the same tournament?
Once again, we find ourselves at the tournament angler’s crossroads.
Mark Twain said, “A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.” Looking deeper into that quote, we find an underlying message that comfort, or in our case confidence, is the result of a person’s true belief in his or her own ability.
As we’ve discussed here numerous times, as tournament bass fishing continues to evolve into one of the most specialized of sports, both in terms of natural ability and learned skill, we routinely see examples of the basic principles being the most important. And nowhere is this more apparent than a fishery like the Potomac River, where confidence and comfort routinely show their worth due to tremendous fishing pressure.
Prior to major tournaments, it’s often customary for the press to interview local anglers and get winning-catch predictions. And, without fail, nearly every single time the locals are wrong, predicting winning strings far surpassing what the pros bring to the scales. Sure, there are exceptions, as in the case where a relatively “new” fishery is discovered with little tournament history. But in the case of the venues that are visited time and again, the locals nearly always predict an outlandish winning weight.
The reason for this is simple. When thinking back, most anglers remember their best days and judge a fishery on that level. Naturally, they then imagine stringing three or four such days together, and base a tournament-winning prediction on such logic.
But touring pros like Andy Morgan, Cody Meyer and their cohorts, don’t think that way. To them, tournament fishing has nothing to do with the strength of a fishery, pre-tournament predictions or performing their greatest angling days.
It has to do with catching more weight than every other competitor that week. The closer those guys come to doing that, the more they get paid. And fishing to them, at least from the months of January through June, is all about getting paid.
You see, when guys like that look at a crowded stretch of shoreline, I don’t think they see trouble. Instead, I think they simply see a bunch of other fishermen getting in the way of their job.
When I interview the best in the world, I often try to get them to admit that they’re simply better than the other competitors, or allude to a lack of skill in the rest of the field. But none ever do; they’re men with more maturity and respect than that, and they realize that there’s more important things in the world than bragging about yourself.
The best competitors understand that hard work, a clear head and good decision-making will always pay off in the end. Whether that’s based on long runs to remote water, or just putting their heads down in a crowd and taking it one day at a time.
They understand it and don’t question why; in fact, most don’t care.
Maybe therein lies the secret to success.
(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.)