Throughout my time here with you, Iíve tried to focus on the most pressing issues affecting bass fishermen in America. Safety, conservation and angling rights often take center stage. Mixed in, however, is proof of my quest to solve the greatest riddle in all of tournament fishing: just what makes the top pros so good? More specifically, how is it that, although thousands chase a competitive career, a rare group seems to rise to the top, season after season, banking the big bucks and riding off into the sunset?
Bryan Thrift is a case in point. After recently racking up another FLW Tour win, Thrift was asked to divulge his secret to success. Not surprisingly, he dismissed any superiority in the usual Thrift manner; for the most part, chalking another win up to luck.
Anyway, itís been my goal to get on the inside track and report back with my findings. In order to do so accurately, I often carry a small notebook on my travels, jotting down key conversations or traits that may clue us all in to what separates the best from the rest.
I find that the competitive arena itself is the best place to witness the magic, and I try to spend a couple days each year in the back of a proís boat, pen and paper in hand, just watching. And, upon returning from the 2018 Bassmaster Classic, I again thumbed through my notes to review what I had learned. Of course, I wanted to share the results with you so, in no particular order, what follows are a few excerpts for your consideration.
The Best Try Lots of Lures: Here, I say try, because even top pros seem to settle on one or two key baits throughout the day. However, these great anglers arenít afraid to quickly switch from their initial offerings if things donít go their way quickly.
Champions NEVER Say Die: Even when completely out of contention for the win, the best in the sport fish hard until the very last second. Often, a single fish can make or break a day; that day can drastically influence year-end-standings, which often determines a championship qualification, and can completely change a career. Every single cast counts, whether itís the first or the last, and these guys capitalize on that. They never back down, even after seven-plus hours of failure.
True Professionals Think of the Sport First: I have seen numerous times when touring pros went out of their way to converse with locals, stayed out of the way of the local anglers when competing, or even apologized if they got too close or pushed a boat wake into those hometown anglers or dock owners. While thereís good and bad in every bunch, the true professionals of this sport acknowledge that the world is watching, and itís in their best interest to be perceived as appreciative and humble rather than pompous and crass.
Top Competitors Change Quickly: ďYou gotta be able to change, and do it right now. Whatís helped me more than anything with that is MLF and the Scoretracker. I use it to my advantage Ė when thereís fish being caught and Iím not catching them, I change, whether I want to or not.Ē
- Ott DeFoe, while fishing in the Classic
The Best Often Run New Waterr: When I ask a competitor, ďDid you catch them here in practice?", surprisingly, I often hear the same answer: ďIíve never fished here in my life.Ē This seems to occur more with the cream of the crop than tour rookies, as veterans are willing to try new water when their initial plan isnít working, or when practice was a bust.
Winners Fish Areas, NOT Spots: While any avid basser can recognize the power of a magic cast, most times the top pros arenít all that concerned. They realize that fish change daily, or even hourly, and such requires the pros to remain flexible. Sure, they keep waypoints like the rest of us, but Iíve found, most often, the sportís best fish through an entire area and let the current conditions dictate their approach. Rarely do these guys spend time lining up on a specific spot or target.
The Legends of the Sport Are Best When itís Bad: Any of us can catch bass when the bite is on; itís really not that hard. But the best in the sport Ė Evers, Thrift, Christie, Martin Ė they catch them when it sucks, and thatís all the difference. Time and time again, Iíve watched the best anglers in the sport pull something out around noon, well after most recreational anglers and many competitors would be simply going through the motions. The best are used to catching fish and feel thereís no reason they shouldnít do so every day, so they grind through the bad times and make the necessary changes to come out ahead, even when itís tough.
Finally, I canít end this column without recognizing one other attribute; one that contradicts the rest and shows that even the best are only human and capable of improvement. Now, before I go further, I donít want to seem like I know something they donít, or that I would even stand a chance fishing against these guys. Thatís not the point. What Iím trying to convey is a final subtle trait Iíve recognized.
Everybody Misses Something: Each and every time Iíve shared a boat with a pro, Iíve witnessed or recognized something that could have potentially impacted their day for the better, and they never saw it. Obviously, this comes as a result of me sitting in the back with nothing to do but watch. No distractions, no game plan running through my head. Maybe itís birds diving on baitfish, or a fish blowing up in the back of a pocket. One time, I witnessed an angler make a half-dozen casts with grass on his lure and never notice. In any case, even the best are susceptible to narrowing their scope of vision when under extreme pressure.
Rick Clunn has spoken of this many times in the past; the ability to remain open and aware of your surroundings Ė seeing things in both panoramic and telescopic vision. My notes show the need for all of us to keep such in mind.
(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.)