As it is for all competitive sports, coming out on top in fishing tournaments often comes down to making very small adjustments to your approach that results in an edge over your competition.
Finding an edge essentially is a process of years of trial and error, and Iíll be the first to admit that Iíve had many more errors over my fishing career than home runs Ė though thatís probably a universal truth for all athletes.
That being said, one of the most recent experiments that resulted in an ďah-haĒ moment was during practice for the Bassmaster Eastern Open on Lake Norman.
Historically speaking, seeking the next edge, to me, was all about finding a ďsecretĒ bait, or taking care of my equipment to increase my efficiency. What wasnít as much of a priority was my health.
Like many people, when I was in my early 20s and up until a few years ago, I didnít put much thought into what kind of fuel I put into my body, and quite honestly I donít think it really affected me back then, anyways. Now that I'm in my 30s Iím starting to see some changes in my energy level, which has severely impacted some of my performances over the last several years.
Since I started to recognize these changes, Iíve been trying to figure out what the best approach is to making sure I can maintain my energy level throughout a competition day.
Honestly, my weight is a big factor when it comes to my overall health and energy level. Several years ago I put on some extra poundage and naturally I attributed my low stamina to my weight.
Recently I started experimenting with different ways to shed the extra weight. Most of the approaches worked in the short term, but when paired with an intense travel schedule, I wasnít able to sustain them and many resulted in even less energy.
The most recent diet consisted of a high-fat, low-carbohydrate intake that once again resulted in weight loss, but extremely inconsistent energy levels. In fact, leading into Lake Norman, I had a BFL on Lake Cumberland the Saturday prior to the event and I could tell my focus was severely impacted by my low energy that day.
I made the 5-hour drive to Norman after that event, prepared my first day of practiceís meals within the dietís guidelines and got back out to begin practice for the Open that Sunday.
That first day of practice really made me realize something needed to change. By 3 p.m. I had to get off the water, and I felt so exhausted Ė even ill. It was so bad that when I spoke with my wife Katie on the phone that night, she said I sounded terrible.
Once I realized something was wrong, I figured there were two things that I needed to change Ė my approach to hydration and how I fueled myself throughout a day.
Out of desperation, I disconnected the boat, hopped in the truck, and went to the grocery store, buying a big loaf of French bread and the fixin's for an epic sandwich, as well as a bunch of electrolyte-replenishing sports drinks. Though I had conditioned myself to avoid all refined sugars and carbohydrates, I felt that maybe the high-intensity process of tournament fishing might require a bit of ďcarbo-loading.Ē At the very least, I needed to try something.
The next morning when I hit the water I was still a bit groggy and still not firing on all cylinders. In an effort to battle my sluggishness, I forced down two bottles of water and unwrapped the foil on one of five hunks of sandwich I made from that ridiculously large loaf of French bread.
It didnít take long for me to notice a difference. I rapidly started to feel more energized, aware, and I was becoming more decisive.
Two hours later, I unwrapped another sandwich and once again gulped down two bottles of water. I continued this replenishment schedule throughout the day.
To say that a consistent eating and hydration schedule changed my energy level would be a massive understatement. By the end of the day, I was clearly a new man, and I hadnít had that level of energy, mental clarity and confidence in years.
This trial was enough proof for me to continue this nutritional approach going into the tournament. The result was a performance I was very satisfied with.
I ended up finishing 36th in that event, which in itself isnít a stellar finish, but what really was important to me, was how well I fished, and how I never once lost my energy throughout the 2 days of competition.
Essentially, though I wasnít able to get on anything special during practice, I'm positive that by keeping myself fueled correctly I was able to be more efficient, make very good decisions and make the best of what I had found. I think my co-anglerís would agree that my efficiency was on another level during each day.
Though I'm certainly not one to give nutrition advice, I feel that I found a system that seems to make a huge difference for me in a high-intensity competitive setting. I definitely donít think that Iím going to use this high-intake approach in my day-to-day, but when it comes to long days on the water, I've proven to myself that this is the way to go, and Iíve had several tournaments since the Open that have also seen the same results.
In the end, this episode really has made me realize that as I get older, taking care of my body is just as crucial as maintaining my tackle and equipment.
As a young angler, I remember that I could maintain energy throughout a day without any food, and very little drinking at all, but now I see that is not a healthy or a competitive approach. Regardless of the dietary approach that someone uses, I think any angler can benefit from drinking more water and eating regularly throughout a day.
With a newfound approach to fueling myself during competition, I feel that I'll be reaping the rewards for many years to come. I know that it certainly has given me an edge over at least some of the competition.
(Miles "Sonar" Burghoff is an aspiring tour pro and co-host of the TV series "Sweetwater." To visit his website, click here. You can also visit him on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube (SonarFishing) and Instagram (@sonarfishing).