Back To School

You know, I used to drive my parents nuts when I was in High School. Whenever my report card came, I was in for a “good talking to”. Some subjects I would Ace and others I’d barely pass. It’s not like I was stupid or anything, it’s just that some things came easier to me than others. It was always my style to work harder at things I was interested in, or was naturally good at. There was little time spent on subjects that gave me problems, those that actually needed most of my attention.

It’s funny how that nature has followed me throughout my life. I can see the same pattern in everything I do. I still dislike math, enjoy the fact that my banks’ website will balance my checkbook for me. I can’t stand science; still think “The Green House Effect” is an alternative rock band. Don’t think history has anything to teach me, even though I make the same mistakes over and over again.

However, my love of English and composition has me comfortably texturing my written articles with endless paragraphs of self-absorbed diatribe. I find that I am still the King when the category of “Geography” graces the board of Jeopardy. My proficiency at German verb conjugation still impresses every drive-thru attendant at Der Wienershnietzel. “Ich esse, du esst, wir essen das hot dog.” Some things still come easy for me, while the difficult things are unimportant and not worth my time.

To finally tie this into bass fishing, school subjects are a lot like tackle techniques. As a So Cal native, I was born with a worm rod in my hand. Texas Rig, split-shot, Carolina Rig and eventually drop shot were natural for me. I knew that at any local lake I could catch bass on soft plastics. Cranks, spinnerbaits, jerkbaits may work for those Southern guys on TV, but I believed that my mastery of the worm would be all I needed for a lifetime of bass fishing success. That is until I started fishing tournaments.

Even though there were times when I would finish well by fishing my strength, the need to expand my repertoire became evident, as fishing tournaments would often humble me against masters of other techniques. My tournament finishes started to look like my old report cards. I was good with some techniques, horrible with others. I knew it was time to start studying hard in every subject. For even the most seasoned anglers, the ever-expanding science of bass technique gives everyone a need to go back to school occasionally.

Admitting there is a problem is the first step

For any angler there will be aspects of technique strength and others of weakness. We all have them. Take time to analyze fishing success first by seasonal pattern. Some anglers excel in Spring, but falter in Winter events. That’s fine if they’re comfortable only competing during their own personal window of confidence, but hanging up the gear for all but a couple of months is not the tendency of most tournament anglers I know. Structure your “fun fishing” calendar to allow ample time on the water during seasons where your historic success is lacking. Time on the water is always valuable, but structured time on the water is golden.

Next, expand your education by breaking down the seasonal patterns into specific fishing techniques. Spend the Winter with a jig, the pre-spawn with a spinnerbait, the Fall with a tailspin, tailor your “fun fishing” time to your most crucial deficiencies. Leave biting fish during a familiar pattern to explore other possibilities you have not tried before. There isn’t an angler I know who isn’t an expert at Summertime topwater fishing, but those who can also flip fish under the same conditions will have another avenue to success. Common patterns are the most popular; the ability to go against the grain can sometimes leave you with open water and un-pressured bass. Learn adaptation.

Find a Tutor

Fishing with different anglers can be very educational. Try to spend time on the water with as many different anglers as possible without prejudice to their experience. In some instances you will be the teacher, but having a separate mind on the boat can open you up to ideas that would never occur to you. Try to dismiss the tendency to hide your knowledge from others and allow ideas and strategy to be discussed and explored. You never know when a less experienced angler can give you an education. To be arrogant and aloof will shut you out from any possible learning experience.

When you find yourself a spectator as your partner gets on the better bite, pay heed. The worst thing for your education is to try to immediately emulate their technique to get on the bite yourself. Often times you will compromise the success of your partner by crowding the area with an undisciplined version of their technique. Instead, pay attention to the subtleties that create the other anglers’ success while still probing the possibilities with your own separate offering. At another time you can employ what you’ve learned from the other angler, but to dismiss a lesson to placate your desire for immediate bass catching gratification at that moment is foolish. Learn vigilance.

Know your Professors

Read all that you can, talk to other anglers, but take everything with a grain of salt. Some advice you are given is genuine; some is either intentionally misleading or completely uneducated. Realize that most bass fishing articles are second or even third hand accounts of fishing experience. Most writers like to deal in absolutes to give their work more credibility, or to make the writer look smarter and more experienced than they really are. There is a lot of regurgitation in fishing articles that makes finding credible sources of information very difficult. If you like a writer, check that writer’s background and study several of their articles before taking any one as gospel.

The same can be said for tackle shop merchants, tournament stage speechmakers, and internet message board boasters. Sometimes you have to inspect an entire ear of corn, just to find a kernel of truth you can use. I have told hundreds of anglers, thousands of times how to catch bass while jigging a spoon. While my advice was genuine, I have only caught a hand-full of bass with this technique. My understanding of the technique was formed from part experience, part information from others, and part educated guess. While it was my job to convey confidence in my knowledge of all techniques, complete understanding of some techniques are still ahead of me. There is much incomplete or fractured bass knowledge handed out as advice. Know that any information you’ve garnered from others still requires you to go get the personal experience to make that knowledge work. Learn discretion.

Never take a test without studying first

Hearing at the ramp that there is a good bite on a certain technique, and trying to catch bass on that technique without having any experience at it is a common pitfall. Tournament time is no time to fish an unknown pattern. Realize that you must trust your ability to fish your strength, the patterns you have prepared yourself for. If you have invested the time to strengthen your weaknesses, trust that newfound ability to execute your full potential.

There are times when you are completely prepared for a tournament and the bottom just falls out. It happens to all of us. Spend more time listening, and less time talking to other anglers AFTER THE TOURNAMENT, and then decipher what you can take from the experience to become more complete. Take those instances to think about how you would approach the same situation differently. Be hungry to get on the water again as soon as possible instead of wanting to walk away and sell all your gear. We all get humbled; it’s the nature of our sport. Never doubt your ability, but constructively dissect your approach to find possible alternatives. Learn confidence. Now you’re ready for your next test.