Confidence and Time on the Water

There are two basic strategies to approaching a tournament; go all out and try to win or play it safe and stay in the points race. There are also two different results from these approaches.

Let’s take the first method and examine it closely.

Gary Dobyns, one of the great anglers in California, describes this method by saying he is “swinging for the fences,’ borrowing a baseball cliché. That describes the method very well.

Trying to win is forgetting about getting a limit of one or two pound bass. In this scenario you are only focusing on getting big bites and focusing on winning the tournament. When it works, it’s wonderful. You will either come home with a pocket full of money or a boat.

This is the time when you set aside your small baits and finesse techniques and opt instead for big jigs, buzzbaits, and large plastic worms. You don’t look for the easy bite but instead focus on getting the big bites.

When this method doesn’t work, you will usually go home a little poorer and way down in the points race. Those are the days you gambled and lost. It happens to the best of anglers.

Dobyns also describes the second method as “Fishin’ Chicken,” going for the easy bites. This usually means catching small fish. Small fish are much more aggressive and easier to catch. On any given lake there are places and techniques that will all but guarantee a limit of fish. Will they win the tournament? Possibly, but they will more than likely keep you in the points race for the championship.

But, if you have spent your season “fishin’ chicken” you may have problems in the championship because you haven’t been focusing on “swinging for the fences.”

Like everything else in life, you only get better with practice. Even today’s top professional sports stars continually work on the fundamentals of their sport. For a bass angler to be successful they must learn two basic fundamentals, how to play it safe and how to win.

We’ve all heard that “time on the water’ is important. I agree, but I’m starting to feel that the cliché is getting old and tired. Let’s try to throw that old idea out of the boat and replace it with, “efficient training.”

Time on the water may be a great way of saying practice, but it doesn’t tell us much. Time spent doing what? Catching a few rays, eating barbecue sandwiches or maybe working on our balance standing on the deck of a bass boat in rough water? Of course not. We have to learn to use our time efficiently.

First, don’t just go out and throw a lot lures at various locations, trying to find fish that will bite. Think about what you are going to do prior to hitting the water. Read your maps, think about where you are going and what conditions you may face. Once at the lake, decide what to practice first. You will need to work on two strategies; swinging for the fences and playing it safe. Early in the season you may want to work on how and where to catch small limits, but you need to stay in practice on how to entice the bigger bites.

Not always, but in many cases, the bigger fish will bite earlier in the day. Take your morning and look for the bigger fish. Search for key structure that big bass are drawn to. Take the time to look at the maps and your electronics and find the structure within the structure. Then, work on your patience. Big fish are generally slower to react than smaller fish.

As the day wears on, switch to smaller reaction baits and start looking for “hot” fish. Try to find the locations where large groups of smaller bass congregate. These fish will be more aggressive and easier to catch.

I remember when I interviewed Gary Dobyns a few years ago he told me that he would go out the morning of the tournament and focus on catching bigger bass. He would throw buzzbaits and spinnerbaits or even a jig. If he caught one or two big fish and the bite slowed down, he would then use the latter part of the day to focus on filling out his limit. Dobyns usually knows of a few places where he could easily catch two or three one to two pound fish.

As you can see, this is very different from the typical style of fishing tournaments. Instead of getting a limit and then trying to locate a kicker fish, he went to get the kickers first and then filled out his limit. He had used his time to train efficiently. He knew where he could easily fill out a limit and then studied how to find and entice big bites.

Another cliché I am getting tired of hearing is “you have to have confidence,” or “I used my confidence bait.”

Webster’s dictionary describes confidence as “a feeling or consciousness of one’s power or of reliance on one’s circumstances. It’s a state of mind or a manner marked by easy coolness and freedom from uncertainty, diffidence, or embarrassment. Confidence stresses faith in oneself and one’s powers without any suggestion of conceit or arrogance. Confidence comes from long experience.”

That’s a couple of different ways of describing confidence. A few years ago I met a man who described confidence in a way that made much more sense, he said, “Confidence is knowing that you know.”

Bass fishing magazines and television anglers have thrown around the word confidence so easily these past few years, yet very few have taken the time to explain what they mean.

“Knowing that you know,” only comes from experience. I know, I know, you’re out there saying, “see, time on the water.” No, its efficient training, not just time on the water, but using that time to train yourself properly.

If you have never caught a fish on a Senko, then guess what, you don’t know if you can. If you don’t know, you can’t have confidence in that bait.

Several years ago my friend Jack Strock developed a bait, a plastic crawdad imitation that was based off of a worm he called a Wing Worm. When he showed me his new bait I said, “It’s a Wing Dad.”

He liked the name and it stuck. Before long bass anglers all over Northern California were hauling in huge fish flipping and pitching the Wing Worm. It was a great lure. As for me, I couldn’t seem to get one single bite on the lure. I decided I would never name a lure again. It was a curse. A year or so later I started thinking about what I was doing. I realized I wasn’t doing much. I would go out, tie on a Wing Worm, make a few casts without results and then give up and tie on a jig or spinnerbait. No wonder I couldn’t catch anything on the Wing Worm, I didn’t use my time efficiently and learn what I was doing wrong.

That day I headed out to the lake and only took Wing Worms with me. I would love to tell you that I had a great day fishing but that would not be the truth. I was skunked! I went back two days later and tried again with the same results. I didn’t give up though; I just kept going back thinking that since I named the lure I was going to learn how to use it.

It took many trips before I even got my first bite. That day I caught three fish on the Wing Worm. I took note of the conditions, the water clarity, the structure and how I was working the lure. It paid off, now the Wing Worm is still part of my arsenal and when the conditions are right I break it out. Although, the lure isn’t made any longer and my stockpile is getting thin.

I didn’t have any confidence, but I trained myself efficiently, learned how to use the lure and my confidence, not in the bait, but in my ability to use it properly, soared.

I used to tell people to find a place where the fishing is easier and throw a lot of different baits to gain confidence in them. That was the wrong advice. It’s better to go when the fishing is tough. If you learn how to make a lure work in tough conditions, then you can build confidence in your ability. You will know that you know what to do.

Fishing in tough conditions and being successful does more for your confidence than anything else.

I have heard anglers moan and groan when Mike Folkstad or Gary Dobyns shows up on the ramp of a small tournament. Why? What better way to find out how good you really are. You should always want to compete against those who are better than you. That’s how you learn, that’s how you know where you stand and what you need to do to improve.

Rather than using some vague comment about confidence, we should focus on learning. Get to know your species, learn about your competition, face failure with a smile because it provides you an opportunity to learn and measure yourself against others. Learn how to use your lures, and when.

Confidence isn’t something that appears magically out of thin air. Confidence comes from trying, failing, working, and learning.

Time on the water means nothing, time spent training efficiently will naturally build confidence. You will know that you know what to do. You will also learn when it’s time to “swing for the fences” and when to “fish chicken.”