By Jonathan LePera
Special to BassFan
For some, fishing and hunting are a hobby, a release of sorts. For others, especially those who cast for cash on the pro bass circuits, it is so ingrained in their pedigree that without one or the other, they wouldn’t know how to function.
When on the water, FLW Tour anglers Andy Morgan, JT Kenney and Clark Wendlandt leave nothing to chance when chasing bass. The mindset of pursuing a wild creature isn’t something that’s easily turned off at season’s end. When the fishing season concludes, they morph into seasoned hunters drawing on what they’ve learned from their time on the water and apply it to their hunting.
The same wits they use while going down a bank help them to discern the toughest of conditions and put fish in the boat also compel them to target one of the smartest animals in the wild – whitetail deer.
Where It All Began
For Morgan, Wendlandt and Kenney, it was their fathers who played an instrumental role in building their affinity for hunting. In Morgan’s, being in the outdoors has been part of his routine since he was a kids
“Hunting and fishing is all I’ve ever known – spring, summer, and into the fall,” he said. “My dad was an avid water fowler so I started out in a duck blind.”
Morgan didn’t start chasing deer until he was 13 years old when they first started showing up around where he lived. His passion for deer hunting has become somewhat of an affliction. For Morgan, fishing tournaments pays the bills, but he’d sooner hunt than fish if money wasn’t on the line.
When Wendlandt was 9, his dad would allow him to go to their deer lease with him. Hunting changed for him the first time his dad harvested a deer with him.
“The cool thing about deer season is that it’s not a year round sport – it’s something you look forward to,” Wendlandt said. “In Texas, we hunt from October through mid-January; it’s one of those times we look forward to every year.”
While Kenney’s father got him into fishing, he didn’t love the outdoors like JT did. Kenney had a neighbor who took him hunting in the 6th grade. Initially, they targeted rabbits and squirrels, but once he began to target deer, things changed. His passion for it intensified.
When the Switch Flipped
Wendlandt’s love of bass fishing and hunting comes from the mind games that ensue.
“I have a ton of respect for white-tailed deer,” he said. “Just trying to figure out how to kill a mature one that has grown to their full potential, and how to get close enough especially to shoot it with a bow.”
When chasing bass, he thrives on calculating the best patterns and tactics based on the conditions he’s faced with and when to access the fish he’s found.
“All that stuff is just the same to me in hunting and fishing,” he said.
JT Kenney uses hunting season to decompress after a long and tiring fishing season.
Kenney sees a parallel between the mental preparation for hunting and fishing. As far as two weeks out, he’ll be religiously checking the weather patterns so that he knows how to best craft a game plan for success.
Morgan is a bowhunter and puts a lot of thought into his approach, whether he's out for fun for working on "The Hit List presented by Moultrie," a show he hosts on Outdoor Channel.
“It’s not an easy deal,” he said. “I want to figure out what tree he’s going to walk by, that 20-yard path he’s going to take around my tree stand. It’s about your homework and the pattern.”
He likens deer hunting to tournament fishing because you don’t get a whole lot of second chances.
“It’s about the fine tuning,” he noted. “You’ve got to have some stuff planned out, your equipment right, and the way you want it to succeed. Set goals, know your equipment and prepare for that opportunity. When the opportunity pops up, you better be able to capitalize.”
Morgan’s is one of the most consistent and successful anglers the FLW Tour has ever seen. He’s driven to succeed and leaves nothing to chance.
“The more it angers you when you don’t succeed, the more you put into it, the more you grasp out of it – you see how similar fishing and hunting are so alike,” Morgan said.
Morgan is a lone wolf on the water and he lives by the same rules when deer hunting. Every so often someone might put him onto a good stretch of bank or a key bedding area, but most often, he’d rather figure it out alone.
“I guess it falls into your instincts better if you figure it out,” he said. “It’s those guys that figure out how to hunt and don’t have that pack mentality. They’re out there hanging stands at midnight because the deer are out of the bedding area and you need to sneak in behind them when they are out to feed.”
Wendlandt believes that separates the best bass anglers and deer hunters apart is their instincts. Those instincts are the culmination of time spent on the water and in the field, applying their knowledge to the situation they are faced with, and eventually being successful.
Kenney can’t pinpoint which has helped him more, hunting or fishing. The more time he spent outdoors, the more tuned in to nature he becomes by sensing barometric pressure and wind changes without ever checking his phone. A situation might call for a quick run to a bank that might fire up under a certain wind direction or during the summer it might slow down or speed up the current triggering a key bite.
Those same skills come into play when he’s chasing a big buck.
“It’s about having that fortitude to fail and leave the area and not screw that buck up instead of sitting anyway hoping it won’t hurt anything,” he said.
Escaping to Another Level
The demands of tournament fishing are relentless, especially for those who rely on their winnings to support their lifestyle. Some anglers use hunting to escape the pressure cooker while others use it to sharpen their mindset after stowing their rods and tackle.
Clark Wendlandt gets just as fired up to sit in a tree stand as he does to fish some of the best lakes in the country.
Kenney sells his boat right after the final tournament in September.
“I’m not going to lie – I sit in a tree stand and think about fish, but probably a lot less than people would think,” he said. “It is nice not to have to think about for a while.”
By July, Morgan the angler admits he starts burning out.
“I’m just kind of over it – the travel, the rat race, and the pressure of other anglers around you all the time,” he said. “It’s always a race to the next 3-pounder or to the boat ramp.
“In the hunting world, I can go at my own pace. I still use my instincts and it’s still a form of competition. I lose touch with fishing so bad that I feel like I forgot everything and have to start over in January. I forget how to tie a knot.”
Wendlandt doesn’t view hunting as an escape from fishing like others do.
“You’re just as into that and fired up about it and getting everything prepared for it as you were when you were fishing,” he said. “When the last deer tags used and the season’s over, you flip that switch again.”
Targeting the Alphas
Trophy bass and trophy deer are the alphas of their species. They don’t live that long, get that big, and outwit those who target them by making poor choices. On the rare chance they put themselves in the crosshairs, the hunter or angler has to capitalize.
Morgan approaches deer from the edge. He’s doesn’t storm into any area regardless of how confident he is, nor will he when he’s fishing.
“You slip in there and you catch 15 or 16 pounds in seven or eight casts like I did as a kid where I would win the Tuesday night event and you go on,” he said. “Same deal with deer hunting – poke around on the edge and don’t let him know you are hunting.”
Wendlandt only targets mature deer because they’re the toughest ones to locate.
“That’s the hardest deer to kill because he’s older and he’s been around longer,” he said. “Fish are the same way because when they get big like that, they’re just not going to make a mistake very often and bite. Those are the ones you enjoy catching the most,” he said.
Kenney looks for a small window before a major weather event that might make either species vulnerable. Alphas do not make mistakes often, so often something needs to tip the scales of logic that might get them to behave in a way not typical to their nature.
Trophy deer are loners and so are monster largemouth. Kenney can’t count the times he’s fished a stretch of bank and only caught one fish, but it was a 5-pounder. A trophy buck’s behavior isn’t much different.
“I think he doesn’t want a bunch of deer drawing attention to him,” he said. “He’ll go lay up in a log pile all day unless a coyote jumps him up or something. He’s not going to move until dark, and then he’s going come out all night and lay back down before it’s day light.”