When the most recent copy of the FLW Outdoors magazine arrived a few days ago, I was immediately drawn to the cover story on reigning FLW Angler of the Year Andy Morgan.
I eagerly thumbed to the corresponding page, anxious to learn what makes this guy tick. Admittedly, I felt I’d be let down by the story, as the level of “dirt” that I needed would surely surpass the average readers' requirements. Surprisingly, I was dead wrong. The story was exactly what I wanted. And the inside details continue to blow me away.
In today’s techno age of bass fishing, we constantly hear of the touring pros' reliance on the most advanced equipment available. Many offshore gurus have electronics packages that surpass those of NOAA weather radio on their bass boats. And it wasn’t long ago that nearly every guy on tour went out and bought devices that supposedly mimicked the noises of baitfish, just because other pros professed their appeal to schooling bass.
In order to succeed in the modern era, it appeared, a professional bass fisherman had to master offshore structure fishing.
Andy Morgan never got the memo. In fact, he claims to not understand his depthfinders, for the most part, and never uses many of their top functions.
In addition, when describing his stellar performance that led him to the AOY title, Morgan readily admits that he mainly junk-fishes, selecting targets as he goes down the bank. He often fishes with just a handful of rods, and his primary lures are flipping baits, worms and swim-jigs. In fact, he claims to have never even had much success using an umbrella rig, although the rig appeared to dominate most FLW events the last few years.
Nope, for Morgan, credit is due to old-school worm fishing. Just like Bill Dance did it.
Contrast that with reigning B.A.S.S. AOY Aaron Martens. The definition of consistent, Martens is at or near the top more frequently than just about anyone on the Elite Series in recent times. Every fan knows of his inhuman runner-up awards, and most are also aware of his incredible attention to detail.
A master of most offshore techniques, I remember once hearing Martens comment on the drastic difference between 6- and 7-pound test fishing line.
I’m guessing Martens knows a thing or two about his electronics, too. I’d venture to say that he can not only identify fish on a side-imager, he could probably tell you what species they are, which way they’re facing, and whether or not they’re hungry. No new technique or technology escapes his scrutiny. In fact, he may be the polar opposite of Morgan.
So how is it that these guys both won the two biggest titles in fishing based on consistency, and have both either won them before, or nearly done so?
That’s the $64,000 question, as they say.
I’ve always felt that the most important part of the equation in tournament bass fishing is confidence. Although there are exceptions to the rule, in just about any fishery, there are always numerous populations of bass that perform differently in different sections of the lake.
And what has to be the coolest aspect of pro tournament fishing occurs when a dominant angler bucks the trends and does his own thing. Sometimes they carry it to the winner’s circle, like Tommy Biffle at Oneida (2006). The crowds will call it an overlooked pattern.
Then a guy does it numerous times in a season, like David Fritts in the late 1990s. The other competitors write it off as “the lakes setting up good for his style” that season.
How then do we explain two fishermen with totally opposite approaches dominating the two largest tournament trails known to man in the same year?
The FLW schedule included Lewis Smith, Beaver, Grand Lake, Chickamauga – all venues where offshore techniques were sure to play. All anti-Morgan.
And the Elites fished the Sabine, Falcon, and the backwaters of the mighty Mississippi. Traditional shallow water “junk venues”; not necessarily places we’d expect to see the spinning rod-wielding Martens excel.
Yet these guys figure out a way to win the titles that, according to most pros, determine the current best fishermen in the world. They come to the lake with their own set of standards and methods. They perform to the best of their ability with the confidence that comes from knowing your method is the best.
Even when it’s not.
We’ve all fished with other anglers who swear their method is the only one that works. Whether or not that little dip of chartreuse dye on the tail of a worm makes any difference to the fish is beyond me. But there sure are days when I wouldn’t want to run out of dye.
Anyone who spends much time in the fishing industry with a little success eventually gets the question at a seminar, or a message on Facebook, from a hungry young competitor: "How do I become a pro?"
My answer often beats around the bush, but it always carries one major viewpoint: Confidence.
A young up-and-comer can be a techno offshore nut, or a dirty water flipper. He can be a heavy-braid mat fanatic, a micro-bait spinning rod master, or an offshore cranker and spooner. They can be a worm dragger, a square-bill freak, or live and die with the frog. It makes no difference. With unyielding confidence in their ability, there’s room for everyone on tour.
And judging by this season, there’s even room at the top.
(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.)