It’s an amazing feeling when you renounce the fear of failure and embrace the learning process of your trade – the ups and the downs.
I can say with confidence that 2013 was a year in which I feared failure, and it showed with my poor performances throughout the season. Though I was still finding the fish I needed and I was getting the bites that would put me where I needed to be, the fear of losing at each event equated to poor execution on the water, and a reduced level of confidence.
Something occurred during this year's off-season, which I spent with my girlfriend Katie in California: I remembered I am still a student of the sport, and that it’s okay to stumble, and there is no shame in a bad finish. There is only true failure when you don’t learn from mistakes and don't get up for another round to take some more licks.
Now, going into 2014, I feel like the fire is burning hotter than ever and I'm already seeing some tournament finishes that reflect my dedication to continue learning. That includes the recent Rayovac FLW Series event on Lake Okeechobee where I was able to scratch out an 8th-place finish.
Though I felt I should have done better, it was a great example of using what I learned to get better moving forward.
As soon as I got back from California I immediately started to pack up my new Toyota Tundra and my Nitro, and within a day and a half I was on my way to Florida to fish a BFL, the Rayovac on Okeechobee and the Bassmaster Southern Open on Toho.
I ended up arriving in Clewiston on the Thursday night before the BFL. I was going to give myself a day to practice and just let the chips fall where they may for that event.
During my one practice day I decided to stay on the south end, which is a part of Okeechobee that I don’t really fish much during the early spring. I found some decent fish in the 3-pound range and caught one over 4, and felt the areas had potential for a one-day event. I ended up getting off the water early.
It is true, you get what you put into life, and unfortunately I didn’t do my job in practice. And although it was just an event I was fishing for fun, I was disappointed, after catching a mere 11 1/2 pounds, that I hadn’t done my job during practice. I ended up 74th out of the 200-angler field.
It’s funny how even when I tell myself I’m just fishing a tournament for fun, how much I still want to win more than anything else, regardless of the size of the event. I went into practice for the Rayovac ready to do my job during practice and not leave anything to chance.
Back To Big O Basics
My pre-game goals that I set for myself were topped by the objective of finding something different, which included areas, techniques or simply mixtures of vegetation that may be overlooked by other anglers. This was my primary concern because during the weekend of the BFL there were over 500 tournament boats on the water from local trails as well as the BFL and the B.A.S.S. College event, and I figured the areas that produced then would be pretty difficult to pull out a win in for the Rayovac.
Long story short, it didn’t take me long to realize that I'd be hard-pressed to find areas that weren’t getting attention that had the kind of quality I was looking for, so I ended up launching in Harney Pond Canal and I started to dissect the lake’s most pressured areas: North Shore, Monkey Box, Dupree Bar, Horse Island and some other Big “O” community holes. I immediately started catching the quality I was looking for while flipping the plentiful vegetation in the area.
I soon started to realize that there were certain types of cover that people were focusing on, while they would skip others, so I decided to cover water and fish the “undesirable” vegetation, such as dead hyacinths and trash mats. By the end of practice I had over two dozen waypoints where I had caught quality fish in “ugly” places.
Good, Not Great
The first day of the event, I was overwhelmed by the familiar feeling of calm that I have felt in the past when I have been “in the zone.” I was ready to go!
At the end of the day I had run through about a dozen of the 20 or so spots I had marked with quality fish and was able to scratch out nearly 14-pounds. Heading to weigh-in, I felt that though I fished well, I should have done a lot better and that I was going to probably be around 50th out of the 226-boat field. To my surprise I ended up landing in 24th, with a very small margin between myself and the Top 10.
Day 2 went only slightly better, although I missed several opportunities to catch a 20-plus-pound bag. I flipped up 17 1/2 pounds, and fortunately the fish I lost didn’t keep me from fishing the final day as I was able to slide into 8th place.
The final day was by far the most trying. In the morning I felt cool, calm and collected, and was ready to move up further in the standings. Unfortunately, I continued to experience poor execution, and I found myself getting into a hurry trying to wrench the bruiser bass out of the heavy slop and reeds that I was flipping into. Due to pure impatience and carelessness, I lost four real quality bites.
At the end of the day I maintained my position in 8th.
Though my finish was not what I ultimately felt I was capable of, the beautiful part of this tournament was that I was at peace with the outcome even if I didn’t achieve my ultimate goal of winning, and I think that is a healthy mindset.
Let’s face it, we are all competitive out on the water. We all want the "W.” However, I think that the most successful anglers out there can separate blaming themselves for a poor finish, or missed opportunities, and holding themselves accountable. I feel there is a very distinct difference.
Blaming yourself for a poor finish, or poor execution, causes you to believe, over time, that you are a poor competitor. However, holding yourself accountable for a bad finish simply means you acknowledge there’s room for improvement and allows you to be honest with yourself without judgment.
Let me back up here, because I don’t want it to sound like a Top 10 is not a great finish. But as we all know, there are events in which you may feel you fished flawlessly and finished 40th, and there are even events you win despite feeling there was room for improvement, and this event was an event in which I felt that my performance was far short of exceptional.
In the end, my 8th-place finish is something I'm proud of ,not only because it’s a feather in my cap, so to speak, but most importantly because I'm able to maintain the desire to get better and not settle, even if my name is near the top of the leaderboard.
(Miles "Sonar" Burghoff, a graduate of the University of Central Florida and the winner of the 2011 BoatUS Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship, chronicles his quest toward becoming a tour-level angler in his Sonar Sound-Off column. To visit his website, click here. You can also visit him on Facebook and Twitter.