I probably interview more professional bass fishermen than anyone in the sport. Maybe I’m wrong, and that’s okay. But continuously gathering weekly content for Bass Wars, adding additional in-depth material for each edition of Bass Fishing Magazine (often twice), formatting contributions from the Realtree Fishing Team and supplementing pro-staff material for a number of other fishing brands puts me on the phone with a pro several times a week.

And I don’t give these guys much room. They better not come at me with the old “muddy water, big blades” garbage. Save that for someone else. I want the juice; the goods that really put the best in the world in the winner’s circle. I’ve been told – numerous times – that I’m a very, um, thorough interviewer. More or less.

And that’s fine with me because I’m not always interviewing for you. I’m usually interviewing for me. And I’m a “thorough” fisherman myself.

Sometimes an interview blasts off right from the start. Take Gary Klein, for instance. When you interview Klein, you ask him one question, and then he writes you a book. It’s the book you’ve always wanted to read about bass fishing. It begins when tournaments combined an insane gamble with a test of manhood. When the true legends of the sport were born. The story then unfolds through decades of build-up and education, finishing, somehow, just short of perfection. It’s as much internal as it is tangible. And it’s a lot. But you asked for it.

I recently interviewed Alton Jones and Alton Jr. With them, it’s all figured out, as if they knew it all along and are just allowing themselves to realize it, and live it, in small increments so it never goes away. They’re very mature about it, much more than most. They treat it as a present as much as a right. It can be described as nothing less than inspirational. That’s how Nick LeBrun is, too, I found out.

With other guys, you have to get them talking. They do so many interviews that they begin to rehash the same stuff because most writers, or journalists, or whatever, will just nod and keep writing, then toss a lob that gets a sponsor-mention reply. I don’t do that. Don’t give me that nonsense.

But even these guys, once they get talking, they themselves start to get into it eventually. Sometimes you’ll hear a change in tone because they want to get real in-depth on a subject and haven’t yet found a good source. I’m there for that.

I remember when Michael Neal told me that he only fished with three techniques and if he had to flip mats, he’d just put it on the trailer. And I got it. Because I had been out there, like him, trying to compete using a technique that someone else was good at and I wasn’t. Finally, Neal just said enough is enough, and then he became Michael Neal. That simple.

Greg Hackney was the first I heard say he “pushed the fish in a different direction” when referring to forcing them to bite his favorite lure. He’d catch them a bunch of ways if he had to, but every opportunity he had, he’d push them toward a flipping stick. Almost like continuously serving fries with a burger. You may not want fries; you may not have ordered fries, but eventually you’re gonna eat those fries. That was a new one to me.

Stephen Browning did the same thing, but he used math. Browning figured out that if he simply continued to throw nothing but a Jackhammer, he’d beat the BPT odds. A few years later, Browning completely revitalized his career. He’d talk about other tactics and techniques, but a calculator was Browning's secret lure, really.

What a concept.

Each time, there’s an underlying factor. It doesn’t always come out in every interview about spinnerbait trailers or the best hooks for a crankbait. Let’s face it, a lot of that’s just personal preference-based, mostly, on confidence. A Trick Worm is still awfully tough to beat.

What I’m talking about are the in-depth, thoughtful reasons why a few dozen guys continue to be in a league all their own, despite which league they fish. I try my best to make sense of it and bring it back to you. It’s a diverse subject.

I totally believe that Mike Iaconelli won the Bassmaster Classic because he never gave up. I also believe Rick Clunn visualized his way to a record-setting fourth title.

I never thought I’d see any angler even approach Kevin VanDam in his total unacceptance of anything but first place. Lately, I’m not so sure.

And these days, when I interview the veterans who continue to perform, they all tell me how good the young guys are. How they’re so advanced with sonar and so knowledgable right out of the gate, as if the vets are just lucky to be in the game. Then we see those same vets beat up on the field throwing a spinnerbait.

Theres’a lot more to it than we realize. It’s in there, in all of them. Some give it up on the first question. But for most, it’s a drawn-out affair that just depends on how long they want to stay on the phone.

(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.)