Regular readers will recognize my affinity for getting the inside track from the best in our sport. More specifically, I often attempt to define just what makes some of these guys so good. Bass fishing, as a sport, does not require tremendous physical strength or quickness of hand. There’s not an obvious, tangible reason why certain players outperform the others.
For instance, I can’t hit a major-league fastball, so there’s no danger of me making a run at the batting title. But I can pitch a jig into a cup. Does that mean I can take down the Greg Hackneys of the world? Hardly.
I remember the first professional angler who got me thinking about these alternative variables. Younger fans may not recognize Rick Clunn’s overwhelming influence in professional bass fishing. Sure, they know him as a four-time Classic winner and Hall-of-Famer, but younger anglers simply can’t understand Clunn’s significance in the idea of bass fishing as a discernible skill set; one that could be practiced, refined and mastered. In essence, Rick Clunn first taught us that luck had nothing to do with it.
At the time, my journey toward self-discovery took me many places as I tried to become a better bass angler and win a few bucks on the way. Today, I do my best to uncover more of these mysteries for readers, and let you decide what to do what them.
My latest contrasts the mental obsession with bass fishing versus the complete withdrawal from it.
A case in point: recently, I interviewed a handful of the best BPT anglers. These were the cream of the crop, mathematically determined to be the most consistent anglers to have ever fished the tour. While my initial questions comprised ideas for a piece down the road, I posed a sidebar to each angler before hanging up. My question: how involved with bass fishing are you in the off season?
This subject is more intriguing to me than anything I’ve recently come across.
Michael Neal claims to “distance himself from it” while actively running a business. Meanwhile, Jacob Wheeler and Dustin Connell fish like madmen.
Thrift fishes some, but spends just as much time tinkering with lures in his shop, a trait he’s known to obsess rampantly over.
Alton Jones Jr. goes back and forth, but finds himself fishing less recently. Andy Morgan just wants to get away from the whole thing.
There appears to be no right way of doing things. These guys, numerically outperforming all of the others, are doing so with completely different off-season routines. How can that be possible? Think in terms of other sports. Wouldn’t you think it would be smart to at least get out and warm up the arm a bit? Maybe hit a few balls?
When it comes to fishing, what is the value of discovering subtle lure characteristics, trying out new tackle or practicing casting? A this level, maybe none.
It’s a terribly contrasting subject. I continuously hear of professional anglers who obsess over learning everything they can about the way a crankbait swims, or how a jig falls differently with a few more strands of skirt material. They talk of "staying in tune" or "keeping in the game," building quicker reflexes and following the changing moods of the bass. Then Michael Neal whips their butts after four months off. Makes no sense.
Now don’t get me wrong, all of these guys work hard, all year long. Even the ones I publicize as sidestepping the game are still, really, deeply entrenched. This is something you can never completely tune out.
But I wonder if a break from fishing might benefit more anglers. I know, personally, when I’m tied up with other obligations for a number of days and I haven’t had time to get on the water, my first trip will be one of great anticipation. Restored youth in my approach. A vigor that’s only shown for this, my favorite pastime. It would be a great way to go into a tournament.
When is the last time you got away from fishing for a bit?
Or maybe the secret’s in repetition, never opening a mindset to other ideas. Obsession is the overused word. I prefer infatuation.
Bass fishing consumes many of us. The problems continually worked out, over and over, in our minds. Even when away, we’re still on the water, day and night. Perhaps a vision comes when least expected, rationalized as simply a daydream, leading to another piece of the puzzle.
Clunn was the original visionary of this type. And I remember hearing stories of him training his mind to get in the game, to be ever-present. Fishing with no past history.
For some, that takes 100-percent involvement. For others, perhaps routine mental rest does the job.
(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.)