By: Josh Sheldon
The philosophy that is tournament fishing. What is this guy talking about? I am talking about getting your head right. I am talking about mentally preparing yourself to win your next fishing tournament. Over the past 15 years I have carefully watched some great fishermen consistently place high in tournament after tournament and do it year after year. Tournament fishermen are always looking for an advantage and they never want to be left out on the bite. We laugh and say the most effective piece of equipment on a Colorado boat for catching fish is a pair of binoculars. We don’t have huge waters like the great lakes where the tournament field is stretched out over a few hundred miles of water. Most times you hold your breath headed to your first spot of the day and pray no one is already there or tale piping you into your spot. There is nothing worse than showing up at your number one spot and half the field is packed in there going at it. I have heard the phrase; it is what it is used to describe this. Well, it aint what it aint! I am out. I refuse to fish in a crowd and beat up a spot that has fished well during prefish with 20 other boats stacked in a few feet apart. Even on small lakes there is plenty of water. This is where the philosophy that is tournament fishing becomes gospel. I have thought long and hard about this article and I think this is the biggest secret I can divulge. It’s not a magic crank bait or the GPS coordinates to my favorite hot spots, it’s the idea of mentally preparing yourself to handle adversity and to be able to fish your own game plan.
Consistency is the key. Being consistent will win you more tournaments and get you much further then the constant hunt for big fish. Let’s be very honest; big fish happen in tournaments all the time but unless you are on Erie or some other walleye factory, most tournaments are going to be won by those guys who consistently catch good fish. Not great fish. Two or three ten pounders a day are rare for most of us, but solid keeper or slot fish are a necessity. I would prefer to place in the top 15 in every tournament for two years rather than win one. Winning is awesome and winning feels like you conquered the world, but winning one and donating the other 8 or 9 tournaments over that two year span indicates you got lucky. By mentally preparing yourself weeks before you start prefish, with the goal of being consistent you will be a more successful tournament fishermen before you ever wet a line. Consistency is an indicator of skill and knowledge.
I know this may sound simple to some of you and it may be music to the ears of others. Before you put this off as common sense let me ask you a couple questions. Have you ever had a tough day and looked across the bay and working the opposite shore is the day one leader? Have you ever thought, I wonder what they are doing? Have you ever had a rough couple days of prefish and over beers the night before launch, you hear they are catching fish here or there, doing this or that? Have you ever been in eye sight of another boat and watched them put on a clinic and tried to slide a little closer to see just what they were using? If you answered yes to anyone of those questions, you need to figure out your own philosophy that is tournament fishing. I am guilty of the first two for sure. I used to absorb information like a sponge and then I spent my entire time on the water running around and second guessing myself. I was not mentally prepared to play my game and fish my fish.
I have a rule that I live by. If I didn’t fish a certain way in prefish I more than likely won’t fish it in the tournament. I mentally break down a game plan in two different categories; presentation and place. If I can catch fish consistently and have found different areas where that presentation works, then I won’t come back to that presentation or those spots till tournament day. Now I have two or three presentations that work and 10 different spots. I am mentally prepared to fish in several different spots using different techniques to consistently catch my 5 keepers for the day. Do you see the pattern? Are they the winning fish? Maybe; but I can promise you they aren’t the loosing fish. No fish are the loosing fish. If you strive for consistency, you will never be in a position where you are throwing back solid fish because you need three 10 pounders to compete. I have brought in 5 fish that I knew were not the right 5 fish. I was disappointed because I knew the waters we were fishing would produce big bags and our limit was hardly big. But I also knew it’s a two day event for a reason and if I don’t show consistency and bring in my five fish, I will have NO chance on day two or three when the leading teams have a rough day and fall flat.
The philosophy that is fishing is the ability to ignore the chatter. Turn a blind eye to the teams you know are doing well. Stay focused on your pattern, your water and your fish. If you fall short after that, I bet you still get a check or you finish a spot or two out of getting a check. Consistency also gives you the opportunity to compete in championships and winning a championship because you were consistent all year is a great way to end. Play your game. Be flexible. Enjoy your time on the water. Have your mind right to be able to stay competitive. The philosophy that is fishing is nothing more than your ability to stay competitive and give your team a fighting chance at taking that top spot. The philosophy that is fishing is accepting a lot of people are good at catching fish, but not all can be truly consistent.