I've had a lot of ups and downs in my fishing career. But 2007 was a good year. I had three big victories. I won the Bassmaster Classic in February. After the Classic, I struggled for several tournaments. But about the time summer hit, I got back on stride. I won the Ultimate Match Fishing series on the Outdoor Channel, and then I won in Arkansas at the Legends, our last Elite Series “major” tournament.
But the best tournament I fished wasn't the Classic or the Legends or the Ultimate Match Fishing. It was on the Potomac River late in the season. I was fishing water I'd never seen. I didn't know where I was, and I wasn't on anything good all week. I finished sixth, but it felt like I won.
I was motivated and prepared, and everything about it seemed right.
I was thinking about that tournament while I was making some last preparations for the first ESPN Elite Series event. Our tour starts this week on Lake Amistad near Del Rio, Texas. I haven't had good events at Lake Amistad in the past, and I was going over some of the reasons I haven't done better.
I couldn't help but think how important it is for anglers to be in the right frame of mind when our boat goes in the water to start a tournament. I thought about the whole 2007 season, and then I thought about my 2008 season, which wasn't nearly as good as the year before.
I had to face the fact that I wasn't prepared for tournaments in 2008, not the way I need to be. I had a bunch of bad finishes for more than half the season. Then with three tournaments left, I was sitting behind the 8-ball in 51st position. I had three tournaments to get my position up to at least No. 37, so I could qualify for the Bassmaster Classic.
I remember thinking, "I'm just not getting the job. Something's got to change. I've got to get back to fishing the way I know how to fish."
So that's what I did. I wiped out some of the distractions. I found some motivation I hadn't had. And I made myself prepare better, mentally and physically, for the last three tournaments. And, fortunately, I had three good finishes to end the season, and I made it to the Classic.
What I went through last year, I'd been through before. It just wasn't on the Elite Series tour. It was during weekend tournaments, mostly in Alabama and Tennessee.
Specifically, here are some questions I asked myself last year, and I believe you can ask yourself when you're not getting the results you want.
Have I prepared, I mean really prepared, for the tournament?
Preparation involves mental and physical preparation. I've been fishing tournaments for more than 30 years, and, as I said, I've had ups and downs. But in 30 years, I never won or finished near the top of a tournament by sheer luck. It's always sharp preparation and focus that leads to a good tournament.
Last year at this time, I was tired. Like most tournament anglers, I have a job, and that job creates demands. I also have a house and a family. There were a lot of distractions a year ago, and I believe I let the distractions work on me.
Distractions are always going to be there. But if you let the distractions take over, you're not going to fish well. You can have all the experience and talent in the world, it doesn't matter. If you're thinking that there are other things you should be doing, such as making phone calls, mowing the grass or fixing the roof, then your mind's not in the tournament.
Don't get me wrong, all those things are important. You have to take care of them. But you also have to be able to put them aside when you're on the water competing.
Distractions not only interfere with performance, they keep you from doing the elementary things you have to do to get ready. If you're tired and distracted, you won't have your mind on tackle preparation or organizing your game plan.
Another question is this: Am I over-scheduled?
Don't over-schedule. Back off until you can manage your time and resources and still prepare for tournaments.
You'd think after tournament fishing for 30 years, I would know better than to schedule too much activity, but I sure did it last year. I got too involved in too many things before the Classic, and it hurt me. As excited as I was to defend my 2007 title, I wasn't ready, in part because I didn't take care of my schedule.