How to fish with confidence
Like other top athletes, pro anglers say their mindset can make or break a podium finish
Bass pro Kelly Jordon believes that successful fishing is 90 per cent mental.
In the zone, on a roll, oblivious to failure. You hear athletes in almost every sport talk about putting on their game face, consciously psyching themselves up to win. But in fishing? Surely, fishing is one sport where skill and knowledge are all that matter. Not so, say some of today’s most dominant tournament pros.
“Once you become proficient, fishing is not a mechanical game,” says Kelly Jordon. “Everybody is about equally skilled; it’s the mental side that determines the outcome.” And Jordon should know—he’s qualified for the Bassmasters Classic four times in recent years and has finished first in a B.A.S.S. Top 150 event three times. The way he sees it, successful fishing is 90 per cent mental, particularly when you’re an accomplished angler.
Gerald Swindle, the 2005 Bassmaster Angler of the Year, agrees that fishing can be a mind game. “When you’re riding high, you can be fishing a tournament with $1 million at stake, and if you’re the only angler in 100,000 acres of water, you’re not fazed,” he says. “In fact, you’re confident you’ve found an area everyone else has missed. But when you’re in a slump, you look around and think, Do I really want to be fishing in an area with no one else? It must suck down here.”
When you consider the number of pro sports teams and athletes employing psychologists these days, it’s clear that Jordon and Swindle are onto something. So, what can you do to improve your mental approach to angling? Stay positive, avoid pessimistic fishing partners and take a self-confident approach to fishing, advise the pros.
“Suppose you lose a giant fish,” says Jordon. “You can throw down your rod and pout, or you can be an optimist and tell yourself, If there was one giant here, there must be more. Even if I lose five fish in a row, I’ll say to myself, At least I am getting bites.”
Similarly, Swindle recommends avoiding pessimistic anglers. “If you hang around doom-and-gloomers, they’ll pull you down,” he says. “They’re always complaining about the weather, wind and cold fronts. They’re hunting for excuses before they hit the water.”
Positive anglers, on the other hand, rub off on you, says Swindle. For instance, he and his good pal tournament pro Marty Stone help each other stay upbeat. “If I see Marty heading for a slump,” says Swindle, “I’ll say, ‘Pull up your panties, son.’”
According to Jordon, your mental attitude not only affects your overall fishing strategy, it also creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tournament anglers who say their strategy is to first catch a limit of fish then hunt for kickers, for example, never win because they’re fishing scared. “You should always fish your best big-fish spots first,” he says. “If you need to fill out your limit later, you can always do it later.”
Jordon believes anglers go for a quick limit first because they fish better with five fish swimming in the livewell. “But what are they really saying?” he asks. “They’re saying with a limit of small fish in the livewell, they don’t feel the pressure as much. Well, why do they feel pressure at all? That’s the mental side of the game.”
The solution, says Jordon, is to have a positive, aggressive approach. “You have to be a slugger, a home-run hitter,” he says. “I’ve won four major tournaments in the last five years-all in the last 30 minutes of the events. I was swinging for the fences and would never have won if I was fishing conservatively.”
Jordon says that the very best anglers, guys like Swindle, Stone and Mike Iaconelli, all share his self-confident approach. “Kevin VanDam’s the same,” he adds, smiling. “You can’t rattle that sucker.”
Here are some quick tips from the pros on how to stay in the zone-or get out of a slump.
- Rely on your fishing instincts
- Be open-minded and versatile
- Don’t rely on a single lure or presentation
- Attack a lake-an aggressive approach equals success
- Don’t fish scared-“swing for the fences”
- Fish with positive partners
- Be an optimist
- Keep your cool and stay focused
- Fish a smaller body of water to regain your confidence