Confidence is something that has really come and gone throughout my life. In academia, I was always very confident. School came easy for me, even when pursuing my engineering degree in college. I’ll admit, I didn’t work as hard as most of my classmates. I just knew that I could learn the material and be fine without much effort. And while I maybe didn’t get as good of grades as I could have, I easily graduated with a B average.
Social endeavors were a completely different story. I was never confident in social settings. I was never the outgoing guy (at least until you got to know me). Quiet and reserved most of time, awkward during others. It took me a while to get comfortable and confident when around new people, it still does.
Athletics was always very up and down. I had to learn to be confident. Entering into a swim race with the expectation that I was competing for second wasn’t a formula for success. I learned to foster that competitive spirit. To be confident that I had done the work, and had what it took to win. The mental game is so important in athletics. It allows you to push your body to do more that what you previously believed it could. And that all comes down to confidence. You believe you can, and so you can. When I remembered that, success followed. I broke records and won races, but there were the times when that confidence waned. When that happened, my times slowed, and my performance suffered.
My first big tournament of the year was at the Potomac River, and I came home with a big trophy (and a nice check). For most anglers this would take the pressure off of the season. You won! You got some solid points in the trails, qualified for the various championships, and cashed a nice check that would cover much of the season’s expenses. The rest of the season you could fish free. But thats not how I felt going into the weekend at Messalonskee Lake in Maine. In fact, I was feeling the pressure more than ever.
This is now my fifth year in tournament angling and I’m trying desperately to find that confidence and settle into the right mental state. Too serious, and it’s not fun. Fishing should be fun. Too relaxed and you’re not focused on actually competing. Too rigid in your practice, and you can’t adapt to changing conditions. Too loose, and you wind up flailing in the wind. You don’t put in the time and work, and you can be totally lost on the water. But hard work can be for nothing when weather throws a curveball. Sometimes a random decision or just plain dumb luck can set the table for a victory. Finding harmony in all of this; the right ballance of serious and fun, of work and play, of pressure and ease; I think is the key to confidence and ultimately success. The best anglers are having fun while they work, they have the confidence that things will happen right, and they have the success to back it up.
Driving up to Maine, a lot of things were on my mind. The biggest of which was my mental state for the season. I had my first major victory ever and I got good points in the Trail and Pro series. Was this just a fluke? Did I just get lucky? Could I back it up and keep the season moving in the right direction? I spent most of the 6 hours in the truck trying to psych myself up. Giving myself the affirmations that it was not just a one time deal and I could do it all again. But what was gnawing in the back of my head was the prospect of what the weekend could possibly bring. A tournament that would land smack on my biggest weakness, and could set me back both in AOY and in my mental state.
I arrived to the Snow Pond Campus late Thursday and the dock talk was very mixed. I heard largemouth in the south were in play, off shore post spawners were good, the bank was all small fish, the bank was full of beds that were going to have giant females, and others said nothing but pike were biting and the lake was crap. I never take dock talk too seriously, but this was all over the place. What I expected, was an amalgam of all of it. So I went out Friday and explored.
The last time I fished this lake was in the fall for three days, and spent basically all my time in the north. I decided to focus my prefishing on the mid-lake region to see what kind of structure and fish I could find. My practice Friday wound up being quite slow. I found water temps in low 60s and lots of empty beds. I caught some small fish up shallow, but did find one good smallmouth (18.5”) offshore on a rocky main lake point. I caught others out off shore in 8-10 ft on gravel and boulder fields. There was a mix of pre spawn and post spawn fish out in the deeper water. It wasn’t much to go on, but I’m usually pretty good at fishing smallies on that kind of structure. I figured it would just come down to if I landed on anything good during the tourney.
Saturday came, and I took off to the area I found the day before. It was almost a 2.5 mile run, but thats not a problem with my Feelfree 13.5 and the 24v MinnKota Terrova. I made it there right after lines in. There was a misty rain in the air and a slight breeze blowing from the south. It was looking like it would shape up to be a great fishing day.
I started on the main lake point tossing around a ned head fitted with the thick end of a Berkley Maxscent Hit Worm. I figured out if you bought the magnum Hit Worms and cut them down you’d get both a great 4.5″ drop shot worm and a 2.5″ ned worm. It only took 15 minutes and I was on the board. The fish was barely scoreable, but I had to start somewhere. Shortly after a 15.25-inch was on the board and I felt like I could make something happen. Sadly, things did not pick up. I worked my rock fields all day, but only managed to catch small bass. Most didn’t even go 12 inches. I got my limit and made 1 small cull, but my total was just over 70 inches. 51 of 75 in the Trail Series, pretty lousy.
On my way back to the launch, I checked the leaderboard. Anglers killed it! Obviously I was on the wrong stuff. When I got to the ramp, I got wind of what was going down. All the big fish had moved up on beds, the wind had died completely midday, and combined with clear high skies the result was a perfect storm for sight fishing smallmouth. It was a slugfest. Sometimes almost literally between anglers trying to get on the biggest bedded fish. It was my worst fears come true. I don’t bed fish. I’m not a big fan of it, and honestly, I have little to no experience with it. From what I heard (and from what the leaderboard clearly showed) I missed the deal, but I also missed the chaos and conflict that abounded in those areas.
This led me to the biggest question, what do I do on Day 2? As I said, I don’t bed fish. Not that I can’t. I have good sunglasses, a stable boat, and I know what to look for; but it just isn’t my style. Add that to all the conflicts that were occurring, I knew that couldn’t be my only plan. I wrestled for a while trying to make a decision. I finally came up with a game plan. I was going shallow, at least for the early part of the day. I decided to start on a closer point and head toward the same area I fished Day 1 throwing moving baits in the early morning. I’d been itching to throw topwater so maybe that would be in the cards.
As I mentioned this plan to my roommate Chris, he was looking at the leaderboard and noted that another angler Judy had posted a bunch of nice fish toward the end of the day. I couldn’t believe it. I saw where she was fishing at that time. It was the exact same point I had just planned to start on. There was no way I would try to take that spot from her, so my new plan might already be in jeopardy. Still, I figured I could start nearby and work my way away from there anyway. Time would tell were my actual starting point would be, but at least I had something.
Day 2 came, and with it some thick fog. I motored out to where I wanted to start and looked to see if Judy was there. I was the only boat in the area. This was good. It meant I could pull right up on the point. I wasn’t going to concern myself with any rock off shore yet, or how the point dropped away. I went right in shallow, locked a Zara Spook in my hand, set my motor to hold a heading along the bank, and went to work.
This plan worked quite a bit better than the previous one! I was on fish from the start and by 7:15 I had a limit. By 8:15 I made two culls and was sitting just over 80 inches. Way better than Day 1, but I also knew it wasn’t even close to what I needed. I needed a couple kickers to really boost my score, or ideally cull them all out and get a mega bag. I decided to try the one thing I didn’t want to do. I pulled up the motor and transducer, pulled out my anchor pole, went in shallow, and started looking for beds.
It didn’t take long at all and I was surrounded by them. As I perused the fish that were both roaming the flat, and the ones locked on beds I was disappointed to find that most all were still in that 15-16 inch range. Not quite big enough to give me the culls I was after. Finally I spotted a grown one. She was locked on a bed right up against a big boulder. There was a 14-inch male with her, so it was clear she was at least 18 inches. I anchored up and started going to work. I tossed my Exostick in there and they scattered. But it only took a few seconds and they swam right back in. My inexperience was on full display as I routinely spooked them off, but a few seconds later they would circle the boulder and come right back.
Another angler came into the area and after a brief chat he asked to work a nearby fish. I quickly obliged. But as we were chatting, I noticed something. The stick worm he was using was SHORT! Mine was full sized. As he worked his fish, I took off the exostick, and wacky rigged a ned worm. It took one cast and the male bit! This turned out to be the worst case scenario. The male was short and didn’t help me at all. The big female? Well since I plucked the male out, another male (I had seen him swimming around the two before) came in and ushered her away. I watched the bed for a while, but she never returned.
I looked around for some more beds after that, but the breeze was just starting to pick up. This made picking out ones with fish on them tricky. I gave up on that tactic and had to make a new plan. I worked my way along the bank I did all my damage on in the morning heading in the opposite direction, this time tossing the wacky rig around (a shorter 4-inch version this time) just hoping to blindly land on a good fish. That never happened.
There was a little over an hour left in the day and I decided to go back to what I like to do. I grabbed the ned rig, went into the deeper water, and looked for my rock and gravel bars. I drifted and navigated with the wind from spot to spot casting and looking. I managed a couple shorts, but the day was winding down. I had drifted across a large bay and was nearing the other side. I had seen many kayaks over the course of three days fishing along this rocky point in 5-6 feet of water. I didn’t have anything better to do so I kept casting the ned rig. With 5 minutes left in tournament time, I felt a bite and set the hook. It was a good one. Finally! I had hooked into a decent fish. I fought it up and into the net quickly. I was short on time and thought maybe I could get a picture, get it back, and get another one. Dreams maybe, but dam it all I was going to try. I never got another bite, but that 18.25 was a 2.75” cull and moved me up to over 83 inches.
That was all she wrote. I loaded up the truck, and headed for home. The weekend was certainly not a success. Trail I: 51 of 75, Trail II: 31 of 64, Pro: 20 of 29, and EKF was 47 of 95. I followed up my victory on the Potomac by falling flat on my face in Maine. I wouldn’t say my confidence is shattered from this weekend, but my season doesn’t quite feel like it’s going where I want it to anymore.
I have some small events before my next big weekend on Lake Champlain. Champlain has been a strong lake for me the last few seasons. It should be a confidence boost to get out there and compete on a lake I know I catch em. Until then I need to keep working, keep practicing, keep telling myself that I’m on my way to where I want to be, and keep faith that no matter what happens, I’ll wind up right where I belong.