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Mann On a Mission

 

 

By Pete Robbins
photos courtesy of FLWOutdoors.com

 

April 15, 2009

Buford, Ga. - It may not be accurate to say that Tom Mann Jr. is the hottest angler on the planet right now – after all, there are a lot of different circuits and variables to consider before making such a hyperbolic statement – but it wouldn’t be all that farfetched.

After all, with four major tournaments under his belt in 2009, the affable Georgia pro has three top five finishes. In the FLW Series eastern division, he currently sits in first place overall with a six-point cushion over Florida’s Glenn Browne, thanks to a 5th place finish at the season-opener on Lake Okeechobee and a runner-up finish at Alabama’s Lake Eufaula. The latter tournament performance earned him a check for $50,000. With two Series tournaments to go later this year at Lake Dardanelle and Clarks Hill Reservoir, he’s gunning to hold onto that lead. On the FLW Tour, he started off with a 5th place check at Guntersville (worth $30,000) before “stumbling” to 52nd at Table Rock, a sub-par finish that still had him in the money. Those two results have him in 10th place overall.

In those four tournaments, he’s earned $105,000. While the money is nice, it’s not his primary motivation. He’s dying to make it to the Forrest Wood Cup – this year’s in Pittsburgh would be nice, but he’s particularly locked in on qualifying for next summer’s derby, and its million dollar top prize, on Lake Lanier, his home body of water. For a summertime spotted bass expert like Mann, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to compete for all the marbles on a lake where he would seem to have a decided advantage over most if not all of the competition.

Looking at his statistics over the past several years, it might’ve been possible to conclude that it was time for the AARP-eligible Mann to hang up his rods. On the FLW Tour side, he hasn’t finished better than 89th in the season-ending standings since 2004. That year was also the last time he made it to the tour’s championship event. On the Series side of things, his results haven’t been much better. In three years, he’s never been higher than 106th in the standings at the end of the season.

Mann has been frustrated by poor results in recent seasons. “Over the past two years, I’ve had some of the best practices of my career,” he lamented. “But everything imaginable has gone wrong – I’ve had mechanical problems. I’ve lost fish. Now I’m finally looking for something good to happen.”

So while his attitude is good and the big rodeo next summer on Lanier is motivating him, are those two factors alone enough to raise his game this much?

Mann doesn’t profess to be able to explain it completely, but he has some theories about why he’s fishing at such a high level.

“I’ve always worked hard over the past 25 years,” he said. “But in recent years, for lakes that I’ve fished in the past, I never pre-practiced. Conditions are just so much different two weeks later, especially in the spring, that I never thought it made sense. But his year I’ve been going down ahead of time. In two out of those three top tens I’ve found the fish in pre-fish. It has made quite a bit of difference.”

Just because he finds them ahead of time doesn’t mean there’s no additional scouting once he arrives for the official practice period. “Each time I’ve had to relocate the fish,” Mann explained. “At Eufaula we had clear stable water when I was there (for pre-practice) but then the conditions got horrible. I found the fish offshore, then I went inshore to the hydrilla. I didn’t have to go far. The important thing was that I found the areas with the concentrations of fish.”

He has also managed to keep an open mind regarding tactics and techniques after he’s found the right group (or groups) of fish. For example, on the final competition day at Eufaula, the fish in his primary area got lockjaw, so he went to his secondary area a short distance away and couldn’t get a bite fishing his primary lures. “The water was so muddy,” he said. “But then I put on a black chatterbait and I caught a four and a six out of the same stretch. It just seems that when I do something it’s the right thing.”

Perhaps most importantly, he’s managed to turn a corner mentally, allowing himself to reap the benefits of experience that in recent years had seemingly been muted by the new crop of anglers’ ability to come up to speed in a hurry.

“The information is just so much more available these days,” he said. “A kid, if he’s reasonably intelligent with a computer, he can learn in a few months all of the things that took me 25 years. The information is out there. You don’t have to learn through experience.”

But a textbook education doesn’t always provide an up-and-comer with the ability to adjust quickly on the water when weather, fishing pressure or other variables change. For that reason, Mann professes to “love adverse conditions, because they wear on people mentally. They take a third of the field out of the tournament. Like Rick Clunn has always said, no matter what the conditions, you have to think you’re going to catch a bass on your next cast. If you don’t, you’re not going to be very successful.”

“Fishing is all confidence,” he added, and right now Mr. Mann has every reason to think that he’s at the top of his game, fishing at a level equal to or better than the other legends of the sport.

We’ll be looking for you at Lanier next summer, Tom.