The best natural fisherman I know is someone who can throw the wrong lure in the wrong place at the wrong time, occasionally on the wrong tackle, and still catch a fish better than any of the ones in your livewell. You work down a grass line with him in the back of the boat and he throws away from the grass into open space and catches a kicker. You’re fishing thick brush with big fish and he throws in a 10 inch worm on a 1/0 hook with 10 lb. line and effortlessly hooks and lands a 5-pounder. I’ve seen it time and time again and while it remains amazing it’s no longer surprising.
He’s experienced some success in smalltime local tournaments, but not nearly as much as he should have by this point, and as far as I can tell that’s because he constantly trips himself up.
Most recently, he had a great practice, but rather than spending the night at the tournament venue he drove two hours home and two hours back in the morning, on less than an hour of sleep. His tournament results did not live up to his practice-time expectations. Yes, life gets in the way for all of us at times, making a particular tournament less than our number one priority, but this is part of a pattern. We all know the guy who has a great first day of a multiple-day event, then stays up too late playing cards or drinking beer in the hotel bar and stumbles out of contention thereafter. While there are a few who can withstand and overcome that hard living, they are the miniscule exception rather than the rule.
Another angler in my local area who I’ve long said had the best chance of anyone around here to make it at the tour level currently doesn’t fish tournaments. I’m not sure if he even has a boat. Again, this is someone with not only great natural instincts and a strong on-the-water work ethic, but a guy who has shown an ability to win at a level higher than just BFLs and the like. He's exceptional in a wide variety of techniques, on disparate venues, and he’s also a noted big fish guy, with the ability to catch a kicker anywhere, yet he’s never had the financial wherewithal to stay out there and push his limits for a sustained period of time. It seems that there’s never been a three-year plan, a five-year plan or a ten-year plan, possibly not even a next month plan, to maximize the returns on his talent and past effort.
It’s not limited to weekend warriors, either. I can think of several Elite Series and FLW Tour pros who if they spent a little more time getting their lives in order would be forces to be reckoned with. At a level where there’s a razor-thin difference between making a championship and not requalifying for the circuit, it’s critical to play all of your cards correctly, yet so many don’t. What does one more check a year mean? If you’ve been out there for a decade, it’s a cool hundred grand.
I never aspired to do anything more than have fun and be reasonably competitive in my local small-potato tournaments, but one of the things that I’m most thankful for is that when I started I had mentors and examples who taught me what I still consider the right way to do things. Get a decent night’s sleep. When you get back to the hotel, make sure your boat and tackle are in order before doing anything else. Change out your line if there’s any doubt about its quality. I did not come to the sport with any particular natural talent, and I certainly had less experience than many of the anglers I was competing against, but I always felt that I’d given myself every chance to maximize what I had going for me. I’d get back to the hotel and see other competitors half-drunk, or with their tackle untamed, and I’d know that even if I didn’t beat them at this particular event, in the end they’d suffer at some point.
And that’s just it – no one tells the guys who aren’t making the most of their talents how to get back on track, because the people who see it most clearly are the ones who have the most to gain by letting their pals remain inefficient. Michael Jordan wasn’t going to tell the competition that their shoes were untied, or that they only had four men on the court. It’s not worth the effort to beat your head against a wall to help someone who doesn’t want to help himself.