Confidence and Intensity Separates Tournament-winning Anglers from the Rest


Back when tournament fishing began and B.A.S.S. was in its inception, Ray Scott had the brilliant idea of having “press observers” ride along with the contestants. This stroke of genius served to keep the contestants honest and provided the organization with a ton of publicity. I was lucky enough to be one of the observers of these early contests, and I’ve been in the boats of many pros since then.

Confidence and intensity, not necessarily ability, are what separates the pros from the weekend anglers.

We all have some form of confidence and even more intensity when catching a fish. You know how you get when you’re really “on fish” and expect a bite on every cast. Your focus is riveted; your concentration is total. You might even lean forward a bit every time you make a retrieve—tensed up and ready to set the hook at any moment.

I’ve seen top tournament pros assume this “posture” of intensity but with total confidence, and then hold it for eight hours straight whether they catch a fish or not.

But being a press observer was boring; we weren’t allowed to fish, just watch and take an occasional picture. None of the pros I went with wanted to talk much either. Some would talk my ear off after the contest was over, but during it they didn’t want me to distract them with any noises or quick movements.

It’s a little different today because of TV coverage. They all want to be stars, so they may put on an act when the camera is pointed their way. They’ll get real frantic and active and vocal, trying to keep the camera from panning to a more animated subject.

This, I believe, has given the average tournament buff the wrong impression of a winning attitude. Consequently, most of them change locations too often and fish far too fast. But most of the top pros—if they think quality bass are holding on a particular spot—will camp there all day. Even if I’m fishing, that becomes boring for me, and as a press observer, I often fell asleep.

But these guys would stand up there with hair-trigger expectations all day. For the most part, they fished much slower and more methodically than the hoards of wannabes I see flogging the competitive waters of Kentucky Lake and Barkley every weekend.

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Though I haven’t closely observed any of the big shots on the B.A.S.S. Tournament Trail for some years, I’ll bet my best rod that the same attitude of total confidence with intensity, punctuated with patient persistence, is still what wins the big tournaments.

The average bass angler today is much more knowledgeable than they were years ago. In fact, I believe the average weekend warrior today knows more about fishing than many pros did years ago, and the equipment is better too. Unfortunately, the quality bass are much harder to catch. Fishing pressure has grown by incalculable leaps and bounds. And I believe the Barkley bass see more good fishermen in a single weekend now than they did for an entire year back in the seventies. Because of length limits and catch-and-release practices, bass that reach the legal length have been caught and taught hard lessons quite a few times before they even get big enough to tote to the scales.

The confidence it takes to catch a winning limit of bass can only come from catching a bunch of good bass with consistency over a considerable period of time. And at least half of everyone who enters a tournament has plenty of confidence to begin with.

However, many lack that unwavering intensity, punctuated with patient persistence. Confidence comes from catching fish, and unwavering intensity comes from self-control and a highly competitive nature that you either have or you don’t.

This is where I fall short.

Many tournament anglers have the right bait and are at the right place, but when the competition begins, they can get into a slight hurry. Without realizing it, they change their presentation to some degree, and that’s the subtle deviation that makes all the difference. Most think color is the key, but presentation is paramount. When what worked yesterday doesn’t work today, they lose a little confidence and a lot of their controlled intensity, which is enough to fall out of contention. They run and they gun and they try every color of the rainbow.

And, eventually, they lose.