December 14, 2020
Sorry, dude, the “12 pounder” you put up on the ‘gram was probably more like 8, and your “8” might’ve pushed 6. Those are enviable fish to be sure, so be proud of them and understand that unless you slapped ‘em on a legit scale I’m probably not going to believe you. If you don’t frequently fish someplace like Fork, Falcon, Okeechobee or one of California’s big bass freak shows, you’re probably not going to have a lot of chances at true double-digit largemouths in your lifetime.
That’s OK. Take it from a guy who has fished all of those places, plus Mexico a bunch of times, and I’ve only pushed the scale past 10 once. Yes, I have lots of 8s, a handful of 9s, and I’m proud of them, but true 10-plus-pound bass are rarer than the internet and its numerous keyboard trolls would have you think.
Just ask Mike Long.
Still, if you put yourself in the right places at the right times, you could and possibly should get your shot at the fish of a lifetime.
Like a lake-bound Hamilton, you have to resolve not to throw away your shot.
So, how do you prepare for that kind of glory and success, and avoid a lifetime of head-shaking and what-ifs?
There are two components to ensuring your success. The first is a combination of general physical preparedness and opportunity. Are you using the freshest line? Are your rod guides free of anything that’ll cut that line? Are your hooks super-sharp and have you retied your knots since getting hung up or dragging your crankbait across a stretch of rocks? Just as importantly, are you using the right gear to start with? With line, for instance, there’s a balance – your lure may perform better on 12-pound test, but 17 might exponentially increase your chance of getting that fish out of heavy cover.
It’s an impure calculus combining am X Axis of opportunity and the Y Axis of certainty. At risk of being clichéd, they don’t get big by being dumb – and the ones with the eyeballs bulging out of their heads tend to know every trick in the book. I’ve seen them rub line against the keel of the boat, in the trolling motor, and locate the one sharp stick within a hundred miles. Don’t underestimate their escape routes.
But let’s assume that having the right equipment and maintaining it throughout the day is a given, as it should be. You came with the right stuff, and you more or less know what you’re doing. After that it’s a mental game.
Just listen to some of the greatest anglers of all time:
-Four-time Bassmaster Classic winner Kevin VanDam’s motto: “It’s all about the attitude.”
-Two-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year Gerald Swindle speaks relentlessly of “positive mental attitude”
Of course, it’s good branding and good marketing copy, but there’s more than a scintilla of truth there. You have to believe that you’re going to get bit by a giant on every cast. Even if you lose that giant, you have to put it immediately behind you and suck the positive out of that loss – something that you did enabled you to get that far, now you have to close the door.
A lot of that comes down to focus. If you’ve managed to put yourself in a place where giants live, and you do things the right way, you’ll get a shot. Don’t blow it. I’ve watched lots of anglers lose what would have been their PB. I’ve lost several almost-certain double-digits myself, and those memories are on my permanent record. What almost all of them have in common is a lack of mental preparedness.
As you make that cast into the heart of a thick mesquite bush or rockpile, are you considering how you’ll extract the fish? Your “escape route” is critical.
Are you in the right frame of mind? I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen an angler struggle all day, or get used to hauling small fish over the side of the boat, and they let their guard down, engaged in idle chitchat instead of remaining focused. The flip side of that is the guy who’s so hair-trigger hyper-focused that he sets the hook on every twig and boat wake. Let off the gas a little bit, stay relaxed and let your brain work in concert with your body, my friend.
Most importantly, remember that trophy hunting, even on a lake like El Salto or Falcon or Clear Lake, is a solitary pursuit with a singular mindset. Can you catch a 10 while targeting fish of all sizes? Of course you can. Lots of big bass are landed by crappie and perch anglers annually. But realistically you’re going to have lots of fruitless hours throwing big baits in dense cover – and disappointments will pave the way to your ultimate success.
And have a scale, man. I guarantee you you’ll feel better about your catch that way, sure that it’s the trophy you represented it to be.