Over the next several articles we will explore and hopefully inspire everyone to consider a comprehensive fitness program as it relates to fishing.  An all encompassing program that includes  conditioning, sports psychology, and diet.  Each topic interrelated to the other and equally as important to a complete program.  We need only look back in history a short time to realize the dramatic changes that have occurred in all major sports.  The NFL and NBA, for example, showcase some of the most amazing athletes we’ve ever seen.  These athletes have the physiques, speed, and strength we never knew were possible.   The 2009 Summer Olympics gave us several performances by Jamaica’s Usain Bolt that shocked the track and field world; smashing the world record in both the 100 and 200 meters.  Meanwhile, Michael Phelps, with 8 swimming gold medals(and 8 world records) broke Mark Spitz’s 37 year record of 7 Olympic gold medals in a single Olympic games.  What was once a 6-8 month season for most athletes is now a year long commitment.  Today’s athletes realize that their conditioning is a lifestyle and not just a part-time job.  The emphasis on continuous training and conditioning has elevated the level of play in each sport and is never overlooked.

There’s no reason why our sport of fishing should be any different.  It’s sometimes been easier for us as competitive fishermen to overlook the fact that we too are athletes.  While we don’t play in stadiums or on courts and often times are not in front of large crowds of fans, we do challenge our bodies and minds each time we take to the water.  No doubt, there are different challenges that fishermen face compared to competitors in other main stream sports.  However, the stress and the demands on the body and minds of competitive fishermen require that same commitment if we are to succeed at the highest level of competition.  Improving our level of fitness will no doubt reflect positively at the end of a day on the water.  We’ve heard the debate for years, usually from those who don’t fish, that fishing is not a sport but rather a hobby to pass the time and relax.  There’s no denying we enjoy our sport and get a sense of relaxation from it, but for most tournament anglers it’s not just a hobby and for the elite it’s a career.  Take a look around you at the next tournament and you’ll recognize guys that have always been extremely competitive their whole lives, no matter what their cause.  Anyone who’s been awakened at 3:30am to get to a boat check and then spent the next 8-10 hours standing with one foot on a trolling motor pedal trying to fight the wind and the waves will certainly agree that there is no debating we’ve evolved into athletes.  One aspiring young pro recently told me that he was not prepared for the physical strain a 3-4 day tournament put on the body and that it was the biggest adjustment he had to make during the tournament.  It is more a sport today than ever and will continue to move in that direction with the next generation of anglers coming into the field.

What we’ve all been guilty of, to some degree, is overlooking the impact that a comprehensive fitness program can have on our success in competitive fishing. We hope we can introduce, re-introduce, and re-energize everyone at every age and skill level to a comprehensive fitness program.  And ask everryone to take a look at their own fitness and improve from their starting point, whatever it might be.  Fitness is a relative term, it’s not about your fitness level today, but yet how much better you can feel in the future with a goal, some planning, and good old dedication.  With fitness, there is no starting or stopping, it’s a consistent approach that yields improvement over time.

Today, we are seeing a new breed of professional and amateur anglers emerge; those who approach the sport with tremendous fishing ability and passion as well as an emphasis on comprehensive conditioning.  Anglers who realize that training and conditioning can translate to better performances on and off the water.  One such angler is Bassmaster Elite Series pro Dave Wolak of Wake Forest, NC.  With a masters degree in physical therapy, Dave understands the human body, how it works, and what can happen if you don’t take the time to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  He realizes the importance of strength training, nutrition, cardiovascular health, and incorporates each into his daily regimen.  Growing up Dave was a multi-sport athlete playing many sports including, football, baseball, and competitive skiing.  Staying active has always been a part of Dave’s lifestyle and it was evident, as we discussed just how important we believe fitness can be to the sport of fishing and how it will be the wave of the future.  We have young guys coming out now that want to be around 20 years from now and still feel strong and healthy into their 40’s and up.  As Dave put it, “longevity in the sport requires a new level of competition.”  Everyone is looking for an advantage and fitness and conditioning is just one more piece of the puzzle.  Think about all the variables that are out of our control when we are on the water.  We cannot control the weather or make the fish bite, but we do have the ability to control  how we feel when getting on the water and coming off the water.    Think for a moment about how you felt after your last tournament.  Did you hear talk at the weigh-in about sore backs, tired legs, or just being “wiped out”?  Our bodies are challenged in so many ways from standing on our feet all day, to the wear and tear of riding from spot to spot at 65-75 mph, and finally loading up and trailering home.  It all adds up and takes a toll.  These factors play a major role in the decisions we make during a tournament.  If you’re tired do you re-tie or just let it go?  Do pull the trolling motor and hit that spot you were catching them on in practice or does your tight back say “no” so you just stay put.  Each decision you make, either consciously or subconsciously, can have a determining factor on your outcome.

Dave recently described a discussion from a seminar about how he handled a windy day that he experienced on the water where the fish were located in a very specific and small area along a ledge.  He detailed how he found a certain way to position the boat just right so that he could drift through the small area and did this approximately 20 times or so.  After answering the previous question one of the attendees asked,”but weren’t you tired?”  Dave explained that if you are in shape it is not part of your thought process and you keep your mind focused on fishing.  According to Dave,  “When you’re in shape it becomes a non-issue if you’re not thinking about being tired, and I will not let the failure of my body dictate the final outcome.”  And  Dave admits, “While some anglers have the talent level and experience to overcome poor diets or lack of physical conditioning, it is especially important as a new or aspiring angler to outwork and out think them and out move them.”

We can relate a new fitness program to fishing a new lake.  While we may want to see instant results the first day on the water we understand that it will often take many trips to begin to feel more comfortable with the lake.  Dave put it best when he said, “Everyone is looking for a way to catch that 10 pounder in one cast.”  It’s often the same with a fitness program, we don’t see the results after a week or two and decide it didn’t work.  If we took that same approach to a tournament a lot of us would be back at the ramp loading up by mid-morning.  It will take time, but the reward can be life changing or even life saving.  With a comprehensive program you can blast off knowing you are going to feel better, fish harder, and stay more focused because you know your fitness level is better than it was a few months earlier when you weren’t training.  I think Iaconelli put it best when he said, “never give up.”  That definitely applies in the case of fitness and conditioning.

When you’re getting started take a honest look at yourself and assess your own weaknesses, because we all have them and they vary from person to person.  Begin to put together a program that addresses the weaknesses that you want to build on.  And as always, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before starting any new fitness program.  Competitive fishermen face many challenges no matter what level they fish at.  The weekend angler is usually juggling a full-time job, family, and a tournament schedule. On the professional side the angler is spending a tremendous amount of time on the road away from his family, on the water, and on the stage satisfying sponsorship obligations.  If you’ve ever worked a fishing show and stood on a concrete floor all day you know what I mean.  If you’re back and legs felt like most guys’ did, you can see why we’d all benefit from the training.  And as Dave humbly admits, “I’m not the ultimate model for this but instead want to be a model of awareness to get people thinking about it.”  Dave also says he’s not perfect and that, “I’m the first to admit that I’ve made every mistake there was.”  So, even with his background Dave realizes that we all fall short of the goal from time to time, but the thing to remember is that once our bodies get conditioned to certain training habits they crave it.  Our bodies release chemicals called endorphins, which are in essence equally as powerful as narcotics, and make us feel good.  It’s the body’s natural high.  Each time we complete a workout our bodies release these endorphins and we almost instantly feel better.  You will reach a point where you can’t wait to get to your workout and you will want to feel that rush when you’re done.  And conversely, you’ll also get that opposing feeling from your body when you miss training.  It does become habit-forming.  But you will undoubtedly see and feel a difference during and after tournaments.  Less fatigue, better decision making, more focus, and probably better results at the scales.

Dave’s workouts consist of a varied assortment of movements and exercises that address cardio, strength training, karate, plyometrics, yoga for flexibility, and running. Some fishermen will find that running is not a viable option for them because of prior injuries; don’t let that hinder your efforts. Alternate equipment such as elliptical trainers or seated exercise bikes, which can eliminate up to 80% of the impact of running that some aren’t able to withstand anymore.  We are both strong advocates of a widely marketed fitness program called P90X that incorporates all of the above disciplines and more.  And as with any workout program it is important to reaccess after 30 days or so and make the adjustments necessary to maintain improvement.  To continuously improve you must remember to be dedicated, consistent, and able to make adjustments as things become easier.  One of the biggest keys to continuous improvement is a concept of “muscle confusion”, which allows you to alter programs slightly so that different muscle groups are always being challenged at a different level for a certain period of time.  After which, you make changes to the program which continues to promote improvement because you are in essence tricking the body into believing it is doing something different even though it may only be very subtle changes in movement, speed, weight, or intensity.  One of the great benefits of this type of fitness program is that you can literally do it in your own home or even in a hotel room.  It requires no gym membership and very little equipment.

Below you will see a sample of Dave’s weekly workout as well as many pictures including Dave doing a one arm pushup and heavy curls and may wonder what that has to do with fishing?  These types of exercises are important because at the more extreme levels of fitness the advanced exercises are necessary to continue to challenge your body.  In terms of function it is an advanced engagement of the core muscles, which are very important to fishing. The “core” actually consists of many different muscles that stabilize the spine, pelvis, shoulders, and run the entire length of the torso.  It is these muscles that provide a solid foundation for movement in the extremities.  Think of the many benefits of core training as they relate to balance, good posture, and strong legs and shoulders during a long day on the water.  .

Sample Weekly Workout for Dave Wolak

Cardio- 3 days a week with a heart rate monitor
(1)long run w/HR at 150bpm(10 mile)
(1)short run to try to improve 5k run time.  Also abdominal work.
(1)functional cardio workout to include either Plyometrics or Karate

Weight Training- 3 days a week.  Abdominals included on one of these days.
A rotation of (5) different P90X upper/lower body weight workouts also rotating a few
additional exercises of his own.  
Note-Each week Dave alters between a high rep(20-30) low weight(25 lbs) workout one week     to a low rep(4-8) heavy weight(75 lbs+) which seems to work best for him.

Flex Day- On this day Dave rotates any of the following activities:  yoga(great for flexibility and     stretching), P90X Core Synergistics, or functional exercises like golf at a driving range or     hitting at a batting cage, etc.

Rest- At any time during the routine if Dave feels exhausted he will take a day off and pick up
where he left off.
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It’s very important to re-emphasize a couple of points we were making earlier; fitness is relative and it takes time.  What Dave does  may not be what works best for you.  There are thousands of exercises to choose from when developing your routine.  However, remember to incorporate something from each of the main groups listed above(Cardio, Weight training, Flexibility, and Rest).  Look for slow and steady improvement in your program and do not be discouraged if it’s 30-60 days before you start to realize slight results.  It’s going to take time, you didn’t become a great fisherman in a couple of weeks and the same will be true of your fitness level.  Give it time and commitment and we guarantee you will feel better during and after this tournament season.  Our goal with this series in part is the desire to take our love and passion of fishing and merge it with the same love and passion towards fitness.  Bringing the two together makes us all much healthier, and hopefully happier people, who quite possibly will have less weight on the scales at home, but more weight on the scales at weigh-in.

Final note  It’s been a thrill to work with Dave Wolak and others on this series and the topic is one I’m very passionate about. I’ve been blessed to complete 2 Ironman Triathlons as well as the Boston Marathon so fitness and fishing have always been a part of my life and it was a natural fit when I was asked to work with Dave on this.  He is truly dedicated to helping others get in shape and stay in shape.  Dave and I hope we can inspire each of you to start a program this year and see the results that are possible.  Watch for more articles upcoming dealing with proper diet and the mental aspect of our sport which we hope you’ll find just as helpful.  If any of you have any questions or I can help in any way don’t hesitate to post on the Basseast forum or email me at  HYPERLINK “mailto:cwh4th64@yahoo.com”cwh4th64@yahoo.com.  I’ll be happy to offer any suggestions and answer any questions I can .

Chris Harrison