by Josh Bracamontes

The holidays are over and it is back to business. For most people that means going to work at their nine to five job and returning home for an evening free. But, for a fisherman, the work is just beginning. After spending all day with the time clock punched trying to support the habit, a fisherman stays up at night and works all weekend mastering the skills of his trade.

To be a contender in a sport as competitive as fishing, it takes diligent work and late nights. With so many great anglers on every trail, the wins only come to those who go the extra mile. It is not a matter of motivation for most people. The tournament fishermen that I know work hard attempting to gain a competitive edge. They do everything they know and put in the time it takes to improve their skills and knowledge. The key is simply knowing what to do. So if you are looking for ways to improve this winter, here are some things to do….

Goal Setting- This is something not very many fishermen take part in, but it can be one of the most powerful tools for improving your game. Goals will keep you moving toward what you are ultimately trying to do. For instance, if your goal is to win a BFL and you are continually entering various smaller tournaments on different lakes, glancing at your list of goals will remind you to focus on your BFL tournament water in order to gain the edge.

An effective goal consists of two main criteria. It must be specific and measurable. Your goals must clearly state what you want and the time frame in which you would like to accomplish them.  If you want to lose weight, writing “I want to lose weight” is neither specific or easily measurable. A much more effective goal would be, “I want to weigh 175 pounds by 5:00 p.m. on April 30, 2010.”

The more specific the goal the easier it becomes to plan for its’ achievement. In the example on weight loss, if it is January you have four months to lose the weight in April. Therefore, you know that a six month workout program may not be the best solution for achieving your goal.

Let’s relate this to fishing. If you have a goal of “Fishing the Central Bassmaster Open Tour” this goal is too vague and will produce vague results. There is no urgency to this goal leaving you to plan and prepare whenever it is convenient for you. The problem is that our lives are never convenient. There is always something that is pressing us for time and energy and the things that aren’t get pushed to the side to be done “later”. With a time limitation such as “I will fish the 2012 Central Bassmaster Open Tour as a Pro” there is now urgency to the goal and it will cause you to change the way you strive to attain it. You will start a savings plan, build up your sponsorship base, increase your visibility, get a reliable truck and a competitive bass boat, save up your vacation time, and you will start doing it now instead of “later,” or in most cases, never.

When you write down your goals, make sure to create some big ones that you may not even think are possible. The whole point of a goal is to stretch you and to cause you to grow. We don’t make being fat and broke our goal. Goals are things we want that we currently do not have and in order to obtain them we must do things we have not done in the past. If you are in debt and want to get out, you have to change your spending habits. If you are overweight and want to be fit, you must change your dietary and exercise habits. If you are losing tournaments and want to win, you have to change your approach to fishing. So be adventurous and put down that goal of “Winning the Bassmaster’s Classic in 10 years or less.” You may come closer than you think!
Lastly, review your goals daily. The more you have them in the forefront of your mind, the greater your ability will be to direct your actions in line with your goals. And make sure one of them is….

Exercise- In competitive fishing, there are many top professionals that are not in great shape. Being out of shape, however, is not the attribute that got them to where they are. In fact, losing weight has helped catapult some careers. Mark Davis’ career took off after he dropped a very large amount of his weight and he continues to work at losing even more. Some professionals even talk about skipping practice days to make sure they get in a good workout. The fact is, many of the very top competitors such as Mike Iaconnelli and Kevin VanDam are the most fit athletes on tour.

Professional anglers are noticing this fact and taking it to heart. Each evening after the practice day was complete, you were likely to find the majority of pro’s in their hotel room working out. The hot exercise program on tour last season was P90X. The set comes with a nutrition plan, a workout guide, and DVD’s to follow along. But, the reason it is so popular on tour is that it can be used anywhere. The equipment needed is easily portable which best suits the life of a professional angler. This program, however, is made for people who are already in good shape, so you will really struggle if you are just looking to begin getting fit.

If you are in shape you will have more energy, better balance and coordination, and you will be able to think more clearly than people who are not. The extreme conditions tournament fishermen are faced with take their toll on our bodies, and getting fit is one more advantage you can have over the competition.

Scheduling and Planning the Upcoming Season- This is something that is absolutely necessary to having a great year. Planning your season will save you time and money, and it will allow you to prepare your tournament attack more in depth than those who do not, causing you to be more knowledgeable and well-equipped to make better on the water decisions.

To start with, look at your list of goals. Do you have a goal to win a bass boat? Is one of them to qualify for the All-American? Do you simply want to win an Angler of the Year title? Let these goals be your guide to strategically selecting the tournaments you fish. This is an important step because, if you do want to win a bass boat, fishing only your local club tournaments probably will not get you to your goal. Whereas, if you are just after an Angler of the Year title for your resume, it will be easier to attain at the club level than the Bassmaster Open trails.

Let us assume your goal is to win a bass boat. The next step is to research which tournaments give away a boat or enough prize money in cash to buy one. Large regional tournaments and national tournaments usually pay out big. Fishing the FLW Tour and Series as a Co-Angler is one option. Another may be to fish the BFL circuit and qualify for the regional where the top finisher as a Boater or Co-Angler will take one home. There are a host of other options depending on which region of the country you live that will give you the opportunity to achieve this goal. If you are fishing tournaments or circuits that do not give one away, it is simply impossible to win one.
Once you have decided which tournaments you will be fishing, you need to make these your top priority. Showing up at the ramp the day of the competition without pre-fishing and no knowledge of the body of water is a sure fire way to waste your time and money and to ruin your reputation an angler. Research the lakes ahead of time. Schedule your vacation days around these tournaments. Take the weekends leading up to them get to know every point, dock, brush pile, and ledge you can and plot them in your GPS. Make sure you can run safely straight to every spot and make the first cast the sweet spot. Map out your route to and from the lake, choosing the hotels and restaurants that fit your budget. Finally, take notes on what worked under the various conditions you were presented with. Tournament trails and large local competitions are typically held on the same lakes during the same time of year. Use these to give yourself the advantage in the following years and you will eventually become the “Big Stick!”

Budgeting for Fishing Expenses- Budgeting can be very difficult for a fisherman because of the variety of expenditures involved. Tournament entry fees, gas, lodging, food, lures, line rods, reels, hiring guides, membership dues, magazines, books, wireless internet, boat and truck insurance and payments, etc., all play into the fisherman’s budget. This confusing mess will never get sorted out unless you have a system for organization set in place prior to your tournament season.
Start by clearing out a drawer in your filing cabinet (if you don’t have one get something comparable) and label it “Fishing.” Then label each file for the expenditures you will most likely incur. Keep them vague so they can cover a wide range of expenses. You will not label one file “Crankbaits” and another “Spinnerbaits.” Use “Tackle” as the file name to cover lures, line, rods, reels, maps and so on. You do not want it to be too complicated at first or you will not use it. Later at the end of the year you can get more detailed about the separate categories of expenses.

Here are some labels that you may find useful in creating your file followed by a description of what may go into these files:
Truck – Insurance, repair, tires, oil, gas…
Boat – Insurance, repair, tires, oil, gas (separate boat and truck fuel usage).
Tackle- Line, lures, rods, reels, reel cleaning and repair, organizers…
Lodging- Hotel, campground…
Food- Restaurants and snacks…
Tournaments- Entry fees, membership dues…
Keep every receipt throughout the season that has to do with fishing in any way and place it into one of your files. At the end of the season add them up and you will see how much your fishing season costs. For most people it is a lot more than what they expected! This will allow you to more accurately budget for the next season and it will help you to find areas to in which you can cut down on spending as well.

It is also a good idea to start a rainy day fund for fishing. There will undoubtedly be unexpected expenses such as boat or truck repair, stolen fishing equipment, or the opportunity for the trip of a lifetime. Having some extra cash at hand will allow you to enjoy your time on the water rather than sitting at home wishing you were there.

Organizing Tackle and Taking Inventory- So you set your fishing goals, signed up for tournaments that align with them, and researched those lakes to give you the edge. Now go through your tackle and make sure you have everything you need for those lakes at that time of year. Set aside some tackle organizers to make day boxes for each of these lakes. Include the lures and terminal tackle you will need for each technique. If you do this while your research is fresh in your mind, you will not forget about the specific techniques you need to be using on this lake and it will all be ready to go in one tackle box. This is useful for everybody, but, it is absolutely necessary for those competing as co-anglers.

Study Tactics and Techniques- Many people take time during the off-season to learn about new lures and presentations. This is a great practice and one that will definitely help you achieve more success on the water. Strengthening your weaknesses will open up the possibility of catching fish when your usual patterns do not work. However, this is something that nearly all competitive anglers take part in. Although it is necessary for improvement, this alone will not give you the edge. Take time to not only work on the areas you are deficient in, but, build up your strong areas as well.

To start with, read the Bassmaster and FLW magazines that you are paying for. Even if the article is the same old rhetoric, it is still reminding you of the basics that got you to where you are today. This will strengthen the foundation you have built upon and will make you a better, more consistent fisherman. Save these magazines, if you aren’t already, so you can go back and reference them in the future.
Go to every seminar you can find. Once again, you may have heard what the speaker will be saying time and time again, but, at a live seminar you can ask more specific questions. The speaker may have tournament experience on the lakes you will be fishing or bodies of water similar to it. He may be a master at a particular presentation you will be using in future tournaments and if you have already mastered what you need, he may just have something small to add that can help you put a fish or two in the boat.

If you can find seminars near your tournament lakes, the likelihood that the speaker or other people at the seminar know some valuable information about the lake goes up. Talk to other people at the seminar or boat show. Learn from them. Try what they tell you because if it does not work there is no harm done, but you may run across a winning spot or pattern.

Watching fishing shows and DVD’s, reading books, checking out informational websites and so many other things that fishermen do will help you improve when you cannot be out on the lake. You just have to make sure you are doing it consistently. This is something you should not confine to just the winter months either. Take part in this throughout the year and make sure it is geared toward what you will be doing on the water. If your first tournament will be held during the spawn, study the spawn. Think of it as studying a text book. Create units and chapters by pulling out all the literature you can find on spawning fish. Chapter one can be sight fishing and chapter two can be finding the staging fish and so on.

If you really do want the edge and you are sick of mediocre finishes, you have to go above and beyond what any other angler will do. You may not know what to do next or where to go or even who to talk to, but if you surround yourself with the world of bass fishing, the techniques, the ideas, the people and the answers will all show up.