The Draw Partner Blues

IMG_3089Friday, 6 pm.  My partner for this particular weekend club tournament was at the ramp, preparing to unload his boat.  I, on the other hand, had just loaded mine, after a long 13-hour day—the fourth in a row.

And it was hot.  Not just hot—hellishly hot.

A hundred-plus heat index every day, with more of the same on tap for competition.

Enduring this sort of misery?

What can I say?  I like to win, and especially this tournament.

Why this one?

Because it’s taking place on a body of water the club’s “Big Sticks” know really well, and because there’s a certain smugness among them for that fact.  Arrogance that seems to portend but one conclusion to this particular derby:  one of them winning.

It’s a coronation I intended to, disrupt.

So here I am, sun-slapped and soggy from four days of practice in a hellish, outdoor steam room, and I’m watching my draw partner casually organize his gear for a few comparatively brief and more comfortable hours of early evening tournament prep.  I had asked him to practice with me.  He declined the offer, saying he had few chores to do around the house.  Listing the chores, they all had the benefit of air-conditioning, interestingly.

“How many days did you practice?” he asked.

“Four days running,” I said.

He grinned.  “So, you’ve got’em figured out.”

It was a statement—a greedy statement, not a question.

“It’s really tough,” I said.  “But yes, we’re ready.”

And indeed, the fishing was agonizingly slow, literally as slow as molasses flows in wintertime.  The river was extremely low, and miserably hot.  There was no water movement.  The bass were despondent.  Nonetheless, I had found one dependable creekIMG_3071 with fish willing to defy the conditions, albeit an extremely conservative defiance.  The strategy was simple:  hard work, supernatural focus and determination, and copious amounts of hope.

I explained all this to my partner.

“Well, don’t worry,” he said with a reassuring wink.  “I know this river pretty good, have some spots of my own.”

And there it is—one of the great injustices of bass fishing competition.

My partner hadn’t prepared at all, had made no investment.  Whereas I had not only endured four days in a hellish sauna, but emptied a couple tanks of gas running up creeks and rivers, trying to figure out what to do and not to do in order to win.  Yet, now I have to split two, eight-hour fishing days with a guy who hasn’t applied himself, and forfeit control of the fishing to him half the time.

It hardly seems fair.

Correction:  it isn’t fair.

And adding insult to injury, my partner isn’t the best fisherman.  It’s a nice way of saying:  he couldn’t find bass in a barrel.  It’s not a knock against him.  It’s just a repeatedly proven, and thus demonstrable fact.  He’d never won a nickel in the club.


He lacks knowledge and skill, one.  He doesn’t adequately prepare, two.  And three, despite these handicaps, deficiencies he refuses to acknowledge, by the way, he forces experienced and prepared anglers to cede control of the fishing for half the day.

So, when he shot me the reassuring wink, basically informing me that I was headed for the loser’s bracket, I couldn’t resist the half-eyed stare I shot back.

Even so, I’m a team player.  My partner and I talked it over that night.  I managed to convince him of my strategy, which we executed the next day to second place in the standings, and to a $500 dollar “Big Fish” reward—my partner’s first check.

In light of our results, I felt even more confident about my area and my strategy.  And sitting in second place, and with $500 dollars in his pocket, no less, one would think my partner would feel more confident, too, and that he would be willing to repeat the previous day’s strategy and events.

And he was, initially.

Two hours-in, however, he was complaining—

“It’s sooo hot!”

“Maybe the fish have moved.”

“I think this place is played out.”

The exasperated sighs, the discontent mumbling—it was irritating.

For the record:  in four days of hellish practice I never sighed or mumbled once.

Anyway, by 9:30 I’d had it.

He wanted to fish “his water.”  So, we fished “his water”—a 35 minute boat ride away, no less.  And it was water he hadn’t prepared in, incidentally, and that I actually had, as it came to be known.  In fact, I had abandoned “his water” in practice for it proving dead water.

It remained so upon our return.

Nevertheless, after wasting three biteless hours trolling around in “his water,” my partner finally admitted defeat:  “Man, this place is dead.”  Then, “I guess we might as well finish-up in your water; it seems better.”

I was already irritated.  After the admission—now I was steaming.  And after a prolonged and much necessary silence, I zipped up my life-vest and simply said:

“Might as well …”

What I was thinking was waaay less Christian.

Fishless, and squeezed by time, I resorted to one of my back-up spots closer by, rather than waste 35 minutes running to my/our primary creek, also known as our second place $500 dollar Big Fish creek.  Luckily, I managed a single 4-pounder that, remarkably, won us the tournament—a testament to how tough the fishing was during this event.

Fishing my water a full eight hours, I’m certain I would have managed another 8 to 10 pounds, not that we needed it.  Yet, the rules are the rules:  equal time, equal control.

Nobody wants to talk about these competitive, draw format inequities—knowledge, skill, preparation—for it being impolite and unsportsmanlike.  Yet, the inequities nonetheless exist.  And along with equal time and control rules, they have a profound bearing on both individual performance and winning.

Asked how I handle it, my answer is:  not very damn well!

And the fact is, these competitive imbalances and injustices are present at nearly every level of competitive fishing.  And if it isn’t competitive imbalances and injustices, it’s ego.

So basically, if you’re skilled and prepared and willing to do whatever it takes to win, the draw format can be an obstacle.

Put another way, an angler can work his butt off, and yet have his destiny lay in the hands of someone less skilled, less prepared, less motivated, and ultimately less devoted.  And it’s that reality that proved a major reason I didn’t pursue tournament fishing more seriously.

Nevertheless, to the extent of my competitive involvement, I determined there’s but one solution to this problem ultimately.  That is:  put in the time so you can make sure to catch fish during your time at the helm.  Getting bit and swinging bass are rather persuasive eye candy to disagreeable partners less inclined and prepared, and the ability to do that is simply a result of putting in the work and time.

Given the outcome here, mine clearly isn’t a flawless system.  However, doing what it takes—the extras, is what winners do.  Winners—they’re the lighter than milk cream that rises to the top.  In competitive bass fishing, they just have to be mentally tough and calculating to get there, and to avoid the draw partner blues.

Fish With Confidence!

JMWs latest:  Destroying Bass Fishing Myths



The Ins and Outs of Angling Eyewear

In the market for the right fishing eyewear?  Well, there is no doubt eyewear is essential to fishing success.  The question is:  how much should anglers spend?

Trust me, they don’t have to spend a lot.

That statement isn’t going to make eyewear manufacturers or their hashtagging #bestfishingeyewearever pros very happy.  Okay, so, maybe the answer is:  eyewear manufacturers need charge less for their product.  Maybe manufacturers need to give professional anglers less sponsorship money so they don’t have charge so much for their product, monies manufacturers recoup from consumers by convincing consumers their label is worth a small fortune merely because Mr. Superpro wears it.

Trust me, if Mr. Superpro wasn’t on the sponsorship roster, he’d be wearing cheaper eyewear.

Note to corporate:  it’s business, not personal.

So, eyewear.  The question is:  is expensive eyewear superior to cheap eyewear?  Well,IMG_1118.JPG Glasses double take these two pair.  The elevated pair costs $129 dollars.  The other, $6 dollars.  I wear them both.  If you were to ask which pair I prefer, or which pair is better, I’d say the $129 dollar pair.

Indeed, they’re superior glasses.

The questions is:  how much superior?

Having actually worn both pair and put them to the fishing test, and were I looking at both pair on the retailer’s shelf, I would give, say, $15 dollars for the superior pair.  It is to say, I’d pay $9 dollars more for them over the $6 dollar cheapies.  Now if I were being asked to pay, say, $20 dollars more than the $6 dollar cheapies, I’d buy the cheapies.

Why?  Because the cheaper pair is virtually as good, and equally as stylish, too.

So in other words, the $129 dollar glasses are $114 dollars overpriced.

IMG_1115.JPG H2OptixThe expensive pair was a gift from my mother.  She likes to give me the perfect gift.  So she called my wife and asked what fishing-related item I might want, knowing my full-blown bass fishing addiction.  My wife new I liked these particular glasses, but that I’d also said they were $114 dollars overpriced.  So, I got the glasses as a gift.  And indeed, I like them.

The cheaper brand, on the other hand, I bought from a discount store’s fishing department.  They were my style.IMG_1116.JPG Berkley Glasses  After picking them up and seeing the $6 dollar price-tag, they were even more my style.  Although, I didn’t really intend to fish in them.  I had superior glasses for that.

As tends to happen, I ended-up, unintentionally, fishing in the cheap glasses all day.  I never realized I had the wrong, the so-called inferior glasses on.  I hopped in the truck at the end of the day and there were the superior models in the seat.  Only then did I realize I had fished in the cheapies all day, which had worked splendidly.

Now, I can’t say there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two pairs of glasses.  There’s more than a dime’s worth.  There is $9 dollars difference between them, an additional sum I would gladly pay.

The point is, were it not for the unintentional experience I would have never realized the equality of my so-called and thus so-deemed inferior glasses, which cost a $123 dollars less, no less.

Now.  Let’s talk polarization.  For my fishing glasses, polarization is a must.  Here’s why—it’s one of the best visual explanations of the topic I have found.

Basically, polarized glasses eliminate glare.  This is a selling point anglers always mention, but don’t really understand what it means.  Now they can add visual context.  For anglers, polarized sunglasses are critical, particularly during the spawn when anglers are looking at bass and trying to catch them, but for anytime of the year, actually, as anglers need to cleanly see their targets.

In other words, polarization is a legitimate eyewear feature that greatly benefits anglers in particular.

Interestingly, both pair of my sunglasses—the cheapies and the superior models—have this feature.  Yet, one costs $6 dollars, and the other $129.

So, what’s left?  For what am I spending the extra $123 dollars?

Better plastic?

The brand name?

A cooler style?

For the fact Mr. Superpro wears them?

Again, were Mr. Superpro not on the sponsorship roster, he’d be wearing cheaper eyewear.

My buddy Fox, Lee Fox, is one of the best fishermen I know—tour-grade, in fact.  We usedbill+dance glasses fish to fish in a bass club together, and he wore those vintage Bill Dance glasses exclusively.  They were like, $4 bucks a piece or something, and the only eyewear he ever wore.

I asked him one day, “You like those glasses?”

“Love ‘em,” he said instantly.  “I buy’em by the case,” he followed, pointing to a storage compartment on his boat.

I opened the compartment and, sure enough—a big ol’ box of Bill Dance specials.  Actually, a smaller refill box separate and aside from the actual “case.”

And the case price break—he bought them for, like, $2.50 a pair.

“I scratch ‘em, sit on ‘em, they blow off my face, fall into the lake.  I don’t give a damn.  I grab another pair,” he said.

“Yeah, but do they serve the purpose well,” I asked, in my superior $129 dollars rims.

Like I said, Lee is a tour-grade bass angler that catches a lot of bass and wins tournaments.  He took the glasses off, examined them side to side, like he’d never really thought about it.  Then he put them back on, fingering the bridge to perfect the fit.

“Check my trophy case and bank account,” he said with a grin.

Like I said, when it comes to choosing the right eyewear, anglers don’t have to pay a lot.

Better still:  #bestfishingeyeweareverisn’tcostly.

© JMW/FWC 2018 All Rights Reserved






Lure Doctrine, and Why Anglers Should Give It Less Thought

“To catch the owl, study the mouse,” said Rick Clunn.  Educating anglers, he meant:  to catch the bass, anglers should study what it eats.

It’s yet another guru-like profundity for which Rick is known—and trust me, there’s no bigger Clunn fan than me, specifically on bass fishing’s mental and strategic fronts.  Still, while the idea has a profound air, it lacks a certain applicability.

“What’s on the bass’ menu varies little from place to place,” said the late Ken Cook, former BASS pro and fisheries biologist.  “Baitfish, crawfish, insects—anything small enough and slow enough in the water is fair game.”

And there it is, the key term:  “anything.”

Anything means:  as bass grow, as their ability to hunt and to physically accommodate larger prey increases, more and more items are added to the menu.  Ultimately it means—snakes, birds, moles, ducks, rats, mice, frogs, all and more having been discovered in bass maws and livewells—the bass is a fiercely indiscriminate predator.

In regards to bass hunting and eating, there are two applicable-to-fishing realities anglers need to recognize.  First, bass aren’t choosy when on the hunt.  Example:  schooling bass.  Pick-up whatever’s lying on the deck, throw it in the middle of a surface frenzy, and you’d better hang on.  Bass are aggressive and reckless, and not at all selective.

And bass don’t have to be aggressively schooling to be on the hunt, either.  Lying in an old root system or laydown, they can be just as aggressively on the hunt.  And in either circumstance—schooling or stationary, bass aren’t critical of any prey item that presents itself, or inclined to reject it. underwater-photo-smallmouth-bass

“Anything” is fair game and viewed as an opportunity.

Second, when in a negative mood, or when neutral and inactive, bass don’t abandon their characteristic make-up and become food critics.  They just aren’t hunting.  They’re passive, uninterested, aloof.  And in fact, bass and their prey often occupy the same space without incident.

It’s true; bass are opportunist and can almost always be provoked to eat—aka, a reaction strike.  But sometimes—actually, way more often than not—hunting and eating aren’t atop their priority list.

This is a rather significant fact considering anglers take to the water with the idea of making bass bite, or eat, and with the expectation bass want to eat, and that they will eat.  It’s a rather significant fact considering anglers make five thousand casts and presentations in a day for a mere six or eight bites.  And what does this particular reality say?

It says:  way more often than not, bass aren’t in a hunting and eating frame of mind.

We marvel at anglers when they do something unconventional to catch bass.  Like, say, throwing a crankbait around extremely snaggy cover where everyone else uses something weedless, say, a jig or worm.  The unconventional approach catches bass when the more applicable method does not, and everyone marvels.  And in fact, such innovators are written into bass fishing lore for their pioneering and perceptive superiority.

It’s true; bass will sometimes prefer one lure over another.  It’s also true that a unique approach will work when the conventional approach does not.  But in neither instance are bass changing their overall perception of food.  Based on their mood, they likely just prefer one action over another—the listless, straight-falling worm and jig lack excitement and intrigue, while the more erratic, horizontal-tracking crankbait is a trigger.

For example, I saw a pair of bass suspending near the surface.  I threw a small jig well past them and straightly, steadily reeled it through them.  They ignored it.  I made another cast, reeled the lure to them, and stopped it abruptly beside them.  It sank; they ignore it.   I made another cast and, this time, twitched it sharply and erratically.  Once in proximity, they attacked, and fought over it.

The point is, bass don’t look at the straight falling worm, or the erratic, horizontally-tracking crankbait, or my multiple jig presentations and think:  No, no.  That’s not a potential foodsource. 

Why?  Because everything is fair game and viewed as an opportunity.

The decision to strike and eat is based on mood, on the bass’ frame of mind, which, unfortunately for anglers isn’t set on hunting and eating most often.  As Cook astutely noted, “[Bass] don’t go around hungry all the time, or we could reel a spinnerbait straight through the water and catch them all the time.”

Opportunists though bass may be, they clearly have an “off” switch when it comes to feeding.

So bass being in this way indiscriminate—meaning, food is food, and mood dictates response, what’s with all the sport’s lure doctrine?  Further, why do anglers stress over things like lure choice, and color, and texture, and realism?  Whatever anglers throw, bass aren’t assessing the lures fitness and genuineness.  Bass view the lures as potential targets, and as food.  And the evidence for this wholesale view lay in few simple realities.

Bass are caught on an extremely wide variety of lures.  How expansive is the variety?  Well, take a look at the pages of a Bass Pro Shops catalogue.  And realize bass eat them all.

Don’t believe it?  Look at each lure’s respective advertisements.  The bent poles?  The smiling pro shoving a behemoth bass towards the camera?  The lures work.  And really, one doesn’t need the bent poles and dramatics to know this.

ICASTOpening-16-of-38Two, every year there’s a new crop of lures to replace the old, antiques that are still catching bass, incidentally, and that will always catch bass—i.e. the spinnerbait and jig.  So not only are bass caught on an extremely wide variety of lures.  The variety continues to expand—and is actually boundless.

So then, this idea bass become accustomed to lures?  Why, still doing a majority of the tournament heavy-lifting every season, the spinnerbait and jig disprove that claim.  Bass are accustomed to antique lures, alright—accustomed to eating them.  And using them, anglers are accustomed to the paychecks.

The point is bass don’t fuss over lures as much as the lure industry would suggest.  Bass simply sit there in whatever confines they’re using currently and, when something from above plops through and descends, or sashays overhead, or drifts or races past, or comes slithering through, mood-driven bass are either on the hunt or are more and less dismissive of it.

Topside, however, the angler has his cerebral panties in a twist:  Am I throwing the right thing?  The right color?  Maybe if I dyed the pincers orange?  Perhaps a few more strands of chartreuse?  Click, click, click go the gears …

The results not coming fast enough, it isn’t long and anglers are all spun-out.  Are they considering the bass’ mood as a potential problem?  Is that crucial and pertinent variable receiving any deliberative focus at all?

No.  The problem is lure choice—and color, and texture, and realism.

Countless are the occasions I’ve fished an area for a long time without success, only to have the fish start biting.  The late-developing phenomenon reveals two important truths.  One, the fish were there all along.  And two, finally accepting the same lure they had seen and supposedly rejected all day, the lure wasn’t the problem.

The bass were the problem!

Their mood and frame of mind were the problem.

Timing and conditions were the problem.

Ultimately accepting a lure after having been exposed to it repeatedly, and after having supposedly rejected it all day, makes a very clear point.  Bass weren’t rejecting the lure for it being the wrong choice, color, texture, and too unrealistic.  They were simply ignoring it for not being in a feeding frame of mind favorable to their exploitation.

Hence the point:  it’s a waste of time for anglers to stress over lures and lure doctrine.  More importantly, it is an unnecessary drain on an their confidence.

Given anglers can’t see bass, yet must locate them, and often in great expanses and depths of water.  Given that bass operate on their own moody schedules.  Given bass are most often not in the mood to eat, and that anglers have but a brief window of time to catch them in the right mood—a mood, again, by far the least common.  Fishing for bass is challenging enough to an angler’s confidence.  Anglers don’t need to manufacture things to challenge it further.

Now.  There certainly are some realities behind lure doctrine, or some practicalities.  Primary of which is using the right lure for the situation.  For example, do anglers work a spook or Pop-R over thick surface vegetation?

No.  Such lures aren’t suitable or efficient.  A weedless frog works much better.

Will anglers reach 20-foot ledges with a square-billed crankbait?

No.  They need a deeper-running crankbait, and other lures and presentations more suitable and efficient.

Application is a reason anglers need a variety of lures.  Cover-oriented creatures, bass hole-up in and relate to a variety of things they use as cover, and in an equal variety of depths.  Hence, the sport, via necessity and the ingenuity of anglers, has created an assortment of lures and presentations to exploit each circumstance, and to fill the application need.

And what about color?  Do anglers need a variety of color?

The short answer is, no.  Given bass are indiscriminate predators, lure color is a simple factor of contrast and visibility.  In dirtier water anglers want to help bass both see and locate their offerings, which is done not only thorough color, but vibration, too.  When visibility is good, natural hues help to mask what bass can see clearly, and thus challenge its sense of intrigue and provoke interest.  That’s the color issue in a nutshell.

Thereto, it’s helpful to some extent that bass see something they’re used to seeing and eating, not that that’s terribly important with a fiercely indiscriminate predator.  The truth is color, and a great many other things regarding the more fruitful harvest of bass, is made such the crucial factor for commercial advantage.

What about texture?  Is that critical?

I marvel at pros in lure commercials smiling as they mash a particular lure betweenJacob Wheeler their fingers and say, “… and it has the texture bass love!  It’s sure to help you catch more bass!”

Knowing bass crush both hard and soft baits.  Knowing every texture—and scent, for that matter—known to mankind is represented on the shelves at Bass Pro, and that bass willingly, and indiscriminately, accept them all.  And with the visions of a nasty surface feeding frenzy in my head, and anglers able to catch bass with whatever’s lying on the deck.  I give the cheesy lure mashing an eye-roll.

And the outrageous sums for these custom and super-realistic lures?

Uh, no.  It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t buy the pricey imitations.  It means I know that bass couldn’t care less how supremely genuine they are or that purchasing them requires a mortgage.

Further, they aren’t a factor towards my angling confidence, because my angling confidence is rooted in the fact bass are fiercely indiscriminate, if moody, predators that don’t give a damn about the cheesy lure mashing, the lure industry, or the commercialism that drives it all.

Still, I’m a huge fan who, as part of my passion, enjoys investing.

The fact is bass anglers head into a day of fishing with both the intent and expectations of catching bass.  Problem is bass are more commonly not in tune with those intentions and expectations.  And the resulting challenges and difficulties aren’t a lure problem; they’re a mood problem, a frame of mind problem, one not often favorable to meeting anglers’ intentions and expectations.

In terms of confidence, and in terms of its maintenance, anglers can help their cause tremendously by forgoing all the lure doctrine that surrounds bass fishing.  In fact, given the inherent challenges, trials that defy confidence and that all-too-easily defeat anglers, confidence is the one thing they cannot afford to compromise.  Indeed, it’s the one thing that must keep at a premium.

And remembering how basic and unassuming bass are behaviorally, and not lending the sport’s commercial aspects more respect than they deserve, is a primary way to keep that confidence at a premium.

Indeed, anglers should think like a bass, and less like a bass pro.

Fish With Confidence!