No, I’m not nearly the best fisherman around by a long shot. However, after long thought, I think all those years of Olympic-level decathlon training, with some of the best coaches in the world, have been key to any success I’ve had. Here are observations on what I’ve learned from training and competing that might translate into some new ideas for your fishing.
The first thing I learned early on about the decathlon was that it was intimidating in the opening events to watch very talented guys do some incredible things. The 100 meters, long jump and the shot put were the first three, and it was inevitable that someone gifted with speed and strength would hit it out of the park in these disciplines – making you look silly in the process. Sort of like when you go fishing and someone tells you they just got a 15-pound striper. It can be totally demoralizing and make you feel totally outgunned and almost depressed. At least it happens to me sometimes.
What I learned was that the competition was 10 events, not three, and that all I needed to do was keep doing my best, stay steady and my day would come. Seems pretty simple, but I’ve seen it devastate decathletes, as well as anglers, who compare themselves and their abilities to someone else who’s temporarily doing well. It’s all over after the last event, not before.
I was trained by my coaches to get tougher and perform, right when they knew the other guys would hit the wall. It was very predictable when it would happen, and it was my calling card. It usually occurred around the seventh event – the pole vault – when guys also would be caught looking ahead to the dreaded metric mile. At this point, it became a mental game more than a physical one. Many competitors were not mentally prepared to hit that inevitable wall, nor trained on how to climb over or get around it. It was a real war most guys were not ready to fight.
The same thing happens all the time on the lake, when you see 30 boats and the bite isn’t good – 80 percent of the fishermen will leave by 10 a.m. I’ve found that the average anglers can separate themselves from the crowd by remaining focused and having a plan to prevail. They will see others start going in, and suddenly they’re all heading for the dock at the same time. Fish are still there, but they decided it was time to give up. Don’t!
Funny, knowing about the decathlon or how to fish are worlds apart when it comes to executing a plan and mentally staying on it. But it’s a matter of remaining true to your plan while being ready for the curves that are part of the game. Most of my big fish have come from this one key difference. At its core, I believe it often boils down to a war of attrition in either discipline.
The biggest part of doing a decathlon was being steady in each event, then finishing all 10. Fail one of the 10 and it was all for naught, because you received no points for that event. Since you always had changing conditions over the two days that the decathlon plays out (five events per day), it was imperative to have backup strategies in case you suddenly had rain, wind, etc., that might drastically change your approach. In fact, it was inevitable that it would happen.
The pole vault is infamous for derailing great decathlon performances when things such as changing winds – or dealing with an injury – screwed up the normal routine. Staying keenly aware of this and having a last-ditch alternate strategy – such as having a smaller pole that you could use to at least make a beginning height – were key. Incredibly, many decathletes didn’t try to account for unforeseen circumstances, and they paid the price.
Conversely, I’m always keenly aware of having a go-to backup strategy in which I have confidence. If you don’t have a backup for when you’re on the water, you need to develop one. It still amazes me how many guys will stick with just one technique, all the time, no matter what. Nothing works all the time. I believe serious anglers need to have high-confidence backup strategies as much as possible.
The mental game is still the key ingredient in any great performance. We’ve bought into the lie that success is instantaneous, a product mainly of the moment. It’s not. Make the little things the big things and you’re on a world-class track by yourself. Few do.
Never give up!