Think You Have What it Takes?

There’s no doubt in my mind that fishing magazines provide the angling community with great tips and techniques regarding lure selection, fishing hot spots, and the latest strategies for fooling wary fish. Yet the angler who is at the most productive fishing spot and equipped with the latest tackle may fail to live up to their expectations.


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Photo: Captain Jay Withers

Whether you’re a novice weekend warrior, seasoned veteran or tournament pro, there are a few things you can do to stack the odds in your favor. Read on to see if you really have what it takes to become a consistently successful angler – one that is capable of adapting to every situation and able to overcome every obstacle.

An afternoon spent listening to informative seminars can often provide you with knowledge that would take years to learn on your own.

No matter your level of experience or agenda for the day, every fishing trip is a competition. It’s angler versus fish, and most challengers leave for a day on the water with one main objective – to catch as many and as large of fish as possible. Others fish just to relax and enjoy the outdoors; the catching part is simply an added bonus. However, if you fall into the first category you probably expect bent rods and screaming drags throughout the entire day. Anything less will be an utter disappointment, but the sole fact of the matter is that your overall success is directly correlated to the amount of effort you put in. Using the best equipment and lures will help your efforts, but you must start with the proper mindset and attitude to achieve consistent results. Far too often anglers expect to perform at a professional level with amateur efforts. In any sport those who rise to the top have several things in common. Natural skill and talent are no doubt important, but hard work, practice, patience, and a dedication to improving skills and knowledge are also essential attributes for achieving success.

From team sports such as football, baseball and basketball, to individual sports like bicycling, golf, and fishing, you will see one thing in common among all winning participants – practice and extreme dedication. Even those who have reached the top of their game continue to practice on a regular basis. Professional baseball players report to spring training every year, while NFL powerhouses attend summer training camps. But how many recreational anglers do you know that practice their fishing skills on a daily basis?

Fishing is all about luck and being at the right spot at the right time – right? Tell that to consistently successful tournament competitors and charter captains and I bet they will laugh in your face. While a little luck never hurt anyone, countless hours of practice and preparation is what separates average anglers from exceptional ones.

This is where you need to do a bit of self-evaluation. If you have neither the time nor desire to put in the effort required to achieve a professional skill level, your catching expectations may be too high. On occasion, even the neophyte angler can stumble upon actively feeding fish seemingly begging to be caught. In most Florida waters, however, the fish are heavily pressured, wary, and are rarely fooled with luck alone.

Practice Makes Perfect
Those of us who have never played golf wouldn’t expect to walk onto a course and shoot par. We all understand the theory of how to hit the ball but without practice, it would be unreasonable to think we could sink a putt from the edge of the green. Those who can accomplish such feats spend hours upon hours polishing their skills. How many anglers find themselves surrounded by dozens of tailing redfish and expect to be able to land a ¼ oz. plastic shrimp on a target the size of a dinner plate while casting into a stiff cross breeze? It is hard to imagine but the most valuable fishing skill is often the first to be overlooked.

Anglers spend thousands of dollars on rods, reels, and lures but frequently fail to focus on a simple element of fishing that can be improved for free – casting skills. The most lifelike lure ever made and the friskiest live bait will not produce if not presented in the proper manner. Casting is a fundamental skill that is the basis of any successful fishing trip. From those who sight fish the flats or target unforgiving docks and mangroves, there is one simple rule that generally applies – the better you can cast, the more fish you will catch. Skipping a lure or landing a fly under a mangrove canopy where snook rest at high tide is not something that comes naturally. The angler with the proper mindset and approach understands this long before the opportunity arises. Make a poor cast to a school of bonefish and you will receive an instant display of their amazing speed and grace as they blow off the flat.

Some days bring countless shots at fish while on others the targets are few and far between. Consistently successful anglers are prepared and willing to make the shot when it counts the most. Captain Blair Wiggins, host of the TV show Addictive Fishing, guide, and winning tournament angler tells me that the fine details are the key to success. “As anglers, we often get so caught up in the excitement of the strike that we forget what we were doing that caused the fish to strike.”

Wiggins invests long hours of preparation for each tournament studying where the fish are foraging and developing a pattern to catch them. “The weekend angler doesn’t usually have the time to prepare like a tournament pro,” Wiggins continued. “They can do simple things, though, like keep a log book, pay close attention to their surroundings, and remember what triggered the fish to eat in the first place.”

Even a long time professional like Wiggins says he regularly spends time honing his casting skills, often when conditions are less than favorable. Go to your local park, backyard, or an empty parking lot and be sure to practice casting with the wind at various angles to prepare for any scenario.

One of the greatest things about fishing is the anticipation of the strike. The opportunity to hook the fish of a lifetime may present itself at any given moment. Those who want to increase their chance of capitalizing on the chance of landing a trophy learn to make every cast count. Even when you don’t see a fish, or even a fishy looking target, pick a spot for each cast and try to hit it. With every cast you will be practicing and improving your accuracy. Like the old adage says, “Aim small, miss small.”

The angler with the right attitude always believes each trip will involve some level of successful catching. When the results do not live up to expectations, however, there is always something to be learned, which can help to improve your performance on future outings. On the other hand, you may deviate from your normal routine and not catch a single fish. A colossal failure – or was it? The educated angler turns this experience into a learning tool. Were there no fish in that spot, or could you simply not entice them to attack your offering? You must constantly analyze your methods and your surroundings in order to improve your skills.

Consistently successful anglers continue their education even when not on the water. They read the latest articles, visit online forums, watch television shows, and attend fishing seminars. An afternoon spent listening to informative seminars can often provide you with knowledge that would take years to learn on your own.

Anglers with the winning mindset also take excellent care of their equipment. It only takes a split second for a poorly maintained reel to stick causing your line to part, a failure that could have been avoided with only a few minutes of preventative maintenance.

“Those who fail to prepare, prepare to fail,” remarked Benjamin Franklin. While he wasn’t speaking about fishing, his logic definitely applies. If you find yourself failing to achieve your angling goals ask yourself if you really have what it takes.

Leave Your Comfort Zone

Far too often, anglers get stuck in the rut of using the same baits in the same spots time after time. With most anglers limited to the amount of time they have to fish, many choose to visit an area they have caught fish before while utilizing the same tactics and techniques that worked in the past. If you always meet your expectations, then there is certainly no need to fix something that isn’t broke, but if your catch ratio needs improvement you should evaluate your approach. Without taking the risk of exploring new tactics and territories you will never become a seasoned pro.