WHEN THE going is tough. 

So, we have all had a tough day on the water.  That is a natural occurrence when you are an angler.  But for the tournament angler, a tough day means a lot of different things, anywhere from no money (if this is how you make a living), loss of sponsors, lack of potential sponsors, etc.  It can be tough and overwhelming.

My 2020-21 season is underway and let’s just say, the beginning is off to less than a stellar start.  Through the first four tournaments of the year, I haven’t placed any better than 19th, I haven’t really weighed in any good fish, and to be bluntly honest, just haven’t found ‘em, much less caught ‘em.  So, with that in mind, how does a tournament angler, who is in the spotlight regardless of the level he or she is at, make it through when the going is tough?  Well, here are some tips on what I am doing to improve my mental game.


The last tournament is over.  You can’t have it back.  It’s now time to focus on the upcoming tournaments.  Spend time preparing and servicing gear.  Perform maintenance on your boat.  Recently, I’ve had to do a repower on my 2018 Ranger.  After my last tournament in December, we entered what I call the, “winter turn.”  I just sort of put the last tournament out of my mind and said to myself, “ok, you now have about 45-60 days to get this repower done and get back after it.”  So, I started preparing for the future starting with the number one piece of equipment that I have at my disposal:  my boat.  Next, I’ll turn to reels, line, baits, …the list goes on.  But all of this work is centered on staying focused for the next one and not worrying about the last one.


This one, to me, is a big deal.  To put it into perspective, I have never been a great fall angler.  If one were to look back at my tournament stats over the years, it would quickly be noticed that I always enter a slump in the fall/winter transition.  I know this about myself.  I also know that the pre-spawn period is coming up.  This part of the year is very strong for me.  During the 2019-2020 season, I caught a lot of fish during this period. Both in competition and just out fishing, to include a 9.17 lb. fish that would eventually rank 7th in the American Bass Anglers Top 100 of 2020.  To me, that is a strength that I was able to capitalize on.  The point here, is that it’s important to know your strengths and use them to dig out of your slump.  For some, like me, it may be a season or time of year when you just can’t seem to catch fish.  To others, it may be a technique or a particular body of water.  In any case, it is important to know that you will get by those weaknesses and your strengths will eventually play out. 


When I first began competitive bass fishing, a family member who had years of experience told me, “look, bass fishing is tough.  The odds of you winning a tournament are stacked against you… even if you’re the only one fishing.”  It took me several years to understand the point of that obviously, sarcastic remark.  And the point is this:  You aren’t going to win them all.  If you keep up with bass fishing at the highest levels, you will see that sometimes, even the most seasoned professional gets into a slump.  It happens.  It happens to us all.  Don’t let your frustration carry your season.  If you do, then every tournament that you fish will be just like the last.


If you are a sponsored angler, the teams and companies that support you understand that slumps happen.  If your significant other or your family is your biggest supporter, then they all understand it too.  Don’t turn your back on them.  Keep promoting your teams and their products.  Keep showing rods, baits, etc.  Keep talking to the folks that support you about what our sport is, and before you know it, the piece of advice that you need to come out of your slump will show up.  For me, this means getting out there and bragging about TRC Covers, Deep Creek Lures, FishStyx Custom Rods, Amphibia Eyewear, Ranger Boats, and Yamaha, just to name a few.  But most importantly, you have got to continue supporting the people that support you, no matter how bad you may be fishing.


This is the last point that I’ll make.  In the beginning, I mentioned that my 2020-21 season has started off really bad.  That being said, here at “the turn,” I have still managed to be sitting 13th in the AOY standings, only 12 points out of the top-10 at the time of this writing.  Despite what many, including myself, would call poor tournament performance, this isn’t a bad position to be in.  This enables me to focus on the AOY race knowing that some good bodies of water during a strong time of year for me are coming up.  You must focus on something good.  Not everything is bad about your season, regardless of the way that it is going.  Perhaps you’ve caught a new personal best or fished a new body of water.  Maybe it’s your first season fishing as a boater.  All of these are good things to focus on and will help you to not allow everything else in a bad season to deter your focus.

To close this out, the bottom line is that you will go through slumps in your fishing performance, whether you fish tournaments or not.  Be careful to not mistake a slump, for a lack of fishing ability.  This just isn’t the case.  You will recover from your slump, just like I will this season, and just like every other angler that has gone through one.  I hope that these points help you out and I’ll see you out on the water!

Russ Blackwell is a 24-year Veteran of the United States Army and a TRC staffer.  He is currently fishing tournament trails in Oklahoma and Texas, including the ABA.

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