Tough tournament conditions? Deal with it

I have to admit I have the jitters as I compile this blog prior to the start of the Bassmaster Elite on Cherokee Lake.

Although this is the start of my 27th season, the pre-tournament jitters are always the same.

Especially now. We can usually get those jitters out of the way at the Bassmaster Classic, but this year we’re kicking off the season before the Classic. Every man in this field knows the importance of a good start to the season, and the tournament here on Cherokee is really going to make us step it up a notch.

That’s because Thursday’s opening round was forecasted to bring us temperatures in the 20s-30s, 15-25 mph winds and a nasty cold front. This all comes on the heels of good weather we’ve had through practice.

But my job is to not let the conditions, or the fact the lake will fish small, ruin my day. The hardest thing to do in tournament bass fishing is to make good decisions throughout the day and adjust to whatever gets thrown at me.

At least the weather won’t be a total surprise. The weather channel here has been good about predicting weather trends. I knew it was going to be cold Thursday, and I practiced for it. Besides, I’m from Michigan. I know about cold weather.

I have a game plan and a backup. But even with that, I know to be ready for subtle changes that can occur hourly on the water, and I must react accordingly. I have to keep my focus and stay in tune.

When fishing in these conditions, there aren’t going to be a lot of opportunities, and I must capitalize on the ones that appear. Knowing that prepares me mentally, and I truly believe my preparation improves my chances of being successful.

During practice, I searched for multiple patterns and areas that match up best with the forthcoming weather. I didn’t catch many fish and couldn’t really call it a good practice. But I learned a lot with an eye on the days to come.

There will be a lot of guys who got distraught when they arrived at their first spot and nothing good happened. That’s when you have to stick to a plan, keep positive and stay focused. It’s not easy to do.

The key is to not leave takeoff with negative thoughts about the weather, the lake or fishing pressure. I hear a lot of that, and I’ve been guilty of it in the past. But it serves no purpose. We have a job to do and the angler who keeps a positive attitude has a far better chance of succeeding.

And our job is to succeed.

You can’t let lost fish get to you, either. I’ve seen guys break rods and throw a fit, but you can’t let it ruin your day. I’m disappointed when I lose a fish, but I parlay that experience – and what I learned to get that one bite – into getting me another.

Yet it still amazes me how many anglers at this level can’t manage distractions. You absolutely have to because pro fishing is all about distractions.

Historically, I’ve done well in tough tournaments regardless of the time of year. I believe that’s because I work hard in practice to formulate a solid game plan, give myself options, keep an open mind and watch for things to materialize.

Of course there are going to be failures. It happens. But success is so much sweeter when you make the right choices and things go your way.

And that’s why I insist that it’s all about the attitude!

—Kevin VanDam