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Overcoming Tournament Frustration 

When one begins fishing tournaments he believes he will do well and when he does not bring home cash and prizes frustration can set in. While this article is written drawing on my past bass tournament experience, it could easily be applied to any type of tournament, fishing or otherwise. The whole key to reducing frustration and increasing enjoyment is to set small goals and celebrate small victories. To illustrate what I mean, I would like to give you an overview at my first few years of tournament fishing. 

1st Tournament. A good friend of mine called one day and asked if I would fish an open event with him since he did not have a boat. I agreed and we showed up in my 16’ tin can with a 25 Evinrude tournament day with every idea we would do well. Before it even started, however, reality began hitting me. I could not believe we were going to fish in weather like that. It was raining and cold. I had always headed in when bad weather hit. As I recall, we fished hard all day and never had a bite. All was not lost, however, as it turned out the local Indiana Bass Federation club hosted the tournament. The next year I joined the club and my addiction began. 

First Year. Doing the Wrong Thing.  Because I had a boat and wanted to use it I joined as a boater. The boat was legal but not comfortable so, no one was forced to fish with me. I did not do well this first year but I did weigh fish at a couple of tournaments that year. Looking back it would have been more fun to have had someone to talk to and I would have learned the ropes much quicker if I had joined as a non-boater and then got paired with a boater.  This year ended in a disappointing club classic. I caught my biggest bass ever 8.5lbs but, unfortunately, it was a practice day. It took only 6.5lbs to win the classic. I spent the first day catching and keeping 12 inch spotted bass because we were in Kentucky, which allowed the smaller size limit. At the scales I was told I could not weigh them. I was cheated out of the weight by the club in my opinion. The club rules simply stated size limit would follow lake or state rules, but I was told, “Well, we always have the 14 inch rule even though it isn’t written.” The moral here is to be sure you pick a club who will honor their own written rules. The only good thing I took away from this year was, I did weigh a few fish. 

Second Year. New Year, New State, and New Club. Well, I knew it would not be hard to improve on last year’s performance. I joined a local club in northern Illinois, which mostly fished clear lakes in Southeastern Wisconsin. I went as a non-boater this year and learned a great deal from my partners. Fishing these clear lakes required me to learn new techniques. I got my first check this year. It was small and barely covered the entry but I won something. I also weighed fish at over half of the tournaments. These are two things that I look back at and can see I was improving, and this was enough to keep me competing. 

Third Year. This was much the same as the second year. I did improve, however, and claimed three small checks this year and bought my first real bass boat. 

Forth Year. Expanding. This was a very good year. I changed to a Federation club, and began fishing a couple of other trails because I wanted to fish bigger lakes. The change to a Federation club allowed me to work toward bigger things. I may never make the Bassmaster Classic but at least now I can see the road to it. I weighed fish this year at all but 2 tournaments. I managed to finish high enough in the club standings to qualify for the state Federation 8-man tournament. Consistency was the key to this good year. I ended the year by taking second place in the club classic and I cashed my first big check for $1500. As I looked back at this year, I really began to feel I could compete with most any of the club anglers. I had come a long way. 

5th year. New Year, New Club, New State, Again!  I had to move once again after getting laid-off from my job. I also became a Director for the American Bass Anglers Tournament Trail, a large national organization in which I fished in Illinois. When my family and I moved to Iowa I called the ABA and they had nothing close so I agreed to start a district here. This became a busy year over night. First, I had to lean how to fish a muddy place with current, the Mississippi River. Second, I had to recruit for and run the new district. And lastly, I had to find a way to improve on last year’s performance to keep the momentum going. While I did not win more money than last year I had a few good improvements. I won my first tournament, had another 1st and a couple of 2nd’s as well as big bass twice. Also, up to this point I had never actually brought in a limit or had to cull. This year I did it 3 or 4 times. Another milestone, I started pursuing sponsors and picked up a few to sponsor both the tournament district and me. Does this now mean I’m a pro? 

Next few years, Goals became harder to define and achieve but I can see how far I came and I thoroughly enjoy tournament fishing now. My focus, however, has shifted some from me, to running the best tournament circuit I can and teaching my kids the sport. My son who is just turning 9 is quickly becoming a bass fishing demon. My biggest reward came from him about a year ago. He begged me to let him play flag-football. I have never forced him into fishing so I agreed he could play. After going to practice for a couple of weeks and the after the first game ended he says to me. “Dad can I stop playing football? I’d rather just go fishing.” I think I was only happier when he was born! 

OK, I suppose the background got longer than I anticipated but what I wanted to show is, tournament fishing should not be only about cashing a check every time, but instead one should enjoy seeing their skills improve and get most of the satisfaction from the small improvements made every year. While, talking with other tournament anglers they have revealed basically the same experiences. If you do get frustrated at a single tournament look back and reflect on the past years it will help you put things in perspective and realize you should not be upset, but instead be happy with your overall performance. Even pros at the Bassmaster Classic stumble occasionally. Look at the bottom of the standings where you will find some pros that weighed one fish in 3 days. They stumbled, but I bet you would still love to have had their experience. 

So, this year, think about your past performance and then find two things that would be an improvement over previous years and work toward them. Make sure what you choose is obtainable and then pat yourself on the back and buy a round of drinks after it is achieved.  If you need some suggestion send me an email or use the ones as I have. 

Don’t forget to make time to take your kid fishing. Always remember, having fun and improving your skills are the most important parts! Most of us will never make a living fishing.