If you've read my articles for any length of time, you're well aware that I absolutely love crankbait fishing. These lures are responsible for the large majority of my big fish catches over the years and I'll be honest—I have a really tough time putting 'em down. It's almost a sickness.
I put my boat in the water last week with hopes of cranking up one of those giant bags of prespawners. The weather was right, the water clarity was perfect and we were just days removed from a full moon. I would have bet my boat that I'd have one of my best afternoons of the year.
Instead, I got my teeth kicked in. Those bass stomped me square in the mouth with a pair of steel-toed boots. It was ugly and it spun me out in a bad way.
This got me thinking, though: So many of us are far too stubborn when we're fishing. We love fishing a (insert lure here) and by God, we're going to make 'em bite it. Unfortunately, however, that's not how this game works. We don't get to call the final shots. It has taken me a few decades to finally drill that into my skull, but I'm slowly getting there.
My realization might help you.
I was fishing a different lake that has produced a lot of giant limits for me over the years, with a few weighing nearly 30 pounds on a verified scale. I knew where the fish should be, so I rigged up a bunch of my favorite prespawn plugs and started cranking like a mad man. Every stump felt like a fish—and I was a little trigger happy—so I was setting the hook on everything that felt good. I was wired.
As the day went on, I caught one 16-incher and it was barely snagged by the back treble hook. Something wasn't right, but I was stubborn. It was too perfect to get skunked like this, so I kept cranking. And cranking. And cranking.
And you know what sucks? I knew better. I've fished long enough to notice when something doesn't feel right. It's that gut feeling we all get. But I ignored it. I kept trying to jam that square peg in a round hole.
I started getting hungry a few hours later and realized that I left my snack in the truck. I made myself drive back to the boat ramp to grab my food because it would force me to fish new water. It was crazy how bad I felt for leaving. I just knew it could happen at any time and here I was, driving in the opposite direction.
That small decision, however, was responsible for the most important fishing lesson I've learned in quite some time.
Your comfort zone will burn you eventually.
Once I got some food in my belly, I headed to a part of the lake I never fish. I hate it—the water's way too clear, it's deep and it's nothing but hundreds of identical-looking boat docks. It does not, by any means, fit my fishing strengths.
I stuck all my crankbait rods in my rod locker and pulled out a jig. That full moon just happened, so I figured they may be feeding on crawfish pretty well. I went to an area very similar to the ones I was previously cranking, skipped a jig under the first dock and cracked a 4-pounder. I was still pretty sour, so I figured it was beginner's luck; just enough to spin me out, probably.
The next dock greeted me with a 3-pounder. Then another 3-pounder. And in an hour or so, I flipped up 16 pounds on a jig, fishing water I absolutely despise. I haven't fished that area since college.
The lightbulb clicked and I felt like a moron.
I know this was just one day and a small sample size. It's not like I cracked the Da Vinci Code of bass fishing. But man, I can't help but think how many patterns and fish I've completely overlooked throughout the years just because I'm stubborn. And if you really think about your own fishing experiences, you can probably say the same thing.
I don't know about you, but it sincerely ticks me off to think about. It strikes a nerve.
I've won some good money on that crankbait over time, but this one recent adjustment was enough to convince me that it has probably cost me just as much—if not more—money than it's made me. Thankfully, I don't rely on tournament money for my primary income (I'd be broke) but I can think of many days where I kept that stupid thing in my hand all day long without a single bite.
What in the world have I been thinking?
For the rest of the year, I'm going to fish with one rule in the forefront of my mind: If I fish for an hour and it's not happening, I'm going somewhere else and/or doing something totally different. I'm done chasing my tail on the water. I'm over it. And to be honest, it has really burned me out lately. I'm sure we all get like that from time to time.
I think most of us have those gut feelings throughout the day—that pit in our stomach—that tells us that we're peeing up a rope and something isn't right. But the problem is that we don't listen to those feelings enough. We allow our head and our own stubborness to override what our gut and experience tells us, which I think may be the biggest mistake we can make.
My suggestion: If you're out there struggling to catch a fish, don't ignore those little thoughts that come into your head. If you think you should go try something else, don't be lazy or stubborn. Pull that trolling motor up and go do it.
We all have to remember that it's not up to us. We can't tell those big bass what to eat. You can try to force feed 'em all you want, but at some point you have to jump ship and call an audible. If we can all make quicker audibles this year, I have a sneaking suspicion that we'll have a lot more success out there.