Confidence is the absolute most important part of bass fishing, especially if you fish competitively. If you lose confidence in what you're doing, your wheels start to turn and pretty soon you're completely spun out and running around with 15 rods on the deck. While a few anglers actually thrive with that many options, it's not for a lack of confidence but an overabundance of it. They simply have confidence in a lot of different stuff.
So how do you develop confidence in a lot of stuff? We all have our strengths; a handful of baits to which we turn when the fishing is tough. For me, it's squarebills and spinnerbaits in shallow, muddy water. For some it's a shaky head, drop shot, Ned rig or jig.
Still, others can pick up a giant lure such as a glide bait and throw it all day for just one bite. How can they do that? Because they have confidence in it. So here's how, in my opinion, you can develop confidence in something new.
Commit to it
If you want to develop confidence in a new bait, you can't give yourself an out. Say you like to throw a small swimbait on a jighead but you really think those same suspended fish you target with it would eat a spybait as well, maybe even better. You can't have both tied on. The temptation is just too great to pick up the swimbait again after five minutes of fruitless fishing with the spybait. You can't give yourself that option if you really want to quickly develop confidence in a bait.
I would even go as far to suggest not taking anything else with you and I do mean "anything". If you're walking the bank, take just the bare essentials you need for that technique you're wanting to work on. If you're going in your boat, take everything else out. Leave yourself no plan B. I know this sounds extreme and it's not something I'm suggesting you do on a regular basis. But when you have a bait that you really think could be a difference maker as an addition to your arsenal, it's worth it to do this once in a while. You might actually find you don't need to put near as much stuff back in the boat afterwards, which is a win-win in my book.
Put yourself in a good situation to get bit
It's also important that you don't try to develop confidence in a new bait on derby day. I've fished a lot of tournaments where I'm hoping to get a mere five or six bites and it'll be a good day. That's when you need your confidence baits the most and the worst time to be throwing something in which you have no confidence. Instead, on those days you want to try something new, you want to give yourself the best odds possible and know you're around several fish.
I've done this with a Ned rig before on Lake Martin. It had been out awhile with a huge buzz about it and I had casually tossed it around a bit. But it wasn't until I fully committed to it on Martin one day that I saw the number of bites it was actually capable of producing. I know Martin has thousands of spotted bass in it, so I was bound to get several bites. You can do the same thing in a pond. If a bass in a pond will react to a bait, a bass in a lake likely will as well. It just won't be quite as easy to trigger the bites and they certainly won't come as often, but you'll develop confidence in the bait quickly and get a feel for it.
Control all the variables you can control
This is a big one that I feel a lot of anglers overlook but it's super important. One lost fish early on can put a real sour taste in your mouth for a bait that might have actually had a lot of potential. Controlling all the variables you can control will give the bait its best chance to shine. Say you want to try out a new crankbait; don't just tie it on some random rod while your old faithful crankbait occupies your dialed-in cranking setup that's stored away in the rod locker. Give that new bait the preferential treatment and put it on your best cranking setup.
If you pull the bait out of the pack and you're not all that impressed with the hooks, change them out immediately. Don't wait until you lose a fish, get frustrated, cut the bait off and never tie it on again. Use the rod, reel, line, hooks and the rest in which you already have confidence and that will isolate the new bait as the only variable. Then you'll get a true gauge of how good the bait actually is.
Phone a friend
I was extremely fortunate to be born into the family I have. My parents are fantastic in a lot of ways but as it relates to fishing, I was fortunate to learn a lot from my dad. Not all anglers have that head start but over time, several of us find friends and mentors who are better at certain things than we are. Some of those friends actually enjoy imparting their wisdom on you. I had one such experience with a buddy of mine named Rich Howes.
Punching thick vegetation was something in which I had zero confidence, though I had tried to build my confidence in it through these other methods over the years. I was fishing a lot of tournaments in Florida at the time and getting my teeth kicked in by a flipping stick. So I asked Rich to teach me how to punch and he did. We went out on a loaded hidey-hole down in Florida that has sense been ravished by the likes of every snowbird and local angler it seems. At the time, however, the place was loaded with big ones and they were eager to thump a punch bait.
Watching a great flipper work in such close proximity revealed things he didn't even think to tell me. I could see how he held his rod throughout the pitch, being sure to keep the tip high to let the bait fall through without the line dragging across the top of the mat and slowing it down. When I would see him do something, I would ask why and he would explain. Then I would copy that and since we were on a good fishery with a lot of fish, I was able to get bit duplicating the technique. I could have spent months trying to learn how to punch alone and not gained as much confidence as I did that day fishing with a friend who really knew what he was doing.
So yeah, the obvious and most effective choice would be to take the tutelage if it's available to you. But there's not going to be a hammer in our lives for every technique. My dad taught me a ton about power fishing in dirty water, Howes taught me how to punch, a few others along the way have helped me dial in a particular technique or two... but the rest comes from using these other simple tips to build confidence.
In order to gain confidence in a new bait, it's extremely important to commit to it. Don't give yourself an out. Make sure you're putting yourself in a good situation to get several bites. If you're not, it's best just to hold off on using that new bait so you don't damage the confidence that you do have in it. And lastly you should control all the variables you can. When I went punching with Rich, I didn't take a 7-foot medium heavy. I had a 7-foot, 8-inch extra heavy rod, 65-pound test Sufix 832 Braid, a 4/0 VMC Heavy Duty Flippin' Hook and a 1 1/2-ounce tungsten weight.
I controlled the variables I could control. All of these things will help you build confidence in the next bait you want to try.