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You’ve heard about the important correlation between confidence and success in sports, in jobs, in life: Fishing is no exception. Speaking from experience, I make better choices, better casts and just plain fish better when I am confident in what I’m doing. As a former athlete, the same was true. Whether it was a swing, making a throw or a shot, the odds were in my favor when I believed it was going to be on target. 

I ran across a quote from a Hall of Fame professional football quarterback Roger Staubach, who more recently received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He said, “Confidence doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s a result of something ... hours and days and weeks of constant work and dedication.” Other successful people have made similar quotes referencing the work put in that leads to confidence.

Fishing, in many ways, is like other sports: It might take various levels of physical skill, but it’s unequivocally mental. Fishing is about making choices. Where do I go? When do I go? What do I throw? Where do I throw? Should I stay, or should I go? These are the questions going on in any angler’s head at any given time during the day, on the water and off the water. Trying to get all of those pieces put together in the shortest amount of time possible, before one of them doesn’t fit anymore. It’s the greatest puzzle ever, in my fishing-biased opinion. 

As the Staubach quote notes, the best source of confidence comes from putting in the work. Knowing you’ve prepared could lead to confidence, which often leads to success, which often leads to more confidence. So maybe just saying you’re confident isn’t really the answer, but more importantly, it’s knowing you’ve done the work and are prepared for the moment. 

If being prepared is so important to getting the confidence you need, how you prepare is a critical component to this equation, too. The answer is practice.

Over the years, I’ve gotten funny looks when I mentioned practicing for fishing tournaments. In the days before an event, practice can help me dial in a good fishing spot or two or a good bait or two. There are plenty of variables, but this is the gist of practice in fishing.

Personally, fishing confidence comes from past experience. Much of that I’ve gained on lakes like Lake Martin and Lake Jordan – or the Alabama River when I was fun-fishing. In the heat of competition, it can be rewarding to experiment; it can also be very costly. Experimentation offers experience, which builds confidence that a certain location or a certain bait is going to work in a given situation. 

Experimenting has helped my confidence when going to places to fish that I’m less familiar with. Experimenting is like thinking out of the box in fishing. We all hear the talk – except for tournaments with no info rules – about how the fish are killing that green pumpkin finesse worm on points, that kind of thing. Before long, with everyone so connected, that pattern that was so good a week ago could be old news. It’s more challenging than ever to stay ahead of the curve. 

Fishing often rewards those who aren’t afraid to do things a little differently, those who try different locations, rather than the norm or try different baits. Taking the time and being willing to experiment is the hardest part because we all want to catch as many fish as possible when we get a chance to go. Experimenting means getting away from what we already know works in hopes of finding something different. 

I think the best time to experiment is when I am under the least amount of pressure to perform. Whether fishing with a friend or a child or in a tournament, it can be hard to go off the beaten path in hopes of finding something special. Experimenting is best done when I don’t feel like I have to catch them, as it often means a whole lot of failure with an occasional eureka-type find that could lead to being ahead of the curve. So here is my personal approach, which I hope will help you when you turn right instead of left or pick up a bait you’ve never tried before. 

First, experiment with different baits and techniques than you would normally use. The best way to do this is to fish the best spots you know at the time. This ensures that you’re more likely to be around fish. It’s hard to get a good read on a bait or technique if you’re wondering whether the fish are even there. Maybe it’s a place where you’ve caught fish consistently in recent trips.

Consider things like the type of forage the fish may be feeding on; then, consider why the bait you normally catch them on works with those fish. Build on those characteristics. If it’s a topwater, try something that’s similar, yet different. It may be size; it may be color; it may be the type of topwater in general. The same goes for soft plastics, etc. Maybe try the same bait on a Carolina rig vs. a Texas rig. Or a jig head or wobble head. Try different weights for rate of fall and different retrieve speeds.

Throughout the process, the fish will tell you when you’re close to getting it right by rewarding you with bites.

Then, mix in the bait and presentation you would normally use, to see how it compares with the experiments. Sometimes, it may be only an addition to your arsenal to show the fish for an extra bite or two. Or it may be something that proves even better than you could have imagined. 

Then there’s location. To experiment with location, the easiest way is to stick with the baits and presentations that you’re having the most success with. If it were a scientific experiment, these would be your controls.

Then pick out some locations you haven’t tried in a while or maybe not at all. We all have our favorite brush piles to fish. Sometimes, we get caught in the rut of fishing the same old places every time – because they work. But what if you took a little time, each time, to look for something else?

Consider the type of place where you’ve caught fish and look for more that are similar. Or try a different type of location altogether. Maybe most of the fish have been on deep docks at the mouths of the pockets. Experiment with a few shallow docks in the backs of the pockets for a reference. That could be where the bigger fish are holding, away from the larger schools of fish. It may be a bust, but without taking a few minutes to experiment, you might miss it, too.

So we all want to have more confidence when we set off on our quests to put more fish in the boat. If we put in the work and take some time to thoughtfully experiment, we’ll have that experience to draw from. Those positive experiences we’ve had will lead to the much needed confidence to pick up the new bait we might not have tried or to run to that new spot we might not have tried before. And that could make all the difference.  

~ Greg Vinson is a fulltime professional angler on the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour. He lives in Wetumpka and grew up fishing on Lake Martin.