Beware of experience

Much has been made of my fishing bluegill beds during the 2021 Berkley Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville and the fact that I finally had a decent finish. That finish was needed too. I’m now above the cutline for a spot in the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. 

That’s all well and good to be sure, but there’s a deeper lesson in what happened. I think of it as, beware of experience.

Most of my career has been about fishing offshore. You can call it fishing ledges, channels, isolated structure or just me turning my back to the shore. No matter what you call it, though, it’s where my experience has been, and it’s how I like to fish. 

I’ve always done fairly well at Lake Guntersville, and based on experience I turned by back to the shore and went fishing. I even spent some time during the tournament doing that. But, that’s not where the fish were holding. They were in shallow around the bluegill beds. 

There was a time when I might have stubbornly continued to fish offshore, but time mellows a guy and you get smarter as you age. I went to the bank and targeted the bluegill beds. My finish — 19th place — proved I was right to do that. 

Now, compare that decision-making process with what happened at the 2021 Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Neely Henry Lake. I fished my strength and what experience had taught me over the years. I finished 80th. 

So here’s the thing about experience: It’s a two-edged sword. 

It’s fine to draw on what happened in past tournaments at a particular lake or river. It gives you a place to start and something to go with. You should use that information as a starting point, something to build on during practice or even during the tournament if you aren’t catching them. 

But experience isn’t an excuse for not thinking your way through what’s happening at this time, this month, this week or this hour. All that does is create a plan in your mind that can lead to failure.

Fish are not rational creatures. They don’t always do the same thing the same way. Water levels are never the same on a body of water, and neither is water clarity. And, for sure the weather won’t be the same. Spring, summer, fall and winter don’t arrive according to the calendar either. They arrive according to the weather.

We have to adapt and fish what we’re given when we’re actually fishing, not what happened some other time. 

The true test of what I’m talking about, and what I learned at Guntersville, will come during the 2021 Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Lake Champlain. Champlain has never been very good to me. If I’m going to hold my place in the 2022 Classic, I’ll have to apply the lesson I learned a few weeks back. 

The bottom line is that we should all be careful when we start using our experience to pick locations to fish, depths to fish and lures to throw. It won’t help you one bit if you use it to look back. It’s better to analyze what you’ve been given at the time you’re fishing and make your decisions from that.