Duckett Persepective – Is It Time to Panic? NO!

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DuckettBlogStatistically, I’m off to the worst start of my professional career. And that includes a year I spent in competitive hell: 2011. So here’s a legitimate question… Is it time to panic?

Well, I’ve thought about it. The answer is no.

Let’s look at facts. After three Elite Series events, out of 108 anglers, I’m 99th on angler-of-the-year points. I need three Top 12 finishes to counter the three miserable starts. Three Top 12’s will give me a shot at earning my way into the Bassmaster Classic, which will most likely take the top 30 to 35 in angler-of-the-year points.

 

So those are facts. Now, I need to analyze.

I brought up 2011 because that year is relevant.

I’ve been fishing competitively for more than 30 years, but I’ve only been fishing at BASS’s highest level – in this case, the Elite Series  – since 2007. In all those years of fishing, I’ve had some seasons that were better than others. But I’ve only one horrible, miserable, in-the-tank season. That was 2011.

After 2011, I re-examined everything I was doing as an angler. I made some changes. Then I had decent – not great, but decent – 2012 and 2013 seasons. I even won an event. My confidence was back.

So now, here I sit, even further down the AOY rankings than in 2011.

But there’s a difference this time. In 2011, I felt clueless. This year, that’s just not the case.

At our first event of the season, on Lake Seminole, a weather pattern drove all of the bedding fish away. Everybody had to change game plans, because the fish were doing things that locals said they’d never seen before.

At the second event, on the St. John’s River in Florida, a place I’d never fished well because I’d never found the fish, I found a ton of them. I got caught on a merry-go-round with two other anglers, which was a dose of bad luck for me, since I was the odd-man out. I also lost some big fish that I had hooked. It happens.

At the third event, which was last week on Table Rock Lake, I just didn’t catch enough big fish. I caught a thousand fish, but I only had an average of 10 pounds a day to show for it. The champion had a little more than 15 a day. If I had caught two more two-to-three-pound fish, I would have made the cut.

 

Now, if that sounds as if I’m making excuses, I get it.

But people who know me well know that I’m pretty honest. If I suck, I tell you, “Man, I sucked.” If my performance is awful, I’ll always own up to it.

But I think, in this case, I just had three bad tournaments in a row. It happens. I wish it hadn’t been three in a row, but my plan is to just keep moving on. This will get better.

So right now, I just don’t feel any panic. I’ll admit that I’d enjoy the nice shot of confidence that a big bag on tournament day would give me. But I’m not down. This is not 2011.

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I feel like I can find them and catch them, but one thing that’s clear to me is that I’ve got to have better practices. So how do you fix that?

I don’t have a definite answer, but I have determined that I’m not as open-minded in practice as I need to be.

A lot of anglers – I’d say most anglers – are should be more open-minded. In practice, we look for fish and we look for patterns. We all know what they’re supposed to be doing, and we make our plans accordingly. We got to the lake or the river to see if we get what we expected. That’s often Plan A and Plan B. If we get it, we’re happy (Plan A). If we don’t get what we planned on, then maybe it can still happen (Plan B).

All tournaments are different. But I’m saying that, as a new rule, I need to quit relying so much on history and expected patterns. I need to open my thinking.

Take our next tournament, at Toledo Bend, for example.

Everybody there will look for bedders, then everybody take a little time to go for the grass. But if you spend all your time that way, and the bedders leave, you might just to die on the vine.

So why not put cranking the ledges or fishing the standing timber into the plan. Maybe a drop shot on a ledge. Any kind of pattern that will produce results is helpful.

And maybe the most important thing, when decision time comes, you’ve got to be confident in your instincts.

 

I’ve mentioned this example before, but it’s worth bringing up again. At the 2011 Bassmaster Classic in New Orleans (before I tanked, I should add), I made the determination that I was going to join a big group of anglers that traveled 100 miles through the bayous to fish in Venice – because Venice was a safe place to fish. You could win there. Or so we thought.

Several years earlier, Mike Iaconelli won the Classic fishing in Venice.

So on Day 1, as we took the long, long ride to Venice, spending half our day traveling, Kevin VanDam and Aaron Martens stayed closer to home. They fished Lake Cataouachie, where there had been few fish caught in practice. Kevin and Aaron, however, just had a gut feeling that the fish were going to return. They set up near a sea wall, not 50 feet from each other – and they battled for the championship from start to finish.

Kevin won the tournament. Aaron was second.

I came real close to staying on Cataouachie the first day, but I took what I considered the safest route.

The second day, while everyone else ran back to Venice, I took a gamble and went to a couple of sections on Cataouachie that I had visited in practice. I was on the opposite side of the seawall from Kevin, as a matter of fact.

The result was that I had a decent second day – nothing special, but good enough to make Sunday’s final cut. On Sunday, again at Cataouachie, I caught an 8 pound, nine-ounce bass during the first hour. By day’s end, I had an almost 30 pound-bag, the biggest of the tournament.

I finished in the Top 6, but I didn’t even sniff Kevin’s final numbers. One day made the difference. I didn’t have the guts to rely on my instincts on Day 1. I took a predictable route, with no backup plan.

Maybe it’s time to re-think “safe.”