Mental Fishing – Critcal Thinking Explored

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MentalBlogRecent discussions with a top angler and a book on critical thinking have me searching for the holy grail of competitive bass fishing. I have long understood that it is the decision making ability of elite anglers that truly sets them apart. The greatest component of that decision making is undoubtedly experience. More specifically, it is the ability to access and utilize that experience and make instance relevant decisions.

I am not sure if anyone challenges these high-level decision makers to actually assess what it is they do on the water in the heat of battle. I am not sure if the anglers are able to put into words what is behind the decisions they make. It is far too complicated. It has reached a level most closely akin to instinct or second nature.

There are several components of this whole discussion that need to be clearly stated so no confusion arises. Competitive bass fishing has two distinct pieces of the decision making skills. First, the angler must “find fish.” That seems simplistic but it is in fact a huge decision making process. The angler must think like a fish. More on that later. Second, the angler must catch the fish he or she has found. From the thousands of lures and techniques, the fisherman must hit on those things that trigger the fish to bite.

It is safe to say, elite level anglers are skilled at finding and catching fish. Most possess greater skill at one of the two decision making skills. The winner of a competition typically has done both the finding of and the catching of the fish the best that week. It can be often said that the winner found a solution that was unique.

I live near Lake Guntersville. When the pros hit the water there, “finding fish” is rarely the problem. A novice can get on the water in Guntersville and catch fish. So the issue is finding “the right fish,” meaning the larger bass. Bags of five fish weighing over thirty pounds are not that unusual. So, I can say with authority that “catching” the bigger fish is the real issue on Lake Guntersville. There are large populations of big fish. Dozens of anglers will find them. Only a few will figure out how to catch them on a consistent basis.

There are other lakes and rivers quite different than Guntersville. On those bodies of water the mental challenge is “finding fishing.” Even the elite anglers can worry about catching a limit each day at these places. Then the question will be whether or not they find fish of any size. Some pros love more challenging locations because they highlight a particular skill (finding fish or catching fish).

Ask yourself these questions: (1) Am I better at finding fish or catching fish? (2) Do I fish a body of water that demands fish-finding skills or fish-catching skills? (3) Which of the two must I improve upon in order to catch more fish and better fish?

Improving your mental game begins with clearly defining what the mental game challenge is. There are many components to making great decisions on the water. Ultimately I want you to see what Richard W. Paul and Linda Elder describe in their book Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life as “disciplined thinking.” Using part of their outline, I come to the conclusion that catching fish consistently and catching high quality fish requires intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual perseverance, intellectual balance, intellectual confidence, intellectual courage, and intellectual autonomy. I will explore each of these separately in the blogs to come.

Charles Plott, M.S. is a Performance Consultant. He brings two decades of experience helping individuals, teams, and businesses improve performance. Charles is a retired Licensed Professional Counselor, with over 20,000 hours of experience. His website is