Whether you fish in saltwater, freshwater — or in desperate times, even the gutter water running next to the curb on your street — there’s one factor that impacts your ability to catch fish that may not always come to mind: Confidence.
The more confidence you have, the more fish you’re likely to catch. When you think about it, there are many different kinds of confidence. You may have more confidence in the ability of a particular party boat captain, so you try to fish on that particular boat. You may have more confidence fly-lining a live bait than throwing a jig, so you fish live bait when the chips are down and you’re trying to get bit. Or if you’re a green bass fisherman, you may have the most confidence in a particular technique when the bite gets tough — be it drop-shot, Ned rig, wacky-rigged Senko, etc.
So there’s confidence in choosing your tactics and techniques, in the tackle you select, the body of water you fish, the time of day, etc. It’s all part of developing confidence in your fishing abilities. There’s also the kind of confidence that’s poured into a glass if you’re over 21, but that’s an entirely different kind of confidence and something to discuss at another time.
Knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em
Let’s dive a little deeper. So you’re on the boat with Captain Confidence, the skipper who has put you on the fish more than other skippers, and you’re fishing for calico bass. The guy on your right is throwing his confidence bait, a 3⁄4-ounce leadhead and squid. The gal on your left is throwing her confidence calico-catcher, a 3/8-ounce mint Hookup Bait, and the guy next to her is fishing a sardine on a 1⁄4-ounce slider. Meanwhile, you’re fly-lining a sardine using a 20-pound test fluorocarbon leader and light-wire number 2 hook. That’s your confidence set-up.
Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Well ultimately the fish will tell you. But if you’re not getting bit, that doesn’t mean the confidence in your rig is misguided, it’s just not on the fish’s menu at that point in time. And that’s where another form of confidence arises. Your confidence in assessing a situation and making adjustments. That may be the most valuable confidence trait of all. Knowing when to adapt on the fly.
Case in point: A small lake I fish for largemouth bass has historically had a large population of crawdads that make up the primary food source for the bass. My number one confidence bait there has been a 4 3⁄4-inch Savage Gear 3D Crawdad. It’s about as realistic a crawdad imitator as you’ll find and using the size-large bait often results in catching size-large fish — that is until recently. It seems carp have invaded the lake and pretty much decimated the crawdad population. Regardless, on my last couple trips I stubbornly stuck with my confidence bait for too long, even though it wasn’t getting bit, because I’ve caught so many big fish on it in the past. That’s when my confidence in assessing the situation finally kicked in and I switched to a drop-shot rig. It’s not a technique I have a lot of faith in and frankly sometimes find it a boring way to fish, but I did start to get some fish on it. I just had to take the blinders off to find the answer. Confidence doesn’t happen overnight
Confidence isn’t something you acquire overnight — in fishing or in life. It’s something developed over time and through experience. In fishing, overall confidence is generally developed as a result of time on the water. Having confidence in a particular bait or presentation method is more easily acquired. But overall confidence in your abilities to assess and employ the right technique at the right moment is a learned process that just takes time. There aren’t a lot of short cuts.
I can remember early on in my fishing career having a conversation with an old salt who I believe had consumed several cups of confidence already and said, “Son, you just need to keep your eyes open, have faith that you’re going to catch a fish, and by golly, eventually you will.” Easier said than done. At that time I really was confident — confident that I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. It takes time.
Perhaps the fastest way to develop more confidence in your fish-catching ability is to be more observant. Watch what others are doing to become more successful. Store every little tidbit, trick or technique in the back of your head, and evaluate the current situation at hand to see if any of those stored ideas apply. The more you learn to pick the right ones at the right moment, the more confidence you’ll acquire.
Success builds success
While not a shortcut, I’ve found that putting in more days on the water in a short period of time can help to build your success and confidence faster. If you fish once every month or two, it’s harder to do. If you’re able to get out once a week or even more often, it’s likely your success rate and confidence level will improve exponentially. You start to recognize “conditions” that trigger the right response because you’ve seen it recently. Patterns develop in your mind and before you know it, much like a basketball player sees the hoop get bigger when he’s on fire, you know what to do next and you’re “in the zone.”
A couple years ago, I was fishing with Captain Confidence on a particular party boat that focused on yellowtail at Catalina Island. There was a pattern that the skipper certainly knew but it took me a bit to recognize. While the yellows were around the boat all morning, they wouldn’t bite. It was an afternoon thing, for a variety of reasons. I fished hard when lunchtime approached, knowing that the bite was coming. Some days it took going down to 15- pound fluorocarbon to get bit, but I knew I was going to get bit. I was fortunate to land one or more yellows on probably half a dozen trips in a row when there weren’t many being caught. I became very confident in assessing the situation, my skill-sets improved and success led to more success.
Do your homework
If you’re just not able to get out on the water as often as you’d like, but still want to feel confident when you are out there, do your homework. I’ll bet when you were in school you hated homework. But there probably weren’t many assignments focused on fishing. With all the information available on the internet, now there are thousands of resources for developing your skills, which in turn develop your confidence. Pick a topic, Google it or look on YouTube, and you’ll likely find a ton of information about it. And of course, if you found it on the internet and the author is a fisherman, it has to all be true, right? It’s a mental game too
Let’s face it. There are LOTS of really good fishermen out there. And fisherwomen. They have great tackle and many spend a small fortune on it. “Aw, the kids don’t really need to go to college, do they?” They spend hours perfecting their physical skills — casting accuracy, distance, plus working out, eating smart and developing stamina. But
often much of their success is driven by the mental side of the game. Nowhere is this more evident than professional bass fishing tournaments. Even if your pre-tournament fishing put you on the fish and determined what they were biting, it all goes out the window when the tournament actually starts. The pro’s pros know it boils down to having the right mindset and the confidence to know when to change directions or stick to your game plan.
The same holds true in any competitive sport. Every golfer on the pro circuit knows how to smack the heck out of the ball off the tee, get out of a sand trap, read a green and drop a 20-foot downhill putt. So why is it that we see the names of a relative few consistently at the top of the leaderboards? You guessed it… confidence.
So to catch more fish, try to be more observant, file away the tips that have produced in the past and develop the skill sets that you know will produce in the future. In short, develop your confidence game. And if that doesn’t work, you can always take up golf.