He just knew the dirty so-and-so had a limit, with probably a lunker or two thrown in for good measure. Even his partner, a mere rookie, had boated two decent sized bass.
With just five minutes left in the tourney, James T. threw out a long cast right next to a large stump, more out of instinct than any conscious planning. The blue and black jig-n-pig landed softly as he turned to glance back at the squirrel, which had finally ceased its yammering. Suddenly his rod jerked violently as a real sow leaped skyward with the bait dangling. J.T., caught totally off guard, attempted a belated and violent hook set. His 3/8-ounce jig, dropped by mamma bass, rocketed back at him, hitting him squarely in the forehead.
"Jeez, that was some nice fish, huh, J.T.?" enthused his young cohort.
"No kiddin'," Miles replied sarcastically as he rubbed his bruised but luckily uncut forehead. "That must be the tenth time today a fish hit while I was looking the other way. I can't believe it! It's almost like those dang bass know I'm not paying attention."
"Could be," mumbled his chastised partner.
At weigh-in, J.T. looked on dejectedly as Willis weighed in a limit of 12 inchers, just over six pounds worth. The big bass he had missed would probably have beaten Willis' five 'babies', giving him the tournament. And what about all those other strikes he had while momentarily preoccupied? On his way home, J.T. pondered the day's events. The more he thought about all those missed strikes, the more he became convinced that those bass somehow sensed that he hadn't been paying attention. He had concentrated hard all day, except for those few times when those stinkin' fish hit.
He began to see a pattern in missed opportunities as he looked back at other tournaments days. J.T. eventually came to one firm conclusion: the ratio between looking the other way and/or not concentrating and the number of bass strikes was more than just a coincidence.
How many times have you missed fish that struck as soon as your concentration ebbed? Sometimes it seems, as though the bass really do have some kind of telepathic link with you, and, just when you're least 'with it', they'll blast the lure. A definite correlation between mental lapses during fishing and fish hits exists. What really causes it?
First, let's try to be rational about this problem. Bass do not and cannot reason. They have no capacity for thinking, one way or another, about hitting your lure. There is no bass conspiracy to drive tournament anglers insane, regardless of how much it might seem that way on some days. The factors that cause fish to strike when you least expect it are precipitated by you, not the fish. You, and you alone, bear the burden of guilt. Believe it!
Perhaps the most important factor to consider, and really the only one, is what happens to that favorite spinner bait, for example, when your attitude borders on the lackadaisical.
Your most likely reaction while in this dazed state would be to involuntarily slow down. That's right, you slow down your retrieve. Because at least part of that minute brain of yours is concerned with other business (whether that be checking out a red squirrel, like ol' J.T. Miles, dreaming of this month's Playmate, or some other equally important matter), the remaining, leftover part that's doing the fishin', is placed into a sort of semi-engaged autopilot.
One of the greatest mistakes of tournament fishermen is fishing too fast. They cast those expensive artificials in rocket-like fashion to any likely looking spot, and then churn those babies back at high speed to make another cast. Sure, sometimes that works, but on tough days bass can't or don't want to chase after those swift offerings.
A second reaction to becoming a "space cadet" while fishing is varying your retrieve. When you're only half with the program, you're only cranking at your normal, steady retrieve half the time. The other half, one or more of three things happen: you reel much slower, much faster, or not at all.
Remember poor J.T.? When he turned to look back at that squirrel, his bait fell gently right into the root system of that stump, something it wouldn't have had a chance to do if he'd been really paying attention, because he would have engaged his spool and begun reeling before then to avoid getting stuck. His momentary pause is what allowed his bait to enter THE FISH ZONE, and it gave the lunker a chance to engulf his jig-n-pig.
The bass don't know you're not paying attention. They're only reacting to what your lure is doing. And what it's doing is: 1) slowing down, and, 2) moving erratically or not at all.
The lessons to be learned from this are two-fold. First, slow down, vary your retrieve, and don't be afraid to try the 'non-fishing' technique. Try to duplicate what you did when those fish you missed struck. Many times the slower approach, reeling erratically, or pausing for significant periods, allowing the lure to drift slowly downward, will produce.
Second, and most importantly, keep that concentration level up! Think about what you're doing, and focus your thoughts on what you want to do - catch a bass. Start with that thought: "I want to catch a bass." After you've gotten one in the boat, then think about getting another. Also, work to avoid getting sidetracked by outside disturbances, whether that might be a scolding red squirrel, as in J.T.'s misadventure, or any other distraction. Distractions would also include worrying about how your fishing buddy is doing!
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