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Author: Frank Ross
When Denny Brauer started fishing tournaments the concept of making a living by catching big bass was just a fantasy. At the time, Brauer was a brick mason with a good imagination and the type of dogged determination that it takes to build a big building one block and one trowel of mortar at a time. After 21 years, not only is he fishing fulltime (except for hunting season), he's at the top of the list of all-time big money winners.
"Its been good," he said, then repeated it as if to savor every glorious moment experienced in over two decades of fishing held in three little words - "Its been good."
When asked if he ever imagined the peaks of glory that professional angling would take him to, Brauer characteristically played down his own role in building B.A.S.S. into what it is today. "I don't really think I thought in those terms. I was thinking about making a living for my family. It was kind of like survival. There was a lot of uncertainty. I had a lot of confidence. I felt like I could do well, but you don't know how you'll do until you try."
In addition to numerous massive deer and elk mounts, the walls of Brauer's den are covered with plaques commemorating angling achievements too numerous to delineate. Of all the trophies and awards that he has amassed, the one he treasures the most is the "People's Choice" award.
Over the past two decades Brauer has won many tournaments, but his dream year was 1998. During that fateful season, he won four national tournaments, the Bassmaster's Classic, the FLW "Angler of the Year" title and was featured on the coveted Wheaties Breakfast of Champions cereal box, which led to an appearance on the David Letterman show. "It was a huge step. People started to look at the sport differently," he said.
Unfortunately, the years spent doing the heavy lifting that constitutes block work have resulted in three back surgeries with marginal success. Although every day on the water is a challenge, he's not a complainer. During a recent day on the water with this legend of largemouth, we spent hours throwing baits and running from one spot to the next, and only once did I see him show his discomfort by stretching a little and rubbing his back. I mention this because it is this ability to focus that has put Brauer on top. On the water he is totally focused on analyzing current conditions, the tackle he is using and shuffling through his years of experience to come up with the right combination that will catch fish.
"I enter a tournament to win. If I get to the point that I don't think I can win, I'll retire," he said.
In 1981, Brauer entered his first professional tournament, finished in 20th place and cashed a check for $1,000. "I thought I'd won the lottery. I got the opportunity to guide some and supplement my income in the masonry business, but at the time there was no such thing as fishing fulltime. You had to do other things until the sport grew, and you grew with it," he said.
"In the early days, guiding helped me learn Table Rock and how to fish it. When I was guiding, I'd fish it every day for 20 to 25 days in a row, leave for a tournament, then come right back and start over again. Anyone that wants to improve upon their ability to catch fish on any given body of water needs to spend time fishing it. There's no substitute for work. A lot of guys aren't willing to put in the hours that it takes to put them into a position to win a tournament."
"Developing the right pattern and finding fish, takes time. Consider that the majority of anglers fish 10 hours but you're averaging 12 hours a day. That's six more hours per week. Percentage wise that's big and the odds should go in your favor. When those same anglers are fishing nine or 10 to the 14 that you're putting in, that's a whole extra day during the pre-fishing period of a tournament. Several times I've won a tournament on the last practice day when I finally put the pieces together."
"I'm pretty confident with what I fish with, but I know that I'm not going to tie on a magic bait. The trouble with confidence is we should be more open minded. I feel that I'm more capable of winning now. I'm better than I was 10 years ago. I'm not as aggressive as I was back then, but I'm better than I was back then."
Speaking of magic baits, if you could only take two baits for a day's fishing, what would they be?
"The first one would have to be Strike King's pro jig. I helped design it a couple of years ago. This bait can catch fish anytime of year, at any depth." His favorite color combination is black and blue and he prefers the 3/8 to 1/2 ounce size with a matching trailer. For Brauer, the jig is the universal lure and other than color, the most significant variable is matching its weight to the water depth. "The weight of the jig you fish should change with depth. If I'm looking at the 5-foot zone, a heavy jig could be 3/8-ounce. If I'm looking at 25 feet, I'm probably going to be looking at a 1/2-ounce bait."
His second choice is a 3/8-ounce spinnerbait in white or white/chartreuse. With these two baits I could leave the house feeling pretty confident. There wouldn't be too many days when I couldn't catch fish with those baits," he said.
Do you have a favorite fishing hole?
"I never wanted to get into that mindset, and start to develop favorite places to fish because that also means that you will develop places that you don't want to fish. Some places are tougher to fish than others, but it gives you a tougher mindset rather than a real good place where everybody catches them. From strictly a tourist standpoint, it would be Lake Champlain. It's a fabulous place to visit. What you find, like spring, and late fall, lakes are all different. What I'm trying to say is I've never found a lake I didn't like to win on."
"I like tough tournament conditions because a lot of my fishing style is geared to tough fishing, flipping a jig. I just feel that my attitude is better if I don't focus on negative things. I try not to get dejected and down trodden. Some anglers are complaining from one tournament to the next, and all of a sudden -boom, they win and their confidence returns but in a little while they're right back to complaining," he said.
"You learn from negative things. I try to look at it like a business. When something negative happens, that's done and gone. There's nothing I can do about it, other than learn a lesson."
Brauer credits his high school coach for instilling the desire to succeed in him. "He was an absolute slave driver, but he created those values. He had me running 10 miles a day in the summer. After graduating from high school in Kearney, Nebraska, Brauer attended college for a year and worked as a mason, one summer, for his uncle to earn money for tuition. He never went back. "When I was a mason, I wanted to be the best mason I could be. I laid twice as many blocks as others and concentrated on doing it well."
"When I got into competitive fishing I was not as knowledgeable as other anglers but I worked hard to try and compete and learn. I was always the first to launch my boat in the morning and the last one to trailer it out at night. I'm continually striving to learn new ways."
Now, he and his wife Shirley travel together throughout the year. "When we get the tournament schedule, the first thing we do is get maps of every lake we're going to fish. I keep a lot of back issues of fishing magazines that I use for research. I find every article that I can get my hands on and read about the lakes, their structure and what makes them unique. Then I use highlighter pens and do some work on the maps. It not only makes them easier to read, but I learn a lot as I'm going over them in detail. Then comes current data. What's going on with the temperature, rising or falling water levels? On some lakes a couple of us have even chartered an airplane so we could see the lake from the air, locate schools of baitfish, aquatic vegetation and any type of structure that might hold fish."
"A lot of it boils down to common sense. I ask myself what are fish doing? Where are my best odds of catching fish and winning a tournament. Everyone knows where to find the fish, but I'm looking for the best chance to win, not just look good. A lot of times I've won in areas where people were shocked. I've gone against the grain and come through. I hate to tell people how to fish. That's setting them up for some disappointing days. I try to say this is what I should do, but that doesn't mean that it's what I'm going to do. But I think it's an approach that has proven itself over the years."
With tournament winnings totaling seven figures, I'd say that there are 1,200,000 Washingtons that will testify to that fact. And everyone knows that Washington never told a lie.Click here to view our selection of Fishing Products.
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