Keeping focus on the water

Maintaining concentration while fishing sometimes requires “tricks of the trade” that pro bass anglers such as Dustin Wilks have learned.

Mental focus can make or break your day on the water.

We’ve all done it, fished for a few hours with no bites, become frustrated and start going through the motions.

You’re out there fishing physically but your mind is wandering. Breaking that mindset by focusing on current conditions is the key to turning your day around and catching some fish.

I have read Kevin VanDam has a 10-minute rule during practice for major tournaments. If he doesn’t get a response from a bass by using a particular lure or in an area within 10 minutes he changes something — lure, depth, speed, or location — something changes after 10 minutes without signs of bass.

When you think about this, he can avoid a mental rut by sticking to one lure or location. This approach keeps him thinking and trying new things until he reaches his goal of success.

VanDam’s 10-minute rule forces him not to become complacent.

Little details make a big difference.

You may be crushing them with a ¼-ounce jig in the morning, then the bite stops towards afternoon. What do you do? Stick it out with the same jig? Go to a different lure?

There’s no correct answer until you verify it with success. Many ideas come to mind.

You can try a heavier jig to get reaction-type bites. If that fails, change the color. As the sun rises, a black-and-blue jig may not be as natural-looking to the fish as it was during lower light.

Fish deeper (or shallower.)

Maybe the crawfish aren’t active and bass have switched their focus to shad, so perhaps try a spinnerbait.

The possibilities are endless. When you finally figure it out and get that bite, nothing is more rewarding.

I remember fishing a December club tournament at Shearon Harris many years ago with my friend, Bryant Medlin. We were having moderate success using TD Vibrations at the outside edges of hydrilla that were starting to break up from previous cold fronts.

Thirty minutes before weigh-in, we heard a few gushing noises nearby. Large bass were pinning shad against the underside of the dead hydrilla mats.

Immediately, we tied on buzzbaits with just a few minutes to go in the tournament and put several good fish in the boat. Had we been brain numb at the end of the day and not tried the buzzbaits, as fish were telling us, we would have lost that day.

What direction is the wind blowing? What are the baitfish doing? Has the water warmed up? Was that a crawdad that last bass spit up? What color was it? Is there current?

These types of questions should always be on your mind when fishing (or at work).

When you catch a bass, pay attention to its coloration. This gives you clues as to where they’ve been and where they may be going.

If bass are dark-green colors, they have likely been in clear or shallow water recently. If they appear faded and white, they have been deep or in muddy water.

Always ask yourself what you could be doing differently to catch more or bigger fish. Sometimes slowing down is the answer for bigger fish, while speeding up is the key to greater numbers.

Don’t forget the basic feeding habits of bass. They’re sit-and-wait predators the majority of the time. Only under specific water and baitfish conditions do bass exhibit varying feeding behaviors such as open water schooling or cruising.

Along with paying attention to conditions and remembering the habits of bass, be sure to take care of yourself. Drink plenty of water or sports drinks but limit sodas. Sodas can make you sluggish.

Also, eat a sandwich and several snacks during the day to help your mind and body stay energized. Remember you’re fishing to have fun, even if it is a tournament.

Mental sharpness is what separates great anglers from the rest. Lose focus for even a second and you could miss a fish or a clue that will lead you to them.

Staying focused helps you make smart decisions on the water. Pay attention to your surroundings-small observations give big clues.

Hey, what color was that crawdad?

Dustin Wilks is a 29-year-old professional bass angler and Raleigh native now living in Rocky Mount. He has qualified for the Bassmaster Classic four times and operates Fish Like a Pro Fishing Lessons (252-883-6749 ). His sponsors include Skeeter Boats, Yamaha, Daiwa, Keelshield and Culprit.

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