CONFIDENCE – by Dick Pearson

As I sit down to write this column its April and while trying to decide on a topic I get a call from a friend who says, “Dick there’s still 25 inches of ice on Lake Of The Woods, last year I was trolling for lakers there at this time, what’s going to happen on the opener?”

Coincidentally, last night another friend had e-mailed about a recent crappie ice fishing trip to Rainy Lake wondering about the effect of extremely low water on his opener there.

Then, as I thought about an e-mail I had recently received from another friend from Wisconsin asking me to comment on his ‘plan’for an upcoming trip to Lake Of The Woods it hit me,within days three friends with over 75 years of combined muskie fishing experience were expressing a lack of confidence in a season that hadn’t even begun.I thought wow,whats up with that?Upon reflection nothing much really. Everyone ,myself included, lacks confidence at times when fishing muskies. It goes with the territory.

Why? The friend from Wisconsin nailed it in his e-mail I think. He stated “I should be able to figure something out,again having confidence is the key, it’s too easy to talk yourself out of a good idea with these fish, they just don’t give a lot of positive feedback, there’s just not enough of them.” Exactly. Unfortunately he’s right, there are times when even doing things ‘right’ doesn’t work. Tough to stay confident knowing that isn’t it?

So what is confidence? Websters New World dictionary tells us confidence is trust, reliance ,assurance, a fact of being or feeling certain, a firm belief in ones abilities.

OK, so that’s what it is, but how do we get it, how do we lose it, and most importantly, how do we get it back when we temporarily lose it?

Well I suppose there are a number of factors involved in acquiring confidence but I think the main ones would be knowledge, experience and success. Acquiring those are the subjects of entire books but the more of each you have,the more confidence you have. There simply is no substitute for time on the water combined with success.

Losing it is very easy-remember with this fish of low density,there are times you can do it ‘right‘ and fail. Lots of things can trigger self doubt. A total lack of success;catching only small ones when others catch big ones;changing conditions; a new lake; losing a fish; and on and on. An increasingly common cause is ‘information overload‘ as described in my book, Muskies On The Shield. Too much knowledge in advance of experience on the water leaves many, particularly newcomers to the sport, floundering (no pun intended) helplessly.

The tricky part for most though, again myself included, is staying confident when times are tough-or getting your confidence back if temporarily lost-and that’s what I want to talk about.

The first step to restoring confidence might simply be to realize you are not alone. Over the years I’ve been blessed to fish with many of the best fishermen in the world-famous and unknown. All of them suffer a lack of confidence at times. In fact I’m convinced if anyone claims they don’t, they are either mentally challenged or liars. Further proof? Well, while taking a break a few minutes ago ,I turn on coverage of the 2007 Masters golf tournament. There is one of the top ten golfers in the world fielding questions at the obligatory news conferences about his ‘sports psychologist’. He candidly admits most top pros need them to “keep their confidence up”. ”Everyone needs to be told repeatedly that they can do it”, he says.

Sports psychologists!? Aren’t they just spending lots of money on mind games with these characters? Perhaps, but they are commonly used by high performers in many disciplines and obviously work by instilling and/or restoring self confidence.

Well if you’re like me, you can’t afford a sports psychologist-I wouldn’t want to show him my spots anyway-but that sure doesn’t stop me from playing mind games to restore my confidence. Mind games? Yep,absolutely. This will only confirm suspicions many have of me but here are just a few of the mind games in my quiver that I can and do draw out when I get in a self doubting funk.
First ,I quit fishing, sit down and think a little. The thought process will run something like this:
.OK, the fish didn’t freeze out, they are here. Shallow, deep or somewhere in between, but here.
Good god man, you’ve fished and caught these brainless brutes for 40 years, you’ve written hundreds of articles, a book, appeared on TV and DVDs, and given seminars all over on how and where to catch them, get a grip.

You’ve caught them,including big ones, under these exact same conditions so think a little dang it!
That type of thought process gets me thinking about past success which invariably leads me to a rear compartment where I have my laminated ,blown up ,inspirational success pictures(hero pics if you wish).For example, the one that is pulled out most often is my post front pic that is now nearly 20 years old but still serving its purpose. It was taken on a July 4th on Lake Of The Woods. The day before gave us a blow out storm and this day dawned clear, windy, cloudless and so cold my wife insisted we head home a day early. In fact the only way she allowed me to stop on the way back to the vehicle (thank god it was about 35 miles away) was by my arguing I had to stop to warm up. The pic shows me holding a 53 incher while wearing my duck hunting parka-and most every other item of clothing in the boat. Over the years that pic has allowed me to ‘visualize’ success in post front conditions and on numerous occasions, actual success has followed. Even my mind can be a powerful tool at times-albeit easily deceived.

Note though that throughout this mind game discussion, I repeatedly referred to ‘thinking’. That I believe is the real key. Sit down and think a bit when doubt arises since to work out of the funk in a meaningful way, you need a logical plan or formula to follow. A process to fall back on. A simple process.(K.I.S.S.-keep it simple stupid-is the way to go.)

I recommend the old reliable In-Fisherman formula; F(basic knowledge of the fish pursued) +L(locations or structure) + P(presentation) = S(success.) Again a full discussion here would take a book but, oversimplified, it comes down to creating a basic plan. For ‘F’, consider the info you know about muskies and how they are likely to react to the existing conditions. For ‘L’,list or at least consider the structural options available on the water you are fishing. For ‘P’,consider your presentation options. Should I cast or troll? Shallow or deep? The lure considerations should also be kept basic. If you have old favorites(ie,baits you’ve had success with)use them. Remember, for each bait there are really only 3 primary considerations;depth you are targeting,structure being fished, and the hooking ability of the bait. When in a self doubting funk, don’t worry about color, coolness of the paint job, subtle wobble nuances or endless other less important factors-get a good hooking bait in front of the fish! This is not rocket science. Plan the plan-work the plan. All the consistently successful muskie fisherman I know have a plan for dealing with self doubt. All are based on logical thought and follow a logical sequence for dealing with tough times. I’ll end by paraphrasing something I heard Bill Sandy, the guide and camp owner on Lake Of The Woods, say years ago.

“I fish muskies nearly every day of the Ontario season. Most of the time I know where they are when I quit at dark-but most of the time I don’t know where they are in the morning. So I just start following a plan of fishing one type of structure after another based on past experience, using baits successful in the past, until I find them. Then I fish similar structure til that doesn’t work, then I go back to the plan again.”

That folks, pretty much says it all.

In the real world our confidence will leave us at times.You can quit, flail away randomly(and helplessly) ,rely on luck, or proceed logically.Its always your choice.When self doubt creeps in, I recommend you sit down and think a bit,then plan the work-and work the plan. Good fishing!

Remember: thinking is just being thoughtful.
See you next issue.

Folks years ago I created a ‘Think Card’ that I still carry in my wallet to help when my confidence level sags.Its merely a checklist of many of the things mentioned above(including a long list of possible structures to consider trying)but it sure helps me in tough times.I believe such checklists are great.

Pete Maina and I are in the process of creating a number of ‘checklists’(including a revised ‘Think Card’) that will be laminated and easy to access.These will be available soon,cover key topics in muskie fishing,and I believe helpful to all.

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