The Toughest Lesson for a Rookie Pro to Learn!

Category: article

 Feb 12th, 2009 by OutdoorsFIRST 

Modified Feb 12th, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Some rocketed out of the gate; others played the game only to silently slide off course.  Those who survived through their rookie years examine this interesting situation.  Perhaps their observations and advice may pave the way for rookies stepping up to the plate this year.  Maybe their collective wisdom might apply to a broader range of tournament anglers.

In all the PWT years, only one angler jumped in and won the Rookie of the Year title and Angler of the Year in the same year.  That was an accomplishment that the late Shannon Kehl tucked into his resume in 1996. 

Dan Stier: 25 walleye tournament wins; PWT 2003 and 2008 winner and Angler of the Year; 2008 Ranger Cup winner:  “The toughest lesson for a rookie to learn is to follow your instincts,” Stier said.  “”Believe in yourself.”  Watching how other tournament anglers respond has been a favorite sport of his, and he feels rookies are easily influenced.  “They hear the scuttle-butt and rumors about what others are doing and forget their own game plan,” he said. 

Dan Stier

He cited an example of believing in his own instincts.  At Sault Ste. Marie last season, day three dawned clear and calm, exactly opposite the two previous days.  His electronics showed that the fish were still there.  Boats were running, but he decided to stay put, since clouds were developing in the distance.  His gut told him to stay and see if the super-slow bite would pick up.  “The clouds arrived and in one pass, I boated five walleyes to win the tournament,” he said.

Mike Gofron:  Holds PWT record with 37 top 10 place finishes; placed in top 20 an amazing 50 percent of the time; PWT Top Gun, Angler of the Year twice, Sportsman of the Year, Championship winner, 3-time winner; MWC 1st place; and more:  “Rookies beat their fish in practice until they’re all gone.  The dumbest thing I’ve heard after the first tournament day from rookies is how many fish they caught on that spot in practice, but nothing today.”

He said, “Everybody likes to catch fish, but rookies have a huge issue because they can’t leave them alone.”  As a touring pro, Gofron’s advice is to find fish, touch them, and return during the competition.  “Tournament anglers must develop a different mind-set than everyday walleye fishermen,” he said.  “Don’t pressure them.  Of all places, this is critical on structure bites where fish are concentrated on specific points or spots.”  He hopes this year will be different and anglers don’t camp on spots during practice.  He asked, “Why pound ’em?”

Dave Atkinson, PWT Rookie of the Year Pro in 2008; placed in the money in his first three tournaments; 6th place at Mobridge; after 13 tournaments as an amateur/co-angler:  “I experienced more stress last year as a rookie pro than in any job I ever had.  I can’t tell you how much more stressful it was than all those boat-rides as a co-angler.” The hardest part of being a rookie was learning patience on a spot.  Atkinson said even when he did OK on a spot pre-fishing; he wanted to move when the fish weren’t going during the tournament.  This was also true when fishing his home water at the Sault Ste. Marie PWT event, even though he knew he needed to stick with the area that had produced best in practice.

He also said with no other pros for input or suggestions, he ran the tour on his own skills.  Figuring out new bodies of water, he hung around bait shops and listened to the “local-talk.”  He also pre-fished each tournament with his strong suit – bottom bouncers.  Once a depth or area worked, he fine-tuned the presentation, and then searched for other similar spots. “I concentrated on these good spots all three days of the tournament, becoming intimate with all the details,” he said.  “Oh, rookie pros get no respect, so don’t expect it this season,” he said to those jumping into the game.

Johnnie Candle, several PWT top 10 place finishes:  “Rookies need confidence.  I fished the NAWA series for many years, and when stepping up to the PWT, I thought I was a rookie all over again.”  It took about three years of PWT competition until a third place finish at Sault Ste. Marie convinced him he was good enough to compete against the guys he watched on TV and read about in magazines. 

Candle said, “I think rookies need that first good tournament to erase these feelings of inadequacy.  Some guys like Jason Feldner (a fellow Devils Lake guide and resident), win right away, like Jason did on Devils Lake, and gain confidence immediately.  I see it when he competes now compared to a few years ago. Until a pro gains confidence, they will be like me, a human emotional roller-coaster.”

Pete Harsh, 4-time PWT winner; 1993 PWT Rookie of the Year; FLW winner; 2008 FLW Angler of the Year:  “When I won Rookie of the Year, I wrote down my Number One Lesson learned, ‘You can’t catch fish when the boat’s on plane,’ and it’s the same today.  The pros who own 250 horses and 55 gallons of gas and don’t think they’ve fished a tournament day unless they’ve burned it all usually are not the last ones standing when they hand out the checks.” 

He feels Kenny Rogers’ advice about knowing when to hold them and when to fold them applies to rookies.  Many rookies are quick to leave a good bite.  He said, “In a tournament, you don’t have to catch all the fish in the lake, just find a couple solid pods and stay with them.”  If a pro could settle down and learn to sit out the bite, he might bring a limit to the scale daily, according to Harsh.  “You can time the level of patience by the boats running after only a few hours on their spots.  Yes, I know rookies are apprehensive about coming in with a limit, but leaving good spots can be a killer.” 

Finally, he said, “Lots of guys who think they’re good don’t know what good is.  For someone to jump to the top level of walleye competition requires skills.  Develop them!  Back in my rookie season, and every year after, I always work the best ‘practice’ fish hard.”

Daryl Christensen, PWT multiple winner, seminar presenter and author:  “By far, the toughest lesson for a rookie pro is making adjustments during a tournament day,” he said.  “I’ve heard it on stage about how good the bite was in practice, but despite staying with it all day and doing the same thing, it didn’t produce.”  To Christensen, some rookies appear afraid to get off their pattern or spot.  He said that could be as minor as dropping deeper on a river bite, or moving shallower when the wind blows.  “The toughest of all is shifting from trolling to jigging, or vice versa,” he said.

He learned his lesson about this many years ago on Saginaw Bay.  He was catching nice fish trolling, but spent a practice day jigging weeds and rocks, just in case.  On day one, he couldn’t get a bite from the suspended walleyes.  He packed the trolling rods away and went jigging “for a limit.”  He not only caught a limit, but nailed some fish in the five to eight pound range.  On day three, the fish were not responding to jigs.  “I liked the area, figured the fish weren’t far away, so I switched to a jigging spoon.  That was the ticket, and another top-five place trophy went home with me,” he said. 

These suggestions and advice should trigger some soul-searching among rookies and touring pros alike.  It would be great to see follow-up comments and additional “rookie lessons” in the WalleyeFIRST General Discussion forum. 

More like this