If there is one common thread I’ve noticed among good bass fishermen, it’s that most of them can credit a solid chunk of their drive and knowledge to a mentor that, at some point, provided the stepping stones for success on the water. What I’m not talking about is someone giving up secret lures or locations. Too many people consider those that spit out that kind of info mentors, especially in the tournament world. For example, let’s say your friend Charlie insists you fish a spot only because a past tourney winner caught fish in that location. Some never get past that mindset. A good mentor would get you focused not on exactly what lure or where, but what kind of structure was in the area where the guy won. What was the overall pattern that day? Was it overcast? Sunny? Then a good mentor will teach you how to apply that knowledge to finding your own fish and catching them your way instead of being a follower. Not everyone has it in them to be a good teacher and mentor, and on the flip side, not everyone recognizes when they are being given a piece of sage advice.
My mentor is not an old wise man with a 9th-degree black belt who taught me the importance of wax-on/wax-off before I learned to cast a spinnerbait. There is no rule saying that’s what qualifies you as a mentor. He’s simply a good friend of mine named Chris Hall (left in the photo with me nearly 15 years ago) who’s around the same age as I am, and who grew up fishing team events and learning the bass ropes with me. He’s the best fisherman I know, bar none. Does he have logos all over a jersey to prove it? No. But if there was a team event for a million dollars and I had to choose anyone to fish with, it would be Chris.
In many ways, I am probably an equal mentor to him, and that’s the thing: it’s not a one-way street. Nobody has all the answers in fishing. It’s a constant reciprocating learning process. Chris and I have fished countless hours on the boat together both recreationally and for money over the last 20 years. We have had good days and bad. We have figured things out to the most finite details and capitalized on them, and we have failed to even come close to figuring the bass out at times. Sometimes a mentor is just a person you spend countless hours with talking strategy, tactics, and whatever ever else comes with tricking the little green and brown dudes swimming in the lake.
A popular phrase in bass fishing is, “nothing can replace time on the water.” This is true, but who kept you on the water? Who, when you were frustrated and ready to quit, played a part in advising you to stay on the water for an extra hour and work through the variables? Who spent the drive home with you reflecting the lessons of the day and a potential approach to look into next time on that or a similar body of water? The building blocks that make a good bass fisherman great cannot solely be learned on TV, in a book or found somewhere on the Internet. Who’s your fishing mentor?