Written by: Matthew Mattingly Have you ever fished a tournament or had a day on the water when absolutely nothing went right? One when the water was nasty, wind was up, the lake crowded, and all the cover fish would normally be in was completely on the shore or in inches of water. Then it turns out that the only place you caught fish was in a super crowded area with not enough fish to go around. Especially in a lake that doesn’t have the best population of fish. Yeah, I had one, but instead of it being one day it was three! Going in knowing it would be a tough tournament, but just how tough was the question. The moment I arrived it seemed things were not going to go my way. After getting out of class and making a five hour drive the night before, I wasn’t the most chipper to get on the lake. Immediately after launching, idling out of the take-off area, the prop hit the bottom making a screeching sound that rattled my bones. From then it only got worse. The entire lake was darker than chocolate milk, waves so high they were white capping on the front deck every time I stopped on the main body to fish. Yet I didn’t give up. The little voice in my head kept saying that I was here for a reason and I needed to get the job done. On went to first day of practice, I felt as though I was doing everything possible and adjusting techniques and tactics for the situation at hand. After over 12 hours on the water the only thing I had figured out was where and how not to catch fish. I admit I was a little disappointed, but I kept telling myself that it was going to be tough for everyone and that eliminating water was just as important as finding the right water. It is all a piece of the grand puzzle, all I had to do was work hard the next day and keep carving at it. Second morning of practice rolls around and 4:30 a.m. comes early after a long day on the water. The start of the second day the plan was to go practice the upper half of the lake beyond a bridge that I had not covered the day before, just maybe that is where all the bass were holding. I run all the way up the lake and shutdown to start fresh on a new day. Little did I know that the upper half was all 2 ft. deep or less and littered with so many stumps that it may have been easier to take a bass boat through a mine field. No sooner than I sat the trolling motor down, the wind blew me so far into the stump field it took nearly an hour and half to troll back out. I thought to myself, “Just great, really fantastic! I have just spent a day and a half practicing and have learned nothing. I made this trip here, put so much effort in and will have nothing to show for it.” Idling out I constantly reminded myself that if I want to fish for a living I will have to learn to deal with adversity. This is what champions are made of, the tough get going when the going gets tough. Nothing left to do or in my arsenal, no other tricks up my sleeve saving for last realized that only thing left to do on this lake was fish the two very small bays near the take-off ramp. I said to myself, “You know what, I’m going to at least put in the work and not give up.” Call it luck, persistence, or work ethic, but as soon as I pulled into that bay after 22 hours of practicing this brutal body of water I found the first actual piece to the puzzle. The rod loaded up and I nearly forgotten to reel since it had been so long since feeling a bite. It was a chunky, pre-spawn 3 lb. largemouth staging up to spawn. Maybe, just maybe I might be on to something. Not even 100 yards down the bank I shake off another fish. By Matthew Mattingly Hope had been restored, all because I kept grinding, kept working and threw the discouragement out of my mind every time I fished a new area. The next day the tournament started and felt good about my chances in this severe environment. As luck would have it I had gotten a late draw. As I entered my bay there were seven other boats. I kept my confidence still. The first few hours didn’t pan out, no fish, no bites and lots of pressure from other competitors. I went on to fish another bay, but something was telling me to go back to the original bay no matter the pressure. So I went, I finished out the day in that bay. As soon I sat down the trolling motor by one dock I got the first bite and caught a keeper. Not giving up and trusting my instincts did that for me. In the final hours as I was fishing there was a man on the bank. He insisted to not give up and keep confidence, almost like it was a sign from God. It turned out to be Mr. Terry McWilliams, former classic qualifier from the Federation Nation who finished 4th on fishing’s highest stage in 2007. From that moment I got two more bites underneath of one particular dock. No I didn’t win the tournament and no I didn’t qualify for the college invitational, but it was a good learning experience. I caught two keepers in a tournament where most didn’t weigh a fish. I got to walk across the giant college weigh in stage, beating over half the teams there; which consisted of good Division 1 talent. All because I kept the right frame of mind, kept on my grind and never gave up. The moral of the story and if you take anything from my experience is that you need to trust your instincts. Explore every possible option and never give up. Stay confident in your abilities, they will shine when all else fails.