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Performance Anxiety

Former pro angler Thomas still feels pressure to catch fish

Performance Anxiety
Joe Thomas from Stihl's Reel in the Outdoors

The pressure of producing an entertaining and compelling television show about fishing is quite similar to the stress of being a professional fisherman.

Joe Thomas knows about both very well.

The host of Stihl’s Reel in the Outdoors with Joe Thomas, now airing on Fridays and Saturdays in its seventh season on Outdoor Channel, Thomas spent three decades on the grueling and most challenging professional bass fishing tours in the nation.

“There are a lot of similarities between the two,” Thomas said. “People ask me how did I quit (tournament fishing) after 30 years. Having a fishing show allows me to continue fishing, which I love, and still be competitive.”

The show currently airs on Outdoor Channel at 10 a.m. ET on Fridays, and 7:30 a.m. ET and 3 p.m. ET on Saturdays.

At 18, Thomas won the 1980 B.A.S.S. Federation championship for his native Ohio and soon turned pro. He then competed on the top bass circuits, and in 1990 he collected $100,000 after winning the Red Man All-American Championship in Buffalo, N.Y.

Now, when fishing to produce quality television, the burden to succeed remains.

“You feel the same frustrations,” Thomas said. “When you fish hard for two days and don’t have enough for a good show, it feels pretty much the same as you do when you don’t make the cut at a tournament. You have the same, every-day pressure to perform in both.”

Thomas said Stihl’s Reel in the Outdoors is “80 percent” bass fishing, and the saltwater episodes typically involve tarpon and snook. Each episode is fun, insightful and educational, Thomas said.“I think what makes our show or any good fishing or hunting show is the people,” he said. “There’s some where I’m fishing by myself. Then we have some recurring characters, some pro fisherman buddies … never a dull moment.”

Thomas said teaching viewers and assisting them to become more successful anglers is also a prime objective. Sometimes that involves convincing the weekend anglers to step out of their comfort zones.“Anybody can catch them when it’s easy,” Thomas said. “The one thing the average Joe doesn’t explore is off-shore structure. Most guys don’t take the time and effort to use their sonar GPS and find those deep-water humps, creek beds, drop-offs, channels – places where there are going to be fish that aren’t necessarily as easy to find.

“The average bass fishermen are bank beaters, and it’s easy to tell why. You can see the structure. You can see the fish. But when the fish leave the shallow water, it almost becomes like trying to find a needle in a haystack.”

Finding the fish, Thomas said, is where the professionals earn their money.

“What separates the pros is their ability to go onto a foreign body of water and find them quick,” he said. “They arrive at places like Toledo Bend and Lake Erie – massive, massive bodies of water – and just find them. It’s what makes people like KVD KVD. And it’s one of the things I try to get across on our show.”

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