Whether in the woods or in the water, animals and fish relate to seasonal patterns in much the same manner, as these MLF bass pros have discovered.
By Joel Shangle
It's a muggy morning in southern Mississippi, and Major League Fishing pro Jason Christie's frown tells the story. Christie, a 20-year tour-level veteran from Park Hill, Okla., is a 3-time Elite Series champion and winner of two Bassmaster Opens events. He has taken a break from preparing tackle for an MLF Cup event to pore over his tournament schedule for 2018, and he's not pleased.
"October? We have a tournament in October?" Christie asked. "You know that's deer season, right? Archery season opens October 1 in Oklahoma. I'm going to have a bow in my hand, not a fishing rod. Is there any way we can get this [tournament] changed?"
Christie is only half-joking. Like many other anglers competing on the MLF Cup and MLF Select rosters, hunting is just as much of a way of life for him as fishing, and the pursuit of a rutting whitetail buck in November is strikingly akin to fishing for pre-spawn largemouth in February.
Long before he earned the label "The Most Feared Man in Professional Bass Fishing," Christie was a sharp-shooting point guard at Bacone College in eastern Oklahoma.
Talented enough to attract recruiters from Division I schools as far away as the University of Utah, the 6-foot, 3-inch Christie chose to finish his education and college basketball career at Northeastern State University — just 15 minutes from his house — for the simplest of reasons:
"Utah sounded like a long way away from a bass, and a long way away from my deer stands in Oklahoma."
Twenty-plus deer seasons and more than 220 tour-level bass tournaments later, the parallels of locating and catching the heaviest bag of fish and putting an arrow in the biggest buck are unmistakable to Christie.
"I realize the similarities now more than ever," Christie admitted. "The biggest comparison for me is just the mentality of having a challenge. This past bow season, I had two deer in particular that I hunted all season long. I passed up so many really nice deer that were probably a shade bigger than the ones I was hunting, but I caught these two particular bucks on camera and decided 'Yep, those are the ones.' I spent a lot of days out there freezing my butt off waiting for the opportunity, which is very similar to fishing a tournament. You have a goal in mind, and you work as hard as you can to finish it."
SEASONAL FISH AND GAME PATTERNS
For MLF Select angler Brandon Palaniuk, who grew up in rural northern Idaho, elk and deer season were "grocery season." As was the case for many small-town Western hunting families, the venison added to the freezer in the fall made up the majority of the meat that fed the household throughout the year. And Palaniuk participated in "grocery shopping" voraciously, killing his first elk at the age of 14.
Palaniuk, who was the 2017 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year, has two Elite Series wins and has qualified for seven Bassmaster Classics, winning more than $1 million in his seven-year career as a pro.
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"Our main protein was wild game, either deer or elk," Palaniuk said. "It's always been part of my lifestyle. I started to learn early that both fish and game live their lives on a different clock than humans. Their clock is the sun and the moon, and their lives are dictated by what Mother Nature. Wednesday, in the middle of May, isn't the same for them every year because Mother Nature may have thrown something at them two weeks earlier that affects their whole biological clock. Having that understanding of both big game and fish gives you a different outlook on how to pursue both of them."
Palaniuk compares the movement of bass throughout their seasonal cycles — pre-spawn, spawn, post-spawn, etc. — to that of deer or elk through late summer, fall and winter, as their feeding, bedding, movement and breeding habits change.
"Almost everything you do as a hunter or a fisherman is based off seasonal patterns," Palaniuk said. "Those patterns are the first things to look at to get a starting point of 'This is what they should be doing.' If it's during the rut or during the spawn, you know that a mule deer or a bass will be looking for different things than they would be in late winter; that gives you a base. From there, you look at the current conditions and try to figure out how those animals will adapt to those conditions, and then make your decisions on how you approach them."
HUNTING FOR GAME, BIG BASS
The weatherman has called for a late-December deep freeze, and MLF Cup veteran Brent Chapman is faced with a serious quandary: to rig a bass boat, or to hunt?
Chapman, the 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year and a member of the Million Dollar Club with nearly $2 million in tournament earnings, has just six days left in the Kansas archery season, but precious little free time to hunt as he prepares his boat, motor, tackle and RV for the upcoming tournament-season opener.
"They're calling for daytime highs in the teens and 20's this week — pretty frigid, but I'm running out of time," Chapman said. "This is just so similar to tournament fishing, especially the mental aspect of it. It's been unseasonably warm here, which has made the hunting pretty tough, but now we have this severe cold at the very end of the season; it's like waiting for the weather to change at a tournament to make the big ones start biting. Many a tournament day has turned around in the last few hours, where persistence paid off, and it's no different when you're bowhunting."
Chapman, who grew up hunting whitetails, ducks and upland game in eastern Kansas, was seized by the archery bug in his mid-20's and now hunts exclusively with a bow. Very successfully, too, having fostered a thriving whitetail population on the family's hunting property near Lake Quivara, Kan., and has killed multiple 160-inch-plus bucks. Now 300-plus tour-level tournaments into his career, Chapman sees many similarities between tournament competition and bowhunting.
"The correlation is so exact," Chapman confirmed. "You have to be aware of the smallest little details; everything has to be in top-notch working order, and if you try to cut a corner, you're going to pay the price. If you think you need to sharpen a hook or retie during a tournament and you don't do it, that next moment you found that you really should have because you end up losing a fish. Same with bowhunting. If you have 99 out of 100 things right, that one little detail you missed will haunt you in the moment of truth, with the big buck standing there 20 yards away."
It's not just in the mechanics and the attention to the tools. Chapman views the processes by which he locates game and fish very similarly, comparing the bathymetry of a bass lake to the geography of deer property.
"If you're pursuing game, be it ducks, deer, bass or whatever, all of them are relating to cover, contour and edges," Chapman said. "I might chase fish nine months a year, paying close attention to cover and structure, but when I hunt, I'm basically doing the same thing. I'm studying maps and terrain, trying to find edges or paths that deer might use. When you're fishing, you're actually hunting, if you really think about it."
Q&A with Brandon Palaniuk