The Intuitive Angler - Sean Manning

Using both your left and right brain to fish in ‘The Zone’ - with Sean Manning

American Carp Society, Sean Manning, Wayne Boon, ACS, carp, techniques, technicalThere are those anglers in the world that always seem to catch the bigger fish…consistently. So is it all down to luck? I don’t think so…I’ve often heard people talk about ‘luck’ in regards to carp angling… but have never really thought that this had much bearing on those successful anglers that seem to just catch bigger fish. Now, luck obviously does come into play on the odd occasion for some, but for consistent results, it may be worth looking deeper into what these anglers actually ‘do’ that is different. 

I thought that it would be interesting to look at the characteristics of those anglers who consistently produce results on the bank, to determine what exactly it is that they ‘do,’ or how they ‘think’, that differentiates them from ‘the crowd,’ and maybe take a look into their process to determine whether it can be emulated by others. Based on my experiences, I can honestly say that there are some similarities that are more than coincidental amongst those that excel in their chosen field…especially those that require some kind of ‘art form’ and right brain functionality in conjunction with a more traditional, ‘left brained’ or analytical approach.

For these thoughts to make sense, we need to start by understanding how the human brain processes information. Being a lifelong student of the human brain and its function, it has become clear to me that those who reach any level of achievement and proficiency above and beyond the ‘norm’ actually think on a different ‘plane’ or ‘level’ to the rest. The top carp anglers are no different.

It is with this in mind that I think we need to look into the thought process of a top carp angler and how they pull from both their ‘left’ and ‘right’ parts of the brain, at various times throughout a carp angling session, to ultimately reach a ‘connection’ with the water that they are fishing. Though it may ‘look easy’ watching one of these guys fish, there has usually been a great deal of time, preparation, thought and execution, both away from the bank and during the session, that they have invested to achieve the level of consistent results in their angling. Think about watching Michael Jordan play basketball or Tiger Woods play golf – they make it look so easy….and then think of the time, dedication and hours of work that they put into the preparation before they even arrived at the game or the event.

In general, the left and right hemispheres of our brain process information in different ways. We tend to take the information and break it down from whichever is our dominant side. We are either naturally left or right brain inclined… however I have seen a consistency within successful anglers that utilize both sides of their brain, equally, within their carp angling to a point where they can finally function completely within their ‘right’ brain and ‘feel’ what they are doing through instinct by being almost ‘at one’ with the water.

Now let’s take a look at this in regards to the ‘art’ of angling and those anglers that are successful in both targeting and catching those big carp. How exactly do their minds work? What goes on in the head of a great angler….before they even reach the venue?

The Left Brain Process

The left side of the brain is understood to be the analytical, more structured and detail-oriented side of the brain. The ‘left’ brain work of an angler can start weeks before they even approach the water or the given session.  This involves thinking about the variables: water temperature, barometric pressure, wind direction, bait to be used, bait to be prepared, rigs to be used, rigs to be tied, the possible baiting campaign to be executed, and the actual location of fish and other tackle preparation. Again, this is all before they actually set foot at the lake!

Now let's also approach this as a new body of water that the angler hasn’t fished previously. If it’s possible, a session without rods, to take the time to explore, is invaluable. This takes some left brain thinking if undertaken, and some discipline…it is indeed hard to take time at a given water and not want to cast a line! Whether you are using a marker rod or a boat with a fish finder on a large body of water, some calculation and exploratory work needs to be done to yield the best results from the time that you actually spend fishing with your baits in the water. Some of the world’s best spend days at the water just watching before they even wet a line.

Many will take the time to map out a swim after spending hours with a marker road or such, trying to find the contours of the lake or body of water that will be fished. Feeding areas and likely patrol routes of the fish may also be identified (carp are creatures of habit, just like human beings, and fall into repetitive patterns). Learning these patrol routes will help in being able to locate the fish during various times of the session. This can take time to do, but once achieved, can yield some consistently successful angling sessions. They’re not just swimming around randomly without reason!

Let’s face it…it may look wonderful from above the water, but your swim may be a different scenario in the depths. It’s imperative to know what’s going on under there…because after all, that’s where the carp live! Where are they? What is the natural food source in the lake? Ask yourself questions…and lots of them. Again, this is all ‘left brain’ thinking and work that needs to be done to get the necessary answers to the questions that need to be asked!

This information is all processed away in the old cerebrum and is drawn upon at a later date. Those that take the time to put the work in, over the years, do develop a great sense of ‘watercraft’…the term used for an angler being able to ‘read’ the water.

The detail and meticulous accuracy that a good angler employs with his rigs, bait preparation and presentation should not be overlooked. There is a great deal of thought put into this, though while bank side, it may seem that the angler is just quickly tying up another rig and casting it out…there’s usually a bit more thought behind it than that. The choices to be made are many. The wrong choices won’t yield the trophy fish and the right choices will…it’s not luck. Once maybe…but consistently…definitely not luck! Again, this attention to detail and thought is all your ‘left brain’ work.

The more ‘left brain’ work that is done before a session, the more successful the actual session may be because the angler will, when fishing, be able to rely totally on their ‘right brain’ functionality or ‘instinct’ and won’t be sidetracked with questions that should have been previously asked and answered. Sound like a bunch of mumbo jumbo? Think about it….those anglers that can just ‘show up’ and catch a big fish in a short space of time are using all of their available resources from experience and past ‘left brain’ work to analyze the water (watercraft) and ‘feel’ where the fish will be in a very short period of time, ultimately making the correct choice to maximize their results for the time they put in on the session. They have also learned to observe, listen and understand their surroundings. The great anglers have worked at their craft and have put in many hours bank side with some sweat and left brain work to achieve the almost ‘easy’ or ‘casual’ manner in which they approach things.

I had a conversation with Jon Bannister, Editor of Carp Addict, in the UK last summer where he explained to me a session he was on with the great English carp angler, Terry Hearn. Jon explained that he was talking and interviewing Terry on the session at a lake and they were just sitting bank side at a swim. Terry’s rods were not in the water and he was watching and observing for fish movement whilst talking with Jon. About 2 hours into the interview, he cast a rod to a spot about 70 yards, and within 15 minutes had a 38lb+ mirror on the bank.

“There’s a reason why the guy is a world class angler,” mentioned Jon…. “he’s watching and thinking all the time.”

A great angler is a thinking angler. They make ‘battlefield corrections’ when necessary on a session and do whatever it takes to get to the fish. If it means changing tactics from fishing a bait on the bottom to using a float or surface feeding, relocating swims because the wind has moved and so have the fish, taking a rod and stalking the fish in the shallows…. then that’s what they will do.

The Right Brain Process

Those anglers that consistently catch bigger fish usually spend more time at the water than others less fortunate. The more time bank side, the more time the angler spends in the natural surroundings of the fish; watching, learning and listening to what surrounds them…eventually ‘thinking’ like a carp if you will. Being able to mentally be in the place to rely upon instincts is a wonderful thing. It cannot be faked either. When you are there, you can do no wrong, and when you are not there…you will know it!

When an angler is working purely from their ‘right brain’ process, they are creative and ‘feeling’ everything because the right side of the brain is understood to be more creative, random and free thinking. This comes from a great deal of experience and having taken care of all the ‘left brain’ business previously. It can get to a point where you can literally ‘feel’ the next run before it occurs. It is indeed a magical experience (I’m fortunate enough to have experienced it in the past, though not fortunate enough for it to have been within a year or so!). The example given earlier with Terry Hearn was one of an angler being so ‘in tune’ with his surroundings and water (because of previous left brained work), that he was able to rely purely on instincts. 

The Zone

When fishing in ‘the zone’, the right brain is not really analyzing or thinking about anything…it is just ‘feeling’ the information, for want of a better term. You are in fact, at this point, taking the immediate information surrounding you; sights, sounds, etc and purely ‘acting’ upon it in a free- form, creative manner using your previous experience and skills to fish for the carp. You are ‘in tune’ with the water and everything about your senses will be heightened. You will be thinking and experiencing things on a completely different plane. This is where it all ‘comes together’ in a session, and for those magical moments, everything is right with the world. This is when you will catch the carp.

Reaching ‘the zone’ is the ultimate quest on a session, for at this point, you are at your very best as an angler and will appreciate everything that the water and the fish has to offer you. The time that we spend on the bank is precious and so should be maximized for both enjoyment and reward. Reaching the ‘zone’ will achieve this for the angler. Getting there does take some work however, so be prepared to put that work in.

Remember that it wasn’t always that easy for Tiger Woods either!


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