UPCOMING EVENT: T-H Marine BFL - 2017 - Old Hickory Lake

Dudley the closer: Part 1

The reigning FLW Tour Angler of the Year and FLW Outdoors leading money winner, David Dudley, is one of professional bass fishing's best closers

Anyone who has been around the sport of professional fishing for a long time probably has a "Dudley story."

A Dudley story is any tale that involves well-known pro David Dudley of Lynchburg, Va., and the very peculiar ways he goes about his professional fishing career.

Perhaps one of the best examples of a Dudley story comes from legendary pro Rick Clunn, who happened upon a young and stranded David Dudley while practicing for a tournament on the James River many years ago.

"David had run out of gas in the middle of the river," Clunn recalled. "I offered to take him to a nearby marina (about four or five miles away), but he insisted that I just tow him over to the bank. There was a big farm up on the bank, and someone was running some kind of machinery up there."

As requested, Clunn towed Dudley to the bank, and Dudley scurried up the bank and out of sight.

"David had a co-angler practicing with him who stayed with the boat," Clunn continued. "But I decided to hang around a minute or two just to make sure these guys could get some gas."

It was then that Dudley's practice partner confided in Clunn that this had been the third time Dudley had run out of gas during practice.

"At first I was a little surprised by that," Clunn said. "I mean, how could you run out of gas that many times?"

Clunn's question was soon answered as Dudley came bounding down the hill with a 5-gallon gas can, half full of gas.

As Dudley poured the gas in his boat, he explained that the farmer spared him a couple of gallons of gas.

Clunn then recommended that Dudley use his precious little bit of gas to run back down to the marina where he could completely fill up his tanks.

"He replied, `Yeah, I'll do that, but first there's a spot I want to fish just up the river,'" Clunn added with a laugh. "And then he took off and headed upriver away from the only marina in the area. I knew then that Dudley was a different kind of person; he was so focused on finding fish that he had little concern for his gas situation - and there's a part of me that admires such determination."

As a side note, Dudley won that tournament.

Over the years, Dudley's idiosyncratic ways of doing business are still evident. Recently, one of his co-anglers, who fished with him at the Detroit River, related how Dudley did not bother to use a waterproof rain suit for a tortuous ride back across Lake Erie.

Before the two anglers made the long run back amid 5-foot and 6-foot waves, his co-angler suited up in a rain suit to keep dry. Dudley, however, simply jumped overboard in Erie's chilly 72-degree waters, climbed back aboard, put on his lifejacket and boldly announced, "I don't need a rain suit now! I'm already wet, so it doesn't matter!" And with that, he took off across Erie, laughing at every wave that blasted over the gunnel.

Later that day he was confirmed the winner of the 2008 FLW Tour Angler of the Year award.

Several years ago, I experienced a Dudley story firsthand when I drew him in an FLW event on Beaver Lake, and we ran out of oil because he did not fill the reservoir the night before.

"I didn't put any oil in last night because I didn't think we'd be running this far," he said after the low-oil alarm started screeching and the engine's automatic throttle-down feature would not let us get on plane. "And I don't even have any spare oil anywhere in the boat."

Fortunately, Terry Segraves happened along and loaned us a gallon of oil.

But what shocked me more than the oil shortage was when Dudley picked up an old spinning rod and two of the ceramic inserts that go in the rod guides popped out. With every cast he made, the ceramic inserts would ride the line and clatter together, yet he kept on fishing as if nothing were wrong.

I figured the first hook set he made would break the light line without the critical ring inserts in the rod guides. After he boated several keepers on the ancient spinning rod, I suddenly realized that in my lifetime I had spent way too much time worrying about insignificant details in fishing.Starting in 2002, David Dudley began to prove that he was a closer in big money events when he won the M1 tournament on the Mobile, Delta.

While such Dudley stories are amusing, they tend to leave the listener scratching their heads and asking: So is this the same guy who has won all that money in professional bass fishing?

Yes, that would be him: David Dudley, past winner of the Forrest Wood Cup ($500,000), the Ranger Millennium ($700,000), an FLW Tour event ($125,000), an FLW Series event ($125,000) and a Stren Series event ($45,000), all in the last six years.

The same David Dudley who still stands as FLW Outdoors leading money winner, with current winnings at $2,344,307, which does not include the $250,000 he won in BASS competition in previous years.

And that would be the same David Dudley who managed to pull down a Land O'Lakes FLW Tour Angler of the Year title this year in a season-ending shocker when he came from fifth place in the AOY race (86 points back) to claim his first Angler of the Year title by a single point.

In short, Dudley is a closer in the sport of professional bass fishing. When the big money or titles are on the line, he can come through with the clutch play and realize victory.

Dudley's fishing success alone is enough to spark curiosity about his winning ways, but factor in his seeming disregard for the minor details in tournament fishing - like gas and oil for the boat, functioning rod guides, and rain gear - and his success becomes even more perplexing.

Trying to rationalize why David Dudley is such a phenomenal bass angler is like trying to rationalize why Keith Richards is such a good guitar player or why Michael Jordan is such a great basketball player.

For many people fishing is a learned skill that takes thousands of hours of trial and error to acquire. But for a select few, fishing is a gift that comes naturally: They inherently understand things about fish, much in the same way Manny Ramirez knows where a baseball is going before the baseball does.

In the ranks of professional bass fishing, there are a handful of pros who share this undeniable gift, putting them in a league of their own. And while it could be endlessly argued who is part of this upper echelon of gifted pros, be assured that David Dudley is one of them.

Many times, however, pros who possess this inherent knowledge cannot readily verbalize why they do what they do on the water. Some things come so naturally to them while fishing that they do not see any need to explain them.

For this particular feature article at FLWOutdoors.com, Castrol pro David Dudley sat down for several hours and made a concerted effort to describe something many bass anglers, at all levels, would like to know: What is going on inside his head during a tournament that makes him a closer?

And what he came up with is pretty insightful, starting with his thoughts on the importance of instincts in the realm of tournament fishing.

What follows is Part 1 of an in-depth look at one of the most captivating minds in the sport of professional bass fishing:

In 2003 David Dudley won yet another huge sum of money in the Forrest Wood Cup on the James River."What's going through my head is probably not that important," Dudley began his interview with a laugh. "It's what is going through my gut and how my head reacts to it - that's what we should probably talk about first. Fishing is all about instincts, especially at the top level of professional tournament fishing; the best pros out here know how to trust their gut feelings."

By the way, if you are in the market for some great fishing instincts, you cannot exactly buy them in bulk at the tackle shop like plastic worms.

"You can't really teach instincts," Dudley offered. "They have to be awakened and nurtured over time with trust. Trusting your instincts and gaining confidence in them is what allows them to grow. When you get a gut feeling about something, whether it be a lure, color, different location, or whatever, you should go out of your way to appease that hunch, because that's how you gain trust in what your gut is telling you. Trumping your instincts only stunts their growth, making the decision-making process a real struggle."

Dudley then paused and tried his description of instincts from a different tack.

"Competitive bass fishing is basically a million decisions that have to be made in a day," he continued. "Should I start here or there? Should I fish the docks or the lay-downs? Should I use a crankbait or spinnerbait? Should I use white or chartreuse? Should I move now or give this place 10 more minutes? It's like a decision per second, and if you make better decisions than everyone else during the course of the day, then you do well.

"But here's my point: Pure instincts are there to help you make those decisions, second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour."

Dudley contends that pros who are "in the zone," whether it be for a day, a tournament or an entire season, are letting instincts run the show in the decision-making department, and one good decision naturally leads to another good decision, which leads to another great decision, and so on.

"It's a process that builds on itself," Dudley described. "But in order to make it work, you have to trust your gut completely and carry out what it's telling you to do. If you follow through with a gut feeling and it's a success, not only is your decision the right one, but the real bonus is that your instinct grows, leading you to the next right decision, and it completely feeds off itself. Pretty soon you're making the right decisions on autopilot, which is the best way I can describe being `in the zone' - good decisions come naturally."

As for advice on getting the pump primed for intuitive decision making, Dudley notes that his best fishing days are built on the smallest of decisions early in the day.

"Take something as simple as lure choice on your first stop of the day," he explained. "You look down on your deck, and you see a crankbait and a spinnerbait. Your gut might say, Spinnerbait! And the first thing your head is going to do is try to reason why that will not work: It's too sunny, or there is not enough wind. But if you go with your gut and catch a fish immediately on the spinnerbait, then your instincts gain momentum, and the next decision becomes a little easier. Pretty soon bigger decisions, like when and where to move to, are being answered naturally."

However, hampering those gut feelings in any way, shape or form can be detrimental to the whole intuitive process.AOY David Dudley has a little fun with his new trophy, balancing it on his head.

"The most critical part of what I'm trying to explain here is that you can't box in your instincts," Dudley suggested. "As soon as you cut off, or box in, those gut feelings, they'll draw up, like a turtle hiding in its shell. And then it's even more difficult to get them going again."

He returns to the example of which lure to start with on tournament day to further illustrate his point.

"Let's say your first instinct was to throw the spinnerbait, but instead you listened to your head and threw the shallow-running crankbait and caught a fish on that," Dudley suggested. "Now some anglers might argue that both lures would have produced the first keeper, so it did not matter. And for the most part, that's true. Except, catching the first fish on the spinnerbait is the choice that would have rewarded your instincts and kind of got the instinctual juices flowing. Catching a fish on the crankbait produced the same result in the livewell, but it trumped your gut, and now that instinctual process has been stopped.

"So if you ask me, `What's the best lure to throw here?' I'm going to throw the lure that feels right because I have to give those gut feelings a chance to grow."

The hardest situations Dudley deals with on the water are when his intuitive impulses cannot be accommodated due to situations beyond his control, and as a result, his instincts get hampered.

His primary example of this is having a gut notion to move to another location only to find another boat already on it.

"Your gut gives you the cue, you try to act on it, but when you get there, you can't follow through and gratify those instincts because someone is already there," he explained.

"And, depending on the situation, that's where the brain, mental toughness and determination come into play," he added. "If there are 6-footers out on Lake Erie and that's where your gut wants to go, you've got to have the mental focus and determination to get there - with or without a rain suit.

"If your fuel gauge is on empty, but your gut wants to keep going up the river, that's what you have to do," he laughed after being reminded of the Clunn incident.

"If your gut wants to try an oxbow off the river and when you get there you discover giant, fallen trees blocking the entrance to the oxbow, then guess what?" Dudley questioned. "It's now up to your brain and raw determination to find a way to get in there."

(Note: Dudley's reference to the above scenario is how he won the Ranger Millennium tournament in 2002. The river oxbow he wanted to fish on the Mobile Delta was blocked by fallen trees, and he spent much of his time in the tournament sawing the trees out. His first attempts at sawing the trees during the first days of the tournament were unsuccessful. He returned on the last day of the tournament with a fresh chainsaw and got into the oxbow, where he caught 16 pounds to win the event)

In a way, it's as if Dudley sees his intuition as the quarterback or half-back of a football team, and his raw determination comprises the blockers, protecting and opening "holes" for his ball carrier to run through.

And therein lies some of the mad genius that is David Dudley: He will go to extraordinary lengths to accommodate and satisfy his intuition because he knows that's the path to foster even stronger intuition. And it at least partially explains why he pays little attention to rational and logical limitations like gas, oil, rain gear or rod guides.

"Am I saying that logical thinking is a failure in fishing, or that following your gut will lead to a big win every time?" Dudley questioned. "Nope. There are plenty of good tournament finishes made on rational and logical thinking.

"But if you want to know where the phenomenal performances in tournament fishing come from - they come from here, not necessarily here." he said, pointing to his gut and then his head. "And I'm not the only one. Ask anyone who has won a big tournament like the Forrest Wood Cup or the Bassmaster Classic, and I'll bet you most of them had reached that level where their instincts were calling the shots. They might describe it in a different way than I just did - what we're talking about here is very difficult to explain - but in the end, I think it's a very similar process."

In Part 2 of Dudley the closer, we will explore Dudley's new love affair with offshore cranking, his sporting inspirations and why he has turned over a new leaf when it comes to tackle organization.

Tags: rob-newell  article 

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