Mental break paid big dividends for Canadian pro fisher Cooper Gallant

He spent hundreds of hours driving his truck and boat trying to qualify for the Elite Series but it was 10 minutes of reflection that ultimately allowed Canadian Cooper Gallant to break into bass fishing's top circuit.

Gallant, of Bowmanville, Ont., punched his ticket with a 14th-place effort in last month's Southern Open event on South Carolina's Lake Hartwell. Gallant, who stood tied for 39th after the first day of competition, finished third in the overall Southern standings to qualify as the top-thee anglers earned '23 Elite Series spots.

Gallant's qualification came in the second-last tournament of his season.

And that was the culmination of a lifelong dream for Gallant, who decided to fish all nine events (three Southern, three Central and three Northern) to maximize his chances of qualifying for the Elite Series. It was huge undertaking as all tournaments were in the U.S. and ran from February until October.

Gallant documented his Elite Series quest in a video series dubbed, “The Elite Series CHASE," reviewing each and every tournament. In the episode following the Hartwell event, Gallant, 24, divulged he hit a serious wall during practice after failing to get any consistent bites over four days and thus create a credible game plan.

"I wasn't figuring anything out," Gallant said in a telephone interview. "I wasn't getting many bites and when I did get bit, it was small.

"It got to the point where I was spinning out. Everything I did didn't feel right, every cast I made I had zero confidence … my head just wasn't in it like it usually is."

So Gallant put his rod down, sat in the driver's seat of his boat, took a deep breath and began taking stock of the situation.

"I looked around on my graph and just literally sat there for 10 minutes just to chill and get my head back in it," Gallant said. "I don't spin out, I'm usually pretty good but for whatever reason … nothing felt right.

"I told myself I needed to sit down and take a breather which I've never done in my life."

After some reflection, Gallant began tying different baits to four separate rods. Ten minutes later using one of the new presentations (an XZone Deception worm on a shaky head jig) he hooked a fish. Then another and another.

Over the final two hours of practice, Gallant got bit eight times. He followed up with 14 bites using the same presentation the following day — the last practice session — for some much-needed confidence entering the tournament.

"That first one gave me the biggest boost of confidence, it was crazy," Gallant said. "I went from having zero confidence and my head being completely out of it to a half-hour later having the most confidence and feeling right back in the game."

And once the competition began, Gallant stuck with the worm/shaky head combination and it ultimately netted him an Elite Series berth. All because of taking time to decompress, calm down and re-evaluate.

"I basically just told myself, 'I'm going to go out with an open mind, I'm going to pretend I've never fished this lake before,'" Gallant said. "I was going to attack it again with a fresh mind and get back in it and that's what I did.

"I've always thought tournament fishing is 70 per cent mental. Obviously you need to know how to catch them, you need to know how to fish … but if your head is not in it, it doesn't matter. You won't catch them unless you're casting into a pond full of 300 bass."

Often in heavily-fished areas, the most subtle changes in presentation can result in more bites. And while it's a time-tested and popular axiom, it can sometimes be forgotten in times of struggle.

The reaffirmation, though, came at a good time for Gallant, given what lies ahead in 2023.

"That's what is so crazy about fishing," he said. "You can be in the winning area and if you're not catching them, you can make that tiny little adjustment and all of a sudden start wailing on them.

"I just wasn't fishing it properly, they wanted something on bottom. Sometimes you've just got to chill and relax. I went from having zero confidence and my head being completely out of it to having the most confidence and being back in the game in the matter of half an hour, just from making a tiny little adjustment."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 14, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press