In psychological terms, meta-knowledge is the ability to assess the quality of one's own knowledge. It's a measure of self-awareness that makes a huge difference in every facet of life, including things as mundane as fishing.
For big bass anglers, meta-knowledge is the true coin of the realm. It's currency with a priceless value.
Just being able to accurately and honestly assess what you've got going – free of any self-delusion – is powerful stuff indeed. Instead of functioning on pure supposition or guesswork, you follow the invisible guideposts that separate good anglers from average ones and great fishermen from everyone else.
But how does anyone get to this level? For most, it probably seems like a magical mystery tour that only the insanely talented (like Kevin VanDam) can ever hope to experience. Not so.
Meta-knowledge is a concept upon which the BBZ philosophy is based and, as we've always insisted, it's all about technique. In other words, you have to use a methodical approach to get there - one that starts at the baseline of top-middle-bottom.
Even in the spring. It's not about depth, it's about top-middle-bottom: i.e. Where in the water column are the fish most aggressive?
Granted, an experienced angler can ignore some key structure in the spring and leapfrog to those areas most likely to hold fish. For instance, if a quick scan of the shallows doesn't uncover many bass, an angler can take two steps back - past the secondary points - to begin the real search over long, tapering points leading into spawning areas.
For some fisherman – those with an inordinate amount of restraint – this is where the spring search always begins. They know – without feeling compelled to go shallow - that some fish are up and will be easy to locate. What they're really looking for is the exact section of the water column where bass are most active.
Often fish will be on the bottom regardless of the zone. For instance, a bass in 10 feet or shallower will be hugging the bottom just as a fish will be doing at 20 feet out on the first break. A rush to the shallows may not alert you to this fact.
Moreover, in skinny water, your sonar may be more a hindrance than a help, leaving only your eyes for confirmation. This is not the best strategy.
You need to know where in the water column fish want to be. Off the long tapering points, this can be quickly determined. The same is true over secondary points. By the time you move back to the shallows, you've already got a pretty good idea of where these fish want to be in terms of top-middle-bottom.
By now, your meta-knowledge is fairly complete – with one exception. If the fish are truly locked on beds, you will get your but handed to you if you stay outside and throw big baits. In these circumstances, a skilled bed-fishermen will carry the day.
Fortunately, catch rates and tournament statistics should make you worry less about missing epic bed-fishing action. It just doesn't happen as often as some might contend. After all, if bed-fishing were that much of a lead-pipe cinch, everyone would have a 10-pounder or teen fish on their resume.
For the BBZ fisherman – armed with meta-knowledge – wind is what you pray for.
The point here is that you should know what you might be missing. It's not the first place to start your spring search, but it shouldn't be ignored either.
The other thing to consider is that even the prospect of superb bed-fishing can be erased in seconds by wind. When this happens, the sight guys are all but dead. Their only option is to somehow access the same fish through different methods. This is usually when you see limits, weights and big-bass numbers plummet.
For the BBZ fisherman – armed with meta-knowledge – wind is what you pray for. Not only because it eliminates bed-fish, but because it opens the doors to real opportunity – staging fish on big baits.
Although more people are talking big these days, 99.9% are woefully unprepared to take advantage of a true BBZ strategy. If they think about top-middle-bottom at all, it's only in vague terms.
But for those who aren't waiting for epic moments to happen, but want to create them, it's all about defining the zone in spring and then isolating what the fish want within that zone.
It's just that easy. Why don't more anglers do it? Because they want to throw swimbaits, not think with them.