I f you’ve been thinking about trying your luck in bass tournament fishing, but have yet to take the leap, the time is ripe to get it done. Most circuits are gearing up for the 2018 tournament seasons, and some have already begun taking entries for upcoming events.
Although some circuits will take your money right up until tournament time, others require deposits months in advance in order to secure a spot on the roster. The outstanding balance is typically due a few weeks before the tournament gets underway.
Tournament fishing is huge in Texas. There are all sorts avenues for a beginning angler to get a taste of the sport. Events range from amateur big bass derbies, weekend bass club events, mid-level circuits such as Media and the TH Marine Bass Fishing League to Triple A venues including the Costa FLW Series and Bassmaster Opens.
Additionally, thousands of young anglers are now competing at the high school level under the umbrellas of the Student Angler Federation and B.A.S.S. Nation.
Don’t have a boat? No sweat. You can hook-up with a buddy who does and split the cost of a team entry fee. Furthermore, some circuits have co-angler divisions designed to offer non-boaters the opportunity to play the game for a fraction of the cost of competing on the pro level.
Fishing “Co-” also can be a good route for those who aren’t quite ready skill-wise to step to the front the boat or aren’t able to put in the practice time required to be a legitimate competitor at the upper level.
True, fishing from the back deck does come with some built-in handicaps. However, it’s a great avenue to learn the ropes of the sport, gain valuable fishing experience and cultivate lasting relationships with some really good folks who share like interests. You might even reel in a decent payday every now and then, if you play your cards right.
Here’s a crash course in fishing from the back deck:
Co-anglers are paired with pro partners before the tournament gets underway, usually by a random computer drawing held during the registration meeting that takes place the evening before blast off. During multi-day tournaments, co-anglers are paired with a different pro each day.
In FLW Costa Series and Bassmaster Opens the full field is guaranteed to the opportunity to fish for two days. The field cuts to the Top 10 or Top 12 pros and co-anglers during the final round. If you’re in fourth place after two days, you fish with the fourth-place pro on the final day.
The cost? It varies with the event and the amount of prize money on the line. Entry fee for top tier Triple A events typically runs anywhere from $425-$550 per event. You will be fishing for a top prize of around $25,000 to $30,000, which typically consists of a boat, cash or a combination of the two. Cash prizes paid farther down the line vary with the number of entries. Lower level, one-day events cost significantly less to enter with less prize money awarded.
As a co-angler you are entitled to fish from no place else other than the back deck. There are a passel of unwritten rules you are expected to abide by while you’re back there, too. Break one and a savvy pro will probably let you know about it. Remember, this isn’t a day on the water with your beer-drinking buddy back home.
First and foremost, always try get acquainted with your boater the night before the tournament, and try to get a feel for how he’ll be fishing. That way you’ll have a good idea about which lures and other gear to bring. Co-anglers are responsible for bringing their own rods, reels, baits and lifejackets.
Never, ever, cast your bait ahead of the boat or into a borderline area without asking first. It’s essential that you watch where the pro is casting and that you make every effort to avoid encroachment. A good rule of thumb is to never cast beyond the center point of the boat unless you are invited to do so.
In tournament fishing you are fishing against the clock. Some pros may hit more than a dozen different spots or areas during a day’s time, better known as a “milk run.” Always be ready to move at a moment’s notice. That means keeping rods and tackle ready to stow quickly and keeping your lifejacket at the ready.
Help your pro and he’ll more than likely return the favor. If he asks for your assistance in netting a fish, drop what you are doing immediately and get to the front of the boat. Just be sure not to land your size 12 across his $200 flipping’ stick in the process.
If you aren’t skilled with the net, it’s better to let the pro know ahead time of rather than let him find out the hard way. The same goes for unloading and loading the boat. If you aren’t accustomed to backing a trailer or pulling one, tell your guy in advance rather than get into a bind at the ramp or, worse yet, damage his rig.
A boat is no different from a pick-up. It costs money to run, and gasoline isn’t cheap. Always offer to help out with fuel money. Whenever I fish as a co-angler I always hand my pro $50 at the end of the day. It’s also a good idea to bring along plenty of snacks for two.
Always respect your pro’s boat. Don’t use the passenger seat as a stepping stool, and do your best to avoid getting hooks in the upholstery. Also, be sure to clean up your mess at the end of the day. That means bagging up used plastics, water bottles, discarded fishing line and other trash and taking it with you.
As earlier mentioned, fishing from the back deck comes with some built-in handicaps. The pro has the pick of the water and always has the first shot at the best spots. This can be disheartening when fishing around bushes, docks or other shallow targets, particularly when the guy on the front deck fishes with the proficiency of a vacuum cleaner.
The main key to being successful from the back deck is to learn to be versatile as possible and cover all the bases. In most cases it is never a good idea to try to duplicate exactly what the pro is doing.
If he’s throwing a football jig in open water, try dragging a Carolina rig. If he’s flipping a creature in willow bushes during the spawn, trying working a wacky worm or Senko along the outside edges, or letting one drag slowly in open water behind the boat.
Fishing as a co-angler can be enjoyable and valuable experience, especially if you get paired with a guy who has done his homework and doesn’t mind sharing his good fortune. You might just go home with a good paycheck to boot.
Email Matt Williams at
Email Matt Williams at [email protected]