A Beginners Crash Course in Back Deck Bassin
By George Copple
If you are like me and fish bass tournaments, there will come a time in your career when you ask yourself, “Should I take this to the next level?” You are in contention to win every one of your local club tournaments, you have just qualified for all of the TOC’s and Classics from the regional team tournaments you fish, but, not so fast buddy, are you ready to step up to the big league and fish against guys like Shaun Bailey, Gary Dobyns, Mike Folkstad, Jimmy Reese, Justin Kerr and Matt Newman? Some people jump too early and get in over their heads not knowing what it takes to be successful at the pro level. There is a solution though…fish from the back-deck! Fishing as a co-angler or AAA in Pro/Am tournaments will offer you a wealth of knowledge from some of the top pro’s in the country. In order to get the most out of your experience, not only do you want to be prepared in all aspects of fishing but you also need to know were to start. Following are the steps I took when I first considered fishing from the back deck.
Shared vs. Individual
There are two types of Pro/Am tournaments to choose from, the shared-weight or the individual-weight format. In the shared-weight events, a co-angler is paired up with a different pro each day. The pro and co-angler work together as a team to bring in the biggest 5 bass limit they can. In an individual-weight format, the co-angler is once again paired with a different pro for each day, but instead of working as a team the pro and co-angler keep their catch and weight separate, their results based solely on the catch of the individual. Your ability and competitiveness will determine which one you prefer. If you are almost ready to make the jump to the pro side, you should probably fish in the individual-weight events, but if you have less experience than that, or if you’re in it more for the fun, then you would probably enjoy the shared-weight events.
Choosing a Tournament Trail
Once you’ve decided which type of event is best for you, it’s time to pick a tournament circuit to fish. This will be based on your preferences and limitations. For example, the FLW Stren events are four days long and range from Lake Shasta in northern California to Lake Havasu, AZ. Your budget and vacation time will be the biggest factors here. There are regional Pro/Am trails such as Won Bass which have northern and southern (California) trails, these give you the opportunity to fish closer to home and are weekend tournaments so you won’t have to use vacation time from work. You should also consider entry fee’s, how much are you willing to spend to fish, and will you be able to afford a trip to Louisiana or Tennessee for the year-end championship or would you rather stay close to home? Once again, the decision is here solely up to you and the answer will be different for each person due to individual factors.
Okay, so we have the type of tournament and the series we are going to fish, lets get down to business. Travel accommodations are one of the most overlooked aspects of fishing away from your local lake. In any tournament you enter at this level there will be host-hotel, this hotel has an arrangement with the organizers of your tournament guaranteeing a certain amount of rooms at a discounted price. This is usually where the partner pairings take place and where the staff of the organization will be staying. These are usually the safest places to stay. They are typically reasonably priced and clean. I have heard of nightmare hotels people have stayed at trying to get a good deal and save a few bucks, don’t go there!
Cool, your hotel is booked, now what? Get on the internet and download directions to your hotel and print out a paper set even if you have GPS in your vehicle, you never know when you’ll need them. With high gas prices and our slow economy you may need help with costs and a travel partner is the solution. Travel partners are usually easy to find, in most cases someone you know is fishing the same event, approach them. If none of you friends are fishing the event, again, use the web. There are so many chat rooms and fishing sites that finding a partner shouldn’t be a problem. Don’t be afraid to as a pro if they need a travel/practice partner. Many pro’s travel alone and would love to have someone to split costs with and to have a pre-fish partner, this is a great opportunity to make new friends. Travelling and fishing with a pro gives you the added advantage of his tournament experience which will help you along the way. No matter how you look at it, it’s a lot easier than going it alone.
Type of tournament…check…Travel plans…check. Now, here are some “never leave home with out it” items. You need to bring a change of clothes for each day. Polarized sunglasses are a necessity, not a luxury; there are sunglasses out there from $25 to $300, a pair for anyone’s budget. I wear Eye Surrender Sunglasses anytime I am on the water. Sunglasses eliminate glare so you can see cover and fish better and they are a safety device protecting your eyes from harmful UV rays and flying hooks and weights, nobody wants a treble hook in the eye-ball! Then there’s rain gear, I always take at least one waterproof shell with me, even if its August and 115 degrees at Lake Havasu, you never know when a storm will roll in. Rain and big waves can come on in the blink of an eye, and it’s not fun being wet no matter how hot it is outside. Most importantly, pack your sun block and a good quality life jacket and use both! You will need directions from the hotel to the launch unless the ramp is there. You will also need your hotel confirmation number as well as your tournament registration information.
Tournament Registration/Partner Pairings
Almost done, you just need to make it through the registration and partner pairings and you’re ready to fish. At the registration, have all your information ready to go. You will be asked for a cell phone number, hotel/room numbers and in some cases you will need to show them your membership card. Typically, this is also where you will pay your entry fee and for the options (i.e. big fish, top five etc.). After registration, you hit all of the sponsor booths and pick up some free goodies, then its time for the partner pairings and pre-tournament meeting.
During the pre-tournament meeting the tournament director (TD) is going to give you vital information so you need to make sure to have pen or pencil and a notepad. The TD will give you the basic rules you are to abide by, throw out some sponsor info and then give you other important information such as: official tournament time, this is the time that everything will be based on during the entire tournament and emergency contact information, this is usually the TD’s phone number. Blast-off and check in times are usually covered at this meeting. Blast-off time is when the first boat number will be called each morning, there are usually about 20-25 boats per flight and they are usually due back in 10 min. intervals (i.e. 1st flight due in at 3pm, 2nd flight due in at 3:10 etc.).
During the meeting, the tournament director will assign partners, it will sound like this: “First flight, boat #1- Pro Angler X and Co-Angler Z”. When you hear your name called, you need to write down your pro’s name, flight and boat number. You will then be asked to go to the designated area to meet with your partner for the next day. In some trails you will meet with both your first and second day partners at this pairing, in some cases you will have to wait until after the weigh in the meet your next partner. All of these details will be covered by the tournament director. Here are some important topics to discuss with your partner: 1. When and where to meet. 2. What style of fishing he expects to do tomorrow? (power, finesse, flipping etc.). 3. How much space will I have (this will dictate how much stuff you can bring). 4. What will I need to bring? (this can be anything from certain lures to food and drinks etc. just a general question). 5. Most importantly, get his cell phone number! Now you’re set!
Getting Ready for Game Time!
Now that you know how you are going to fish, you can plan your attack. If you are in a shared weight then the pro will basically tell you what to bring and what not to bring. If it is an individual weight format, you are more on your own. In this case, you are looking for confidence baits that will co-exist with what your pro has planned. For example, your pro tells you “there is a good reaction bite going, we are going to fish fast and cover lots of water”. This would tell me to stock up on my rip baits, cranks, spinner baits, top waters and heavy jigs, basically anything I can throw and keep up with the boat and still have confidence in. I usually take 5-6 rods. I bring a flipping stick, drop shot rod and a few other rods that are versatile. As for tackle, I take a duffle bag that can carry around 5-6 Plano tackle boxes. To conserve space I will put my plastics in gallon size zip-lock baggies separated by type of baits (i.e. senkos, drop shot baits, flipping baits etc.).
Making a checklist helps, mine includes: bottled water, food, goggles, life jacket, sunglasses, sun-block, needle-nose pliers and culling tools like a scale and beam balance.
When you meet your pro in the morning a few things should be settled. The first is how fish are to be netted. Netting fish is really important at tournaments, there’s a lot on the line! Everyone has a specific way they like fish netted and believe me, you don’t want to be the guy holding the net when that 5 pounder comes unbuttoned at the boat. You want to pay your share of gas money in the morning, you’re fishing in his boat, you should pay your fair share. Ask where your tackle and rods can be stored and make sure you keep everything there throughout the day. Time is extremely limited, especially if there is a long run you are going to make, so keeping your stuff organized will save you time and ultimately get you more bites. You can’t get bit if your bait isn’t in the water!
When it all comes down to it, the point of a venture like this is to have a good time. If you make sure you have everything you need for the day and communicate effectively with your pro, everything should go smoothly and both of you will have a great time. Shared-weight or individual-weight, remember, you are there to learn (and have fun!). Be like a sponge and absorb all of the knowledge you can. How do the pros prepare? How did he approach a particular type of cover or structure? How did they react to changing weather? Pick the guy’s brain apart, most are more willing to share why they are doing what they are doing. The most important thing is to learn something every day, and don’t forget, there’s plenty to gain even from a bad day on the water. I hope this helps you make the transition from team angler to fishing the draws. I’ll see you on the water.
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George is a 2007 FLW Stren Championship Qualifier, four time TOC qualifier along with seven recent top ten tournament finishes