No Boat, No Problem!
By Nick Ruiz
For those bass anglers that regularly find themselves fishing from the back of a friend's boat, or from the back platform of a boaters rig they drew in a tournament situation, they know all too well the difficulties associated with this arrangement. As a non boater, I can sympathize, as well as offer some advice on making the situation a little more bearable and hopefully, a little more productive too.
Quite possibly the most important step to being a successful back-seater is to approach the situation with the right mental attitude. Sad to say, many anglers, myself included, tend to approach the fact that they are a non-boater with the attitude of initial frustration, or self pity. On more occasions that I care to mention, I have obliterated any chances of my making a decent showing at the weigh stand well before I set foot on the back of anyone's boat, by approaching with a poor mental game. I find not only does this affect the attitude and perception of your boating partner, but also transmits down the line into the lure. An angler that has no confidence in their presentation, stands a snow-ball's chance in Hades of convincing a top predatory fish to accept a plastic imitation of its prey. The attitude I usually carry onto the back of the boat, now, especially in a tournament situation is that, assuming the partners boat is 20 feet long, the most I can be is 20 feet away from the same fish that he is catching. Which means that barring any major circumstances, there is no reason I can't catch the same fish he is on. With the mental game addressed, I would like to cover some of the actual physical things you can do to increase your productivity as a back-seat angler.
Think different. This phrase, many times is exactly my attitude towards bait selection. Rarely, will I throw the same exact bait as the guy up front, unless the bait he is throwing is an established winner for that weekend. To give an example, say the fish are holding at 15 feet, and the boater up front is throwing a crankbait. I might pick a different bait that is fishable at that depth. In that situation I would most likely pick a spinnerbait I could get down there. "Why," you ask. Simple laws of mathematics. Having two different baits down there significantly increases your chances of finding out what the fish prefer than if you have two of the same exact thing in front of them. And if one bait is showing promise, I may throw the same bait, but will most likely vary the color or size, just to test the water and see if I can expand the pattern that was discovered. Once again, let me say, I will do this provided that there is not a definite money bait that weekend. If there is, then I will by all means be slinging that right alongside the boater and hope for the best!
Another thing I hear non-boaters complaining about, again, myself included, is the perceived lack of space in the back of the boat. I say perceived, because that's exactly what it is, perceived. The very design on a bass boat alone makes it extremely fisherman friendly, with minimal obstructions to get in the way of casting as well as landing fish. Actually, one of the first things I do when I get on a partners boat, is to make a note of the lay out of that particular boat. As we all know, bass boats are for all intents and purposes are laid out pretty much the same, but a Ranger is not exactly the same as a Triton, and so on. I make note of railings, consoles, and other things that can get in the way of a cast as well as look for places that I can position myself to make the most of the amount of space I have on the back deck.
Actually, if you look at the lay out of the average bass boat, you realize that the casting space is divided about 50/50, with outward facing 180 degree "casting range arcs" to the front and back respectively. Many back-seaters I meet assume the guy up front can cast where ever he or she wants. I say not true. I have yet to meet a boater that can cast directly off the back of the boat and not catch significant flack from his draw partner about having several unwanted piercings. Non-boaters remember, just as you can not cast to certain places, the guy up front can't cast to certain places! I make the most of this fact. I try to figure out where the guy up front can't get his bait, and try to get mine there as much as I can. I like to think of this as "untouched" or "fresh" water. Many times I have caught fish out of little areas where the guy up front can't or is uncomfortable casting, which has garnered stares of disbelief and remarks such as "Where'd he come from, I just casted there." It's attention to detail like that, that makes life on the back platform a little more bearable.
Another thing I would like to talk about, which I also think is extremely important to being a non-boater, is the respect and care for the boaters' boat and property. I have seen on several occasions where there is a total lack of respect and care for the boat, where there is either fish attractant, or a drink spilled on a carpet, or where there are discarded soft plastics strewn about the deck. I like to think of it as you are a guest on the boat, and all common guest manners apply. Another way to exercise manners is in the amount of tackle you bring as a non-boater draw. I limit myself to one bag and no more than 5 or 6 rods, and a very small cooler, when I am set up in a random partner draw tournament. Nothing can spell disaster for the boater, co-angler relationship, than a partner strolling down the dock with 4 gigantic tackle bags, a giant igloo cooler, and 15 rods. I have often suggested to friends of mine, who are also non-boaters, to put themselves in the position of the boater, and imagine you watching yourself come down the dock. What would your first impression be? I find it amusing to watch some of their reactions. By simply exercising common courtesy, you will gain the boaters' respect, which in many cases can earn you a few extra favors and a few extra fish. One final note, a great way to make fast friends in the world of the boater is to by no means assume that once you weigh in, it's your cue to grab your gear and make a bee line to your truck. Stick around and see if your partner needs help taking the boat out, wiping his rig down, or any other task that a little help might make life easier. Word travels fast, especially on the tournament trails as to which non-boaters are "good guys" and who are the ones to avoid. Besides, ninety percent of the non-boaters out there will eventually be boaters themselves, which brings about, once again, the golden rule. The life lesson, not the measuring stick!
Well, with that said, I can only hope that I have helped to make a few co-anglers trips are little more productive and a little more enjoyable, as well as shed a bit of light on subject that is many times taken for granted. Now then, good luck to all the co-anglers reading this article, and I'll see you at the weigh in!
Catch ya' on the water...