What every tournament angler needs to know in order to succeed.
With so much at stake, both boaters and co-anglers face new responsibilities in their quest for success and satisfaction on the tournament trail. Veterans of the FLW Tour and EverStart Series have several years of experience with the Pro/Co-Angler format and its rules. Now, with the format changes in this year's Red Man Tournament Trail, veterans and newcomers alike will have to adjust to new rules of engagement in a boater/co-angler format. Notice the absence of the words "pro" and "am." The Red Man trail has not gone professional. Only the format has changed. Those in the boater division will compete only against other boaters. And co-anglers will compete only against other co-anglers, who must fish from the back of the boat only. The boater controls the operation of the boat and the choice of fishing locations, as well as making any major decisions during the day.
This format has gained great popularity among boat-owning competitors because it offers them more control over their destiny, a feeling that arises from the level of effort and expense that is inherent in boat ownership and tournament competition. The new format also is very popular among co-anglers, for they now can compete on a level playing field against peers, rather than against their division's top guns. It all sounds so good. There shouldn't be any problems, right? Well ...
Especially under this new format, there are important issues that must be brought to light. Among them, boat-positioning, casting etiquette, and fish netting just to name a few. By addressing these issues and balancing expectations with reality, the coming season will be more enjoyable and successful than ever.
It's not a rule. Under the draw format, it was a custom. In this format, boaters shouldn't expect it and co-anglers shouldn't feel obligated to offer it. When you enter as a boater, you accept the expenses and responsibilities that go with it. Having said that, I believe that offering gas money is a fine gesture, but it remains an individual choice, based on many factors that should neither be criticized nor judged.
True, boats are getting bigger and designs are more passenger-friendly than ever, but that isn't an open invitation for co-anglers to bring their garage with them. Discuss this with your boater. He or she may have no limitations, but be prepared. Five rods with versatile actions, including a flipping stick, should be sufficient. Also, one large drawer-style tackle box or soft-sided tackle bag should be adequate. If you can get a definite idea of how your boater plans to fish, you can scale down. If not, bring a good variety. Often times, the boater will offer you a lure if you do not have something appropriate. Communicate.
Fortunately, netting is allowed, as landing fish otherwise can be downright dangerous. There is no rule, however, that says one person must net the other's fish. This should be discussed before take-off. Do you both want all fish netted or not at all? Will you call for the net for large or lightly hooked fish only? Not everyone nets fish the same way. A little show-and-tell wouldn't hurt here. Also, during the fighting and landing of a fish, talking out instructions isn't a bad idea either. Just don't assume that everyone knows how to do it or how you like it done. When a fish is missed or knocked off because of the net, it's an uncomfortable time for both of anglers. I've seen bad fish-fighting skills be just as much at fault as bad net jobs. So discuss it ahead of time and come to a clear understanding of this critical issue.
This is an important topic. Somewhat related to the issues of boat-positioning and overall fairness, it is definitely something that can make or break an enjoyable, productive day of fishing. Obviously, the boater will normally get the first and best opportunities at most targets. This can get frustrating to the competitive, anxious angler in the back of the boat. It can be tempting to eye the next good target and zip a quick cast up ahead of the boat, just before the guy up front loads up for his cast. This is not a good idea. The boater has probably spent a great deal of time locating his spots. He deserves the opportunity to work his game plan. Interfering with that is a good way to ensure that you get fewer back-seat opportunities. Obviously, both of you would like to catch fish and do well. Fairness should be the goal here.
The best retrieve is one that keeps the bait in the strike zone for the longest time. This is usually accomplished by paralleling the bank. It can be the toughest situation for the guy in back, but one you must learn to accept sometimes. When shoreline fishing, the best and most comfortable cast for both anglers is diagonally ahead at a minimum 45 degree angle. This allows most lures to perform correctly for the duration of the retrieve at normal trolling speeds. Paralleling the bank, continuously, neither allows this to happen nor is it fair. During spawning season, it's not uncommon to spend up to an hour trying to entice a big female. If this happens, allow your co-angler several opportunities to catch some bass too. Once again, fairness is the operative word.
Fairness. It all comes down to this. Boater and co-anglers, both want to do well in their respective standings. Most of the time, the boater controls the co-angler's destiny by his or her choice of fishing styles. If you are a boater, and you must parallel the bank or work a bed extensively, afford enough time in other ways to your passenger. Getting your partner a limit should be just as important as getting your own. Certainly, some days are just plain tough, but on good days what good is it to throw back twenty keepers that don't add to your weight while your co-angler has one fish? When you're into a bunch of small keepers, do everything you can to get your co-angler his limit before leaving to search for bigger fish. Boaters should divulge the presence of underwater cover, and allow the co-angler to cast to a piece of cover before speeding away from it. If he's good enough, or lucky enough, to pick off that 3- pounder, then good for him. You should be happy.
Once you've broken the 20-pound mark, another 4-pounder may not help you, but it could catapult your co-angler into the winner's circle. Boaters should want to gain a reputation for being a great "guide," the kind of boater that co-anglers speak favorably of and hope to draw. As an added incentive for boaters to help their co-anglers catch fish, Operation Bass will pay the boater's entry into another Red Man tournament if his co-angler finishes in first place. For boaters, it will definitely be worthwhile to give the co-angler as many fish-catching opportunities as possible during each tournament.
Perhaps no other format allows for a greater demonstration of sportsmanship and character than the "boater/co-angler" format. Boaters enjoy more freedom of control and co-anglers enjoy a fairer level of competition. As a result, more anglers will enjoy post-season competition and the rewards that go with it. We have many reasons to celebrate the new opportunities brought about by this format change. We also have the responsibility to demonstrate fairness, respect and consideration to those who share our boats. In my experience, most boaters are quite fair and do try to make the day pleasant and successful for the co-angler. Perhaps that's just the reflection of the contagious spirit of a great tournament organization and its fine members.
Content provided by Bass Fishing Magazine, the official publication of FLW Outdoors