By Bonita Staples
I've been fishing tournaments since the early 80's. I think I've gained more knowledge and information about being on both sides of the weigh-in scales, running the Northeast Honey Hole Family Fishing Tournaments during the 2000 season. While running the tournaments, I learned some interesting things about what it takes to win a tournament and qualify for the championship. I also got some insights into selecting a tournament trail that fits what you're looking for in fun and enjoyment, the best payback, or both.
First, and foremost, review your equipment, the boat, trailer and tow vehicle to make sure they will handle the travel and punishment that bass tournaments will put on them. Make sure your livewells are in good working order. You will need to travel some distance for each tournament, plus pre-fishing. Some lakes are harder on your boat than others. The choice of lakes may be one of the factors, based on your equipment. Nothing can ruin your tournament experience more than having equipment problems every time you compete.
If it's your first tournament, you should pick one with lakes you are familiar with or that are closer to your home base. This will cut down on travel and keep costs down the first year. If you are apprehensive about even fishing a tournament, just fish one tournament on one lake to get your feet wet and then decide where you want to go from there.
The friends you meet and make during the tournaments will enhance the experience. Most tournament directors will be very understanding and can be helpful in your selection.
Look at the different types of tournaments available to fish. The basic is a draw or individual tournament, where you fish on your own, even though you may be in another angler's boat. There are team tournaments, where you pick a fishing partner and you work together to bring in a five-fish limit. Another choice is, my favorite of course, are family oriented amateur tournaments. These are set up so you can fish with your spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend, son or daughter, grandson or grand daughter. They bring the family together to enjoy the outdoors and learn about nature. This gives the whole family a chance to enjoy the outdoors and spend some quality time enjoying an outdoor sport.
Some of the tournament trails are even set up so dad can fish a team tournament with a buddy, and still fish a team tournament with a buddy, and still fish a family trail with his wife, child, or grandchild.
In selecting an event you also need to look at what it costs to fish the tournament. Check out what the travel and lodging expenses would be and if the payback or return is worth the investment. Even if this is just considered enjoyment and entertainment, you need to review the returns and what it will take to qualify for the championship, if one is part of the trail. The championship is what you are working towards; it is the most fun and has the best payback or rewards.
Most tournaments work on a points system for you to qualify for the championship. For instance, first place may be 120 points for each tournament. As long as you catch even a single fish, you will be included in this point breakdown. The tournaments also have a base point for fishing the tournament, say 20 points which also go toward championship qualification. Usually to qualify, you need to be in the top 35 percent of the teams in points. If you fish five tournaments and catch fish in three then your points might be around 320. You could actually fish five tournaments and catch only one fish in each tournament and qualify for the championship.
There are also generally some wild card slots which offer a chance to go to the championship for those that fished all events, but might not otherwise get to go. Regardless, there should be guidelines for qualification. Qualifying isn't special if everyone who fished an event gets invited. Even the pros list the number of times they qualified for championship events like badges of honor.
Championships generally offer excellent paybacks and incentives. For example, the Honey Hole Team Tournament Championship gave away four boats, first, second, and third place with one boat as a draw prize. It paid 30 cash places, with the many prizes and a cash payback that equaled $164,000 (about 150 percent payback). At the First Annual Family Team Championship, first place was a $30,000.00 boat and paid cash prizes through 14 places, with the prizes and cash totaling over $52,000.00 (also about 150 percent payback).
I'm somewhat partial to Honey Hole, but you do your own research and see which is best for you. No matter which one you choose, try to make it an enjoyable learning experience. If you win something in the pursuit of that enjoyment, it would just be icing on the cake.