Bass Fishing

The Non-Boater's Guide to Tournaments

Tournament Tips

If you're reading this article, chances are you're just beginning to fish tournaments, have your first tournament soon, or are curious about joining a club or association. You are probably a bit unsure about what to do, what to bring, what to wear, et cetera. No one wants to be the worried outsider before ooze-off, so here's a guide to help you get started and feel confident and comfortable on the water.

Finding a Tournament Appropriate to Your Interests

Most of us have already found a group of anglers we are comfortable fishing with, but here's a quick rundown for those who have not. This step is far more critical than most may think. If your first few tournament experiences are with a group of "hardcore" anglers and you are looking just to learn a bit and get on the water once a month, chances are, you'll be turned off before you give tournaments a chance. Conversely, there are many leagues where it's more about meeting at Sammy's for a sandwich after the tournament, and people are very laid back. For those who are more competitive and want to learn a lot, these anglers do not compose the group you want to join.

The best advice I can give you is to email the club presidents or tournament managers and ask what their philosophy embodies. A simple Web search will turn up many clubs in your area ranging from local dealership tournaments to BASS Federation, American Bass Anglers draw trail, the Bass Fishing League (BFL), and MLF Invitationals.

If you are looking for an occasional tournament and are after more fun than competition, I'd stick with local tournaments run by boat dealers, bait shops, lure manufacturers, and the like. The American Bass Anglers is a bit more competitive but still embody the philosophy of the "weekend angler." This is a genuine draw format where you compete against non-boaters and boaters. These tend to be smaller tourneys ranging from 10 to 50 boats. Chances are you can find an ABA division near you (

The Bass Fishing League (BFL) tour is a Pro-Am, meaning you will only compete against other "amateurs" (non-boaters). These are significant learning events once you are on the boat, but the hustle and bustle of a large tournament can be a turn-off of these events; often, there will be a full 200-boat field, meaning 400 total anglers. As a first tournament, it can be a bit overwhelming. Additionally, these events are geographically sparse and require a lot of travel (see for locations).

BASS Federation events have the most variance between a laid-back and a hardcore composition of anglers - you need to call club directors regarding their respective clubs. To obtain a list of BASS clubs, visit your state's Federation website via

What Fishing Equipment Should I Bring?

The most important advice I can give you regarding equipment is that you must never forget you are fishing out of another individual's boat. Chances are their boat cost them thousands of dollars, and they DO NOT want to see it messy, cluttered, and treated poorly by someone they hardly know.

With that in mind, you still have a job, namely, catching bass. In terms of rods, I'd recommend at most five. The number of rods is highly conditional: if you use only spinning gear, I'd only bring 3-4 rods. If you prefer to use casting outfits, five is plenty. Most boaters will allow you to use the rear pole ties; these ties typically hold about four rods comfortably (you can usually squeeze in five, however). You do not want to be running across the lake without your rods tied down or laying loose - you will lose your equipment, damage the boat, or worse yet, injure yourself with unsecured equipment.

Regarding rod types, I use four utility rods and one flipping/pitching stick. The following chart summarizes the types of rods I will use and their typical uses. Consider factors such as high wind, dense cover, water clarity, and methods such as fishing wood versus deep water finesse fishing. Ultimately these factors will pick your rods for you. Nevertheless, the following chart covers all the basics and will easily get you through a tourney.




6' MH Casting, Fast Tip 14-17 lbs. mono Precision casting of small spinnerbaits, and smaller crankbaits
6'6" MH Casting, Extra Fast Tip 14-17 lbs. mono Larger spinnerbaits, crankbaits, general worming/plastics
7' M, Casting, Extra Fast Tip 17-20 lbs. mono Top water, casting into pads, mats & weeds, shallow running crankbaits, Carolina Rigs (with 12 lbs. fluorocarbon leader)
7' H Casting, Fast Tip 20-25 lbs. mono Flipping, pitching applications

I recommend custom-made rods because the engineering, fabrication, and performance of such rods are unparalleled, and the level of customer service rivals that of a great luxury hotel. In terms of reels, I prefer Quantum, again, for the level of customer service and overall performance. I own four E600PT baitcasters - they are undoubtedly my favorites.

In terms of tackle, again, adapt to the type of lake or river you are fishing. I check Web postings and reports before an outing. If you post a question on a message board regarding what lures to use and explain that you're new to the tournament scene, someone will help you. A better idea is to call a local bait shop.

We all know what it's like to bring two gigantic tackle boxes onto a boat and pick and choose all day long. Unfortunately, in tournaments, this is an ill-advised luxury. I recommend a simple soft-sided tackle system that can fit 3-4 tackle trays. Ensure one tackle tray can handle several spinnerbait/buzzbaits, as these lures often create the most headache in storing.

Bring the lures you have the most confidence throwing! Be sure you bring a decent assortment of diving, floating, and suspending crankbaits. Again, research into water clarity and conditions will dictate color schemes and lure selection. Plastics are invaluable and are small enough to fit into the side pockets of soft-sided storage systems - find out what locals recommend! Remember that you are fishing with a partner, and you need to fish something similar in presentation speed but different than what they choose to throw (unless they are lighting it up). This is why having a small yet diverse selection of lures is of utmost importance.

As a side note, a culling system can be a helpful tool. I use the simple rope systems that do have the bulky floats attached. Again, room is at a premium. Also, lure covers will save you worlds of time from having to unhook all your rods after a long run. The boater will have a measuring bar and a culling balance, so there's no need to tote those along.

What Clothing Should I Bring?

Naturally, you are thinking, "why in the world is he writing about this? I'm no idiot!" The truth is that during my first few tourneys, I thought the same thing. The air temperature was about 50 degrees, and I wore a thick sweatshirt and jeans, thinking I'd be fine; I couldn't have been more wrong. Once that boat hits the water at 65mph, the chop is flying, and you are getting wet, you'll thank me for this section.

At 55 degrees and below, several layers are recommended, particularly if you are going to run a long way. If there's chop, you'll get wet. I always bring water-resistant bibs and a windproof/waterproof jacket if the temperature hovers around the 50s or colder. You'll want the jacket to have a secure hood to keep your head warm. You can leave these items in your car if the water is not choppy. Once you begin fishing, you can always shed layers (ask your boater where you can place your bibs and jacket if there's no passenger side console to place them under). There is nothing worse than being too cold to tie a lure on!

During the warmer months, I prefer to wear pants that have removable bottoms, essentially converting from pants to shorts. These are usually UV proof and dry quickly after a wet run. Avoid cotton shirts and pants - these are not UV proof and dry slowly.

Regarding eye protection and fishing vision, bring a pair of polarized sunglasses. Also, a pair of skiing goggles makes a run in high chop or rain much easier on the eyes. Water hitting your face at 65mph is not fun.

Lastly, always remember to bring your own lifejacket! Do not depend on your partner to provide you with this. You should arrive as a self-sufficient angler minus a boat.

Insider Tips and Etiquette

  • Remember to offer to help your partner launch and pull the boat in any way you can. They'll understand if you can't back a trailer down a ramp but offer to hold the boat to the dock while they park the truck. True, they could easily tie it off, but you are showing you want to help out this way. Offer to pull the truck off the ramp once they've loaded the boat. Always help wipe down the boat, and clean out the interior.
  • Remember to offer your partner money for gas and ramp fees. $20 is considered average, but adjust this pending on how much you run, ramp costs, etc.
  • Never fish in front of your partner unless they give you explicit permission. There's no quicker way to be in an uncomfortable situation! Instead, keep a close eye on where your partner has thrown and try to hit different spots.
  • Throw a lure presented at a similar or faster speed than your partner is throwing. The boat will move according to the type of lure they are fishing. You must ensure you are not trying to fish a slow worm presentation when your partner is burning crankbaits. You'll want to throw something that acts differently than your partner has just shown the fish. If he doesn't get the reaction strike off the crankbait, you probably won't, so show the fish a slider or a spinnerbait.
  • Pre-rig anything you can. Don't show up without lures on your rods. If you're unsure what to use, go with your five favorite lures. You'll need to change eventually, but at least have something on to get started. Often, the first light is the most productive part of the day. Don't waste this precious time tying on lures. If you need to change lures, try doing so while running. Rig your Carolina rigs on a Velcro tube for easy access and time-saving. Know where all your tackle is stored, and even write on the boxes if necessary. Simply stated, be over-prepared.
  • When you put a rod down, use a lure cover to avoid tangles. Once you've hooked your lure to your pole, wrap the line from your lure to the tip around the pole once or twice - this will help keep your rods from becoming intertwined.
  • Read the tournament rules closely. Many tournaments now allow non-boaters to run the trolling motor and to fish their choice of water for some duration. I don't like to ask a boater flat-out if I can run the motor, so I usually ask him if he'd like me to run the motor as he changes lures, culls fish, or tends to a backlash. This lets him know I am capable of running it. If you do not know how to use a trolling motor, learn first. Remember, you usually assume responsibility for any damage to the boat or motor while running it, so be careful.
  • Finally, have patience. It can be frustrating if you want to try something and your partner isn't in the same mindset. Getting to know your partner early in the day can prove helpful for suggesting things to him later in the day. Just continue to adapt and focus on fishing in the present, not the honey hole across the lake.

Tight lines, everyone.