Beginning Nov. 20, FLW Tour co-angler Rob Newell will take an in-depth look at the amateur side of tournament bass fishing in a bimonthly series entitled, The Co-angler's Clinic. The series, scheduled to run over the course of five months, will offer our readers helpful tips, information and discussion geared solely for the tournament co-angler. Some of the topics that will be covered in the series include pre-tournament preparation, insightful questions to ask when you meet your pro partner for the first time, how to organize your tackle, net handling, fishing ethics as well as many other interesting topics.
To a certain degree, bass anglers are all wired the same way. For example, when we pack for an impending bass tournament, our brains lock on rods, reels and, of course, lures – all of those essential lures. However, somewhere between the pork chunks and bait spray, some very important items wind up falling through the cracks – like life jackets, sunscreen and registration materials.
After arriving at my very first EverStart tournament several years ago, I realized that I'd managed to make it to the lake with every bait I owned while somehow forgetting the critical necessities – a life jacket, sunglasses and sunscreen. Acting quickly, I bought one of those discount life vests that looks like a big orange neck cloak and a pair of “el cheapo” sunglasses from the marina store. After two bright, sunny days, my face was the color of the life jacket, I had a massive headache and some scorched retinas from the cheap sunglasses.
The big lesson I learned from that tournament was to pack my necessities first. The best baits in the world are useless if you are too uncomfortable to fish. These days I pack for comfort first, and fishing second.
Make a list and check it twice
Co-anglers should pack the following items BEFORE the first rod goes in the truck.
* Life jacket – I recommend a good jacket that fits correctly and zips up quickly. Nothing will wear out a pro's patience more quickly than having to wait for his co-angler partner to shimmy into a life jacket every time the boat is about to move.
* Sunglasses – Quality polarized sunglasses are critical. They protect your eyes and will improve your fishing. Many times, especially in the spring, pros are on fishing patterns that involve fish and cover that are visible only with good polarized sunglasses. If you do not have polarized glasses, you will not only be uncomfortable, but frustrated. I always carry a spare pair of sunglasses, just in case.
* Quality outerwear and warm clothes – I simply cannot emphasize this enough. You must have a good quality rain suit and warm clothes or you will be miserable in adverse weather. A light sweatshirt and plastic rain poncho is not going to cut it when you're traveling 60 mph through 20 degree air temperatures.
It's important to remember that tournament bass fishing is an all-day affair. There is no going back to the dock because it is cold or raining. The pro will be dressed and prepared for the worst, but they do not always have extra clothing aboard for co-anglers to borrow. If you are miserable and shivering, it is going to be distracting to the pro and will almost certainly make for a horrible day of fishing – for everyone.
Luckily, there are many well-known quality brands of outerwear available. The only suggestion I would make is to get a product lined with Gore-Tex or, better yet, double-lined Gore-Tex. Also, be sure to pack waterproof boots. Again, I would recommend footwear lined with Gore-Tex.
Pack plenty of warm clothes. Thermal undergarments, lined pants, sweatshirts, jackets and warm socks are also advisable. Gloves are a must. On really cold days, I make sure to trade my baseball cap for a warm ski hat or ski mask.
Finally, pack your rain gear and warm clothes for every tournament. Never underestimate Mother Nature. I have spent many May tournaments (when it was supposed to be summer) dressed in thermals and my big outerwear rain suit.
* Sunscreen – Do not assume that your pro will carry extra sunscreen for you. As one of the most important items on this list, it is imperative that you bring your own. Not only is it a precaution against skin cancer, but it will also ensure that you won't get burnt to a crisp and have an agonizing night's sleep later that evening. I recommend a screen with at least 30 SPF.
* Food and beverages – If you like to drink lime-aid and eat pimento cheese sandwiches when fishing, bring your own. There are no official lunch stops or breaks during a tournament day. Many pros are happy to share their food and drink, just do not be surprised if the offering is warm diet root beer and stale cheese on wheat crackers.
I always pack our vehicle with a case of bottled water and a box of energy/protein bars so I have something to throw into my tackle bag each day. From experience, I know to pack extra liquids for summer tournaments and extra food for winter tournaments.
* First-aid kit – A pounding headache or a hook in the finger is not necessarily a life-threatening injury, but it may seem like it when it happens during an eight-hour fishing day. Consequently, I always carry a small first-aid kit with a few Band-Aids, antiseptic and Tylenol. It takes up a little space in the tackle bag, but is worth its weight in gold when needed.
* Fishing License – Obviously, this is a mandatory item. If you already have one for the lake/state you are traveling to, be sure to pack it or you will be buying another one.
* Registration material and rules – Operation Bass mails out information for every tournament explaining the location of the pre-tournament meeting, takeoff marina and weigh-in site. This information will also include the starting times of these events. Obviously, it is important to bring this information, including a set of tournament rules, with you at all times.
This may sound trivial, but I can't count the number of times I have left the registration material at home and regretted it later. Again, this information is crucial. These papers contain special off-limits areas and phone numbers of tournament directors and tournament housing.
* Tournament rules – The best advice I can give is to read them carefully. There are plenty of rules that directly address the actions of co-anglers. Claiming that you did not know about a rule does not grant you immunity from disqualification. Also, there may be some times when your pro may be unclear about a particular rule. If you know the rules, you can speak up and keep both of you from committing an unnecessary infraction.
Once this list is carefully checked off, you can now begin to pack your rods, reels and tackle with the knowledge that you will be safe, legal and comfortable when you finally head out onto the water with your pro. Although it takes some work to carefully plan for a tournament, the peace of mind you will receive from knowing that you're prepared for any eventuality is worth the effort.
In the next installment of The Co-angler's Clinic, readers will learn what to do when you get to the tournament site for the first time.
Rob Newell is a freelance outdoor writer from Tallahassee, Fla. He has competed in over 30 Operation Bass events as a co-angler on all levels – BFL, Everstart and FLW. He won an FLW as a co-angler in 1999 at Lake Okeechobee. He finds the Co-angler Division to be one of the most enjoyable and enriching opportunities available to Operation Bass members who want to become more involved in competitive angling.