FLW Outdoors tournament locations are as varied as the American landscape itself. From sleepy towns in the country to the urban landscape of mega-metropolises, FLW Outdoors co-anglers must be prepared for nearly every type of venue.
As a co-angler, if you are not familiar with the tournament site you are visiting, it is advisable to arrive at the tournament site AT LEAST one day before tournament registration. Pros will even give themselves an extra day at a new tournament venue. This is especially true for multi-day events like the FLW Tour, EverStart Series and BFL super tournaments and regionals.
Upon arrival, co-anglers should familiarize themselves with the layout of the town and routes to the launch ramps. This should be done before registration begins. Remember, because you're in an unfamiliar place, some of your errands could take the better part of day. That's why it's important to arrive at least a day ahead of the start of the tournament.
Synchronizing watches, filling up the gas tank
The first two things I do when I arrive in an unfamiliar tournament venue are to fill up my vehicle with gas and set my watch to local time.
Remember, bass fishing tournaments are schedule driven. From tournament registration to takeoff, everything runs by the clock. Consequently, it's important to reset your watch to local time as soon as you arrive at a new tournament. This way you won't have to worry about missing important time checks because you failed to set your watch correctly.
After gassing up, I check into my lodging facilities and make sure the accommodations are okay. From there, I drive around the immediate area to get oriented.
After these things are taken care of, the next order of business for a co-angler is to get all fishing licenses that pertain to the tournament waterway. Some lakes, like St. Clair and Lake Champlain, lie on international borders and require a Canadian license in addition to a state license. Other tournament lakes lie on multiple states' borders that do not have reciprocating license agreements. This means a co-angler must buy two different state licenses to be legal.
As a co-angler, you cannot pick where you want to fish. If your pro chooses to go to a part of the lake that you do not have a license for, you cannot fish. So make sure you get ALL of the necessary licenses needed to fish the lake.
Fortunately, more and more states are allowing anglers to purchase licenses by phone. If you have your licenses mailed to you before you leave the house, or if you already have the correct licenses, remember to bring it with you. You would be amazed by how many anglers forget to bring their licenses to the tournament site.
The next thing a co-angler should be concerned with is finding the place where the registration and pairings meeting will be held. Make sure you know where it is and how much time it takes to get there.
Next, a co-angler must know where the launch/weigh-in site is located. If a tournament lake is new to me, I always make a trip to the official launch site. This way I know how to get to the ramp and exactly how long it will take. I do not want to drive around in the predawn darkness on the first tournament morning wondering if I missed a turn. And believe me, sometimes these turns are easy to miss.
There are several other reasons for scouting out the launch ramps and weigh-in area. First, it is good to observe the traffic flow at the ramp so you will know what to expect should your partner ask for help backing the boat in or parking the truck. Second, this is a good opportunity to scout the area for a place to meet your partner in the morning.
Look for a solid landmark as a meeting place for you and your partner. I like a place where I can park my vehicle and catch my partner coming into the park or launch facility. Then I can load my stuff into his boat before we take on the hectic business of launching, boat checkout, etc. Park playgrounds, guard shacks, or park entrances that are on the way to the ramp are good places to consider.
Finally, if you are fishing an FLW or EverStart event, it is always a good idea to find the Wal-Mart headquarters for that particular tournament as that will be the location of the final weigh-in. Also, if you make the top-20 cut, you will usually be required to meet your partner at Wal-Mart on the morning of the final day of competition.
Wal-Mart is usually a predominant landmark in a small town, but in cities like Atlanta or Detroit, it is a good idea to find the host Wal-Mart beforehand, just in case.
In a nutshell: set your watch, get gas, check into lodging, get licenses, find registration, scout launch ramp locations, and find the hosting Wal-Mart. Now you can relax and get ready to fish. Knowing where everything is will make your co-angler experience less stressful and more enjoyable.
In the next installment of The Co-angler's Clinic, readers will learn the dynamics and importance of the pre-tournament registration meeting.
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 FLW Outdoors members who want to become more involved in competitive angling.