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COMMUNICATE – A lot of problems can be ironed out with a question. Like after the boater misses a fish “Do you mind if I throw in there?” I've offered my baits up first thing in the morning; by saying “If you need anything just ask.” This lets the boater know that you are willing to exchange baits. Then if the boater kicks your butt, the boater may be more willing to lend you their baits :) When in doubt about a cast or anything else – JUST ASK!!!
Be on Time – During the pairings meeting, give the boater your cell phone number, lodging information and ask the boater what techniques they’ve been using. I have contact cards listing my name, email and cell phone number to give the boater. On tournament morning, arrive ten minutes earlier than what the boater said. Sometimes I’ll even call them when I get there to get an idea how long they’ll be. Personally, I’m never relaxed until we are both sitting in the boat after boat check. After boat check is a great time to discuss some of things presented below.
Gas Money – Offer gas money even if the boater is a jerk, it's just what you do. Twenty dollars is an old rule that should be abandoned. I start with forty dollars in small bills, a twenty, ten and two fives. This allows the boater to give money back to you without having to make change. In the BFL Michigan Division, the runs are long so forty dollars is a starting point but I bring fifty dollars. Some pros give it all back and some give ten dollars back. The amazing thing is the co-anglers today that still offer nothing. It just boggles my mind.
Licenses – Have all the required licenses for your navigable waters. There are a few co-anglers in our division that don't buy Canadian licenses. Don't put your boater in the situation to tell you to sit down the whole time because they will be in Canadian waters. Boaters don’t like to do that, but they have to be able to fish the spots they found in practice.
Tackle and Rain Gear – Bring no more than five rods and one tackle bag. I bring a big tackle bag from Cabelas that holds twelve trays. I've seen some co-anglers bring the bag I have plus three other bags of tackle. There is no need for all of that extra tackle. Also, bring your own life jacket and rain gear. You want to make sure the life jacket you have fits and is a quality jacket. I don’t want to be dependent on the boater’s jacket when I’m bobbing around in the middle of Erie. I only bring 2 bottles of water and beef jerky for lunch. You are there to fish and win, not eat a buffet.
Treat the boat like it is your own – I've been yelled at twice for being too clean this year :) I'm always picking up old plastic lures and putting them in my trash bag. Pretend that the boat is yours and treat it that way. Mistakes happen like putting a hook in a seat. If you do put a hook in the seat tell the boater after the tourney. You do NOT want to distract the boater’s focus during the tournament so wait until later.
Keeper of the Fish – Check with the boater in the morning. Do not make my mistake! Since I'm a co-angler, I always take the responsibility of keeping the fish alive. This year being my 3rd year in the BFL, I had a boater take exception to me checking on his fish. It never occurred to me to ask the boater first. It’s expected by all my weekly boater friends, so I never asked before. So ask about the boater’s fish before you assume (like I did) it’s your responsibility. When in doubt, don’t check the boater’s fish.
Lure Breakoff – There are times when you will have to break off a lure, so don’t throw anything you can’t break off. For the simple fact, if you get hung up you should NOT expect the boater to screw up his area because of your bad throw.
Leaving Spots – Be Ready!! – Tell the boater “Let me know three casts before you are ready to leave, please” so that you are ALL READY to go when the boater sits down. The boater should not have to wait for you. I’ll ask the boater before I have to do a long rigging job like a dropshot rig or respooling a reel “Are you staying here for a few minutes?” This helps me decide on my next move.
Handheld GPS Etiquette – Bring a handheld GPS so that you have spots IF your boater asks you. I’ve been in situations on LSC/Erie were I’ll be asked if I have areas and it comes in handy. Also, I’ve been in the middle of Erie when my boater’s GPS goes out. DO NOT HAVE YOUR GPS ON unless your boater knows you are turning it on. It’s called courtesy and trust on your part. If in doubt, ask the boater during the pairings meeting before bringing the GPS on the boat.
Tobacco Products and Drinks – Any use of tobacco products should be cleared by the boater, keep your spit and ashes over the boat. Plus, keep coffee out of the boat or any other staining drink. Drinks should be sealed – i.e. no cans.
Talking during tourney time – I talk more than most, but keep your mouth shut once the tourney starts unless it pertains to netting, casting or keeping the fish alive. Especially until the boater gets their first fish in the boat. Everybody is more relaxed and jovial when limits are in the boat.
Bed Fishing – Let the boater fish their bedded fish. You need to fish for other prespawn or postspawn fish by using techniques that cover the area. If you are near the deep water break, then senkos or other finesse techniques work well. Do not sit down in protest and whine. Focus hard and keep fishing.
Guided Trip? – No it’s not !! The boater is not your guide and you’re fishing against all the other co-anglers. So do your best and keep focused. It’s a draw event and you have to adapt to the draw. Remember if you don’t like it, then pay more money and fish the boater side.
Pay attention to the boater in the first hour – You get a good idea of how good they are at flipping stumps for example, quickly. If they miss some, then pitch to them and hit the targets the boater misses. If they are really good (vacuum sweeper) and cover all the targets, then switch to finesse and fish your strengths. I’ve had situations were the boater has the right bait but moves so fast, it allows me to hit targets the boater was missing. This allowed me to catch fish with the same bait the boater was using.
Focus, Focus and Fish your Confidence Baits – We are hear this cliché all the time – NEVER GIVE UP! – But it’s true and if you fish for points, every bite counts. The fishing game is all mental so try and stay mentally fresh on the water at all times.
I hope these tips help you out and above all, have fun!!!
Feel free to email me at: curadokev at yahoo dot com
Best Regards and Happy Fishing,
Editor's Note: Questions about being a co-angler / nonboater / amateur are some of the most frequently asked of me and on GreatLakesBass.com. Lot's of great advice here from a veteran co-angler and tournament angler.
CuradoKev is an active member on GreatLakesBass.com. He was kind enough to give GreatLakesBass.com permission to reprint this article from his newsletter and postings as a helpful permanent resource to fellow anglers. If you'd like to read further information and discussion on this topic - always lively with no shortage of opinions - you might check this thread on the forum.
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