Outdoors: Amateurs can learn a lot riding alongside pro anglers
by Charles Johnson
May 25, 2013 | 2726 views |  0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bart Smith of Pell City hoists a big Logan Martin spotted bass. (Photo by Charles Johnson)
Bart Smith of Pell City hoists a big Logan Martin spotted bass. (Photo by Charles Johnson)
There are few sports in which amateur athletes can compete right alongside a pro. The pros and ams are not competing against each other but rather in their own respective divisions.

Most of these type events have the contestants together for a few hours at the most. Amateurs can learn plenty by rubbing elbows with the pros.

The sport of competitive bass fishing gives amateurs, every day anglers like you and me, an opportunity to fish with some of the top pro anglers. It’s an excellent chance for weekend anglers to learn new techniques and approaches to fishing. Sure there is some money on the line, but the goal is to have fun and learn about competitive tournament bass fishing.

Last week in the B.A.S.S. Southern Open on Logan Martin Lake, Bart Smith of Pell City had his first opportunity to fish the back seat. He got to see firsthand the workings and competition of a big time bass tournament. When the schedule was released last year that B.A.S.S. was coming to town, Smith wanted the chance to fish with a pro.

Simple format

Members of B.A.S.S. can submit a registration form for any or all of the Open events. There are three regions that offer Open tournaments for pros and co-anglers. Southern, Central and Eastern regions each offer three events. The locations vary among the region.

“It is something I have wanted to do for a while,” said Smith. “How often do you get the chance to fish with a pro on your home lake?”

Like most anglers around, Smith is a working man. He is a family man, with three children and an itch to fish whenever he can. Many times he will take along his oldest daughter, 8-year-old Alex, out on the lake. She enjoys fishing alongside her dad.

Each Open event is limited to about 200 boats. That puts 200 pros and 200 co-anglers matched up for three days of completion. Pro compete in their division and the co-anglers compete in theirs. However the pros and co-anglers are paired together in the same boat. The pairings are rotated each day. On day three, only the top 12 anglers in each division are fishing.

For the pro angler there is more than cash and a new boat for a first place finish. The top pro for each event gets a berth to the Bassmaster Classic. That is provided the pro fishes all tournaments in a particular region. The top co-angler receives a new boat and some cash. The events pay down to 40th place in both divisions.

There is a registration fee and deposit required for entry. If an anglers is not selected, his or her deposit is returned. Anyone who is an active member of B.A.S.S. can enter the open events.

Pre-tournament jitters

Smith was able to practice some before the tournament. The pro fishermen and the co-anglers were out the Saturday before checking out the lake and selecting locations. Anglers call it pre-fishing, but many are just riding and looking to learn the lake.

“I got to practice with a pro from Tennessee,” Smith said. “He took me to some different areas of the lake and showed me how he locates fish using his Lowrance electronics.”

Smith said the pro took time to show features and details on the sonar. They looked at ledges and drop-offs where post-spawn bass will hide out. The pro would scan his map searching for ledges and then use his sonar unit to determine what structure was present. The pair also got in some casting practice trying out a few different lures.

“The day before the tournament I was really nervous, Smith said. “I had never done anything like this and I didn’t know what to expect.”

After getting in the boat the first morning and talking with his pro partner, Smith began to relax some. He said it was a long day on the water around 10 hours. But, the pair did manage to catch a few fish. The limit of bass for co-anglers is three a day and the pro gets to bring in five.

Fishing from the back deck did require Smith to make some adjustments in his approach. Since there was not an actual back seat he had more room to cast and arrange his extra rods for a quick change if necessary. Smith said he would use a lure a little different than what the pro was fishing.

Making a comeback

Smith said at times he and his pro partner struggled to catch fish the first day. They did switch up on some lures and each was able to bring a limit to the scales. Smith’s first day weight was not for TV. His three bass tipped the scales at about 3.5 pounds.

Day two was a new day with a new pro and Smith was pumped to get fishing. There were 164 boats for this event and on the second day Smith’s boat was number 140 in the take-off line. After a long, rough ride up river he was finally fishing.

“We rode way up river,” Smith said. “A lot further than I had ridden in a while and it was rough due to wake from some of the other boats.”

Smith reminded himself he was not competing against the pro. He wanted to learn from his partner and about tournament fishing. Smith wanted to see how he could stack up against other co-anglers based on his skill set.

“I wanted to be competitive with the other co-anglers,” Smith said. “My goal was to learn more fishing skills and how to compete.”

Smith observed his second day partner miss out on hooking up with a couple of fish on a crankbait. The lure retrieve was too fast. After noticing this Smith slowed down his lure and began to get strikes and put some decent keeper bass in the boat. The small change was enough for Smith to cull up in weight on his three-fish limit.

At the weigh-in, Smith’s three spotted bass tipped the scale at almost 9 pounds. It was not enough to move him into the top 12. But it was the heaviest sack of bass in the co-angler field on day two and enough for a 30th place finish and a check.

“I had a great time and learned a lot,” Smith said. “Everyone was awesome and presented me an opportunity to catch fish.”

Smith is already looking forward to when next year’s Open Tournament schedule is released. He definitely plans on fishing again as a co-angler and taking the back seat.

Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at ChrJohn7@aol.com
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