If my son came to me today and said he wanted to start learning and fishing tournaments, I would be so very happy to teach and share with him my passion for the sport. Tournament fishing is a bitter sweet circumstance, you want to win but you have to learn first. You can go to any number of sources, find the name and details of more tournaments than you can possibly fish. It’s great to have the competitive drive, it inspires us to do better, but jumping into the deep end of the pool with a bunch of sharks can be discouraging. Until you can consistently catch 10lbs of fish a day, I say save your entry fees for gas money and spend more time on the lake learning.  With that having been said:

Which tournaments to fish? In the last few years MANY folks have found that they can make a decent chunk of change by running tournaments and taking money off the top in the form of membership fees. Be aware of the payback percentages, do the math, and ALWAYS question membership fees! What do you actually get for the membership fee? You want to make sure that you are getting as much publicity as you can from the tournaments you’re fishing. For instance, FLW Outdoors has a $20 membership fee, their results are posted on a website that has traffic numbers in the millions, a TV show and they publish a magazine. Many local trails hit you up for a $60 or 80 dollar membership fee and the press you get if you win one of their events is minimal. Get the most bang for your buck!

Until he is 16 and in many cases 18 years old he wouldn’t be able to fish alone or without a parent’s signature and I would want to be there to help as much as I could. There are so many options some I think better than others, here are my ideas;

I would sign him up with FLW Outdoors as a co angler in the Stren Series, FLW Series or FLW Tour. This is certainly not the cheapest way to go, co angler entry fees and travel expenses are steep but this learning environment would put him with different people on different bodies of water. The experience and what he can learn from the different fisherman would be invaluable down the road. I left out the BFL intentionally, there seems to be too much inconsistency in the quality of the anglers at this level and it may cost a little more to go up a couple of levels but its money well spent in my mind.

He and I would fish team tournaments together. In a team format I could take him with me to practice and talk him through the decision making process. We could work together finding fish, executing a game plan and reviewing our success or failure.

Hire a guide! For the buck this is certainly the most bang! Guides can help anyone, learn a particular body of water or for a specific technique, you just have to let the guide know what you’re looking for.

Practicing mechanics is probably the most mundane but most important of all these suggestions. Casting accuracy, boat positioning and time management are probably three of the most overlooked and critical skills to a tournament fisherman. The casting, pitching, flipping accuracy is something that can be worked on in the back yard, practice here makes your time on the water more efficient. Boat positioning unfortunately is best learned on the lake. The time management lessons are best learned from tournament situations.

Your boat and equipment, let me just say this, buy what you can afford and DON’T go way in debt over this stuff. Just make certain that what you have works like it’s supposed to and you know how to operate it backwards, forwards, in the rain and with your eyes closed. If you’re in position to buy a new boat, go for it, I know some dealers you can go see but don’t think you have to have a new $50,000.00 boat to compete in local or regional tournaments.

After reading and re-reading this article, I asked myself did I answer the question I was asked “How do I get started fishing bass tournaments?” I gave a lot of information above that hopefully will put some perspective on tournament fishing but the short answer to the question is this: find the entry form, read the rules, if you qualify, pay your money and go fishing.

There is no substitute for time on the water!

Rusty White of Rock Hill is a professional fisherman and full-time guide on the Catawba chain of lakes, offering full- and half-day services. For more information, visit fishingwithRusty.com.