From that time on I have been competing in tournaments from Missouri to California and for the most part it has been from the back deck as a co-angler. There have been a few tournaments that I borrowed a boat from someone and rode in the driver's seat. After fifteen years I still find myself fishing as a co-angler but I have moved up to a higher level of competition in the FLW Rayovac Series. I can tell you without a doubt that the experiences that I have had over the years as a co-angler will pay huge dividends when I decide to make the move to the front of the boat as a pro.
Having fished from the back deck for so many years with different styles of pros and in different tournament formats, I have been able to fine tune what it takes to succeed as a co-angler both on and off of the water. There are several different techniques that I will always have available and then there are some that are more like specific tools I bring out when the timing is right. Additionally there is the mental preparation and game plan that I put into effect when it's tournament time.
Regardless of the tournament or the body of water, I have a set of goals that I keep in mind every single time that I hit the water in competition. My goals keep me motivated to not only increase my confidence in techniques but also to learn when it is time to capitalize on opportunities when they arise. However my goals are not as elementary as "don't be late meeting my boater" or "don't forget to spool fresh line onto my reels". Those are all very important reminders but through time and experience those things all come as second nature.
My first goal each and every day is to catch a limit. I know this sounds very simple and in some cases it is. But you have to remember that with the caliber of the pros with whom we fish with these days it can be very difficult to put together a limit of even barely legal keepers. What this has caused me to do is fine tune my finesse techniques to put numbers in the boat or be able to recognize when I can pull one of the tools out of the bag that might be overlooked. I can guarantee that if you bring in a limit each and every day there is more than a fair chance that you will get a paycheck.
My second goal is to never miss a fish. Yet another simple concept but also difficult at times. Once in a while we are slow to respond to a bite and we end up missing out on an opportunity. Other times we hook the fish but for some reason it comes off on its way to the boat. Sometimes these situations are out of our control. So I want to make sure that if there is something I can have control over then I try my best to do so. Sharp hooks, a good hook set, and a properly set drag are all things that I can control.
My final goal is to try to beat my boater. I'm not talking about doing cartwheels on the back deck if I have my limit and I just landed a six-pounder while my boater has yet to catch a keeper. I'm talking about keeping the competitive fire lit inside myself at all times. Knowing that I am fishing with some of the best anglers at any given time drives me to push myself to use my own knowledge and talents to try to out-fish them. That being said, if I am able to beat my boater's weight I never gloat or brag. Sportsmanship is the heart and soul of what we do and kicking a man when he is down does nothing for your integrity.
The main purpose of fishing as a co-angler is not to go fun fishing and cash a check by pure luck. When I am on the back deck I am in class. I process the information all around me to help build a picture of what a successful game plan would look like. I'm also watching everything my boater does especially if he is catching quality fish while I'm not. Even after this many years of fishing as a co-angler and having the opportunity to share the boat with some amazing anglers I have yet to quit learning.
Part of the learning process is communication. It can be intimidating as a co-angler to ask our pro what he is doing or what he is looking for when he is catching fish. But I assure you, most of the time the pros are a great resource and are usually more than willing to teach you what they know. You have to remember that not only are we learning from them but they are also learning from us at times. The situation I mentioned previously regarding catching a limit and landing a six-pounder before my boater had touched a fish has happened. Just as I learn from my boaters I never hold anything back. I want us to have a fun day on the water by working together and teaching one another.
There are times when off of the water can be more important than on the water, especially if you have desires to someday become a pro. As you have probably heard many times and have experienced yourself, this sport can be very expensive. Granted, as co-anglers we don't have as many expenses as our pros do but it still adds up over time. We have to find ways and means to fund our addiction and that can be done through marketing.
I know many people think it is impossible to get sponsors especially as a co-angler. However that isn't the case. I have found there are many great companies which are more than willing to take interest in co-anglers as long as you can give them something back in return. I'm not just talking about performance on the water. I'm talking about the ability to sell product and to teach consumers why your sponsor's goods are superior.
Sponsorship can come in different shapes and sizes. Most of the time it starts as a large discount on tackle or even some free gear. Don't expect to get a big check in the mail right out of the gate. Your sponsors want to see how you will handle yourself as a business man and how you will help increase the popularity of their product. I have been very blessed to gain a few great sponsors over the years. My very first was Dry Creek Custom Baits out of Murtaugh, Idaho and I am still with them to this day. In my opinion they make the best tubes on the market. I have trophies at home to prove it. But their sponsorship never came as a paycheck. They gave me the opportunity to fish with their baits, and even help design a few, at little or no cost to me. Since then I have been fortunate enough to join up with Pure Fishing that includes brands such as Abu Garcia, Spiderwire, Berkley Powerbait, Berkley Havoc, and Berkley Trilene. With tackle becoming expensive I feel like getting deals like this is just like getting a paycheck.
Becoming a successful co-angler takes a lot of work. Not only are you trying to find new ways to catch fish and win tournaments, but you are also trying to promote yourself and work with companies to gain sponsorship easing the burden of the sport's cost. I hope that with some of the things I will teach you in these articles you will be able to not only catch more fish but to build a foundation that will help you grow into a successful angler both on and off of the water. Remember, hard work always pays off. GAME TIME!!