So you think you want to go tournament bass fishing… Well brother (and hopefully a few sisters out there too), let me tell you, It is a journey. There isn’t going to be any black truck with a ghostly figure, with a resemblance to Guido Hibdon, offering you a ride to Okeechobee! This is a long, hard, self made road that you will travel. You will lose friends, and gain friends for the same reasons. One thing is for certain, you will never look at a lake the same way again.
This is a sport that can consumer a person almost as bad as drugs or alcohol. This sport can break your heart worse than your high school sweetheart ever could. This is a sport that will make you sit up in a cold sweat, remembering a fish that broke your line three years ago, and it still is just as hard to accept. I’m often asked, “Why do you tournament fish?” For some reason they always look at me funny when I ask them, “Why do you breathe?” To me it is the same question.
A lot of my, “real job” colleagues have all kinds of questions for me. I will come in beat and sunburned on a Monday morning. A lot of people don’t get it, or it isn’t their cup of tea. I think folks probably think that it is a bunch of guys drinking a cold beverage, half asleep, worm can near by. They picture us waiting for the bobber to go under. I also am very fond of the, “never get invited to the fish fry” guy. In truth, I kind of like to leave them with this inaccurate vision of my weekends. Much like sausage and legislation, a certain naiveté can save a stomach not ready for reality.
So then, what is the reality? It is worrying about catching enough so the bills get paid, and keep your sponsors who believe in you happy! It is a lot of staying at fleabag hotels. It’s praying that no one decides to break into the shiny bass boat in the lot. It is butt crack o’ dawn wake up calls so you can go out into freezing cold (rough) waters. It is sometimes leaving a wife to tend to a sick kid, and feeling like a creep all weekend long for doing it. There is a reason that 68% of Tournament Anglers have at least one divorce. But good God it is also the most fun you can ever have on earth!
The next question is always the, “How?” I may have an actual tip or two for this one. First, and foremost, you have to be a damned good fisherman! You also have to accept that on most days even though you are a great “stick” there are better ones. TOW is the absolute key to any chance of success… Time On Water!!! I have fished ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams since I was old enough to walk. I would pester anyone and everyone to take me. Most of my boyhood vacations were spent fishing… somewhere… anywhere! The best part about my experience is I was getting an education without even knowing it. You began to understand the movements, patterns, and biology of the fish. Better than that, not just one type of fish. Our philosophy growing up was always, “whatcha fishing for? The one that is biting!” Once you start understanding all the fish in the lake, you can start to target the one fish you want.
Once you understand that you CAN catch them, you need to make the decision if you should? Listen, I would never discourage a person from wanting to fish tournaments, but once you do you can’t ever go back. Tournament fishing will ruin fun fishing for you. I can’t go catch a bluegill without turning it into a competition. I have to put myself into a very Zen place to take a family member or friend out for a “fun day” of fishing. Watch me on my father-in-laws pontoon. Everyone is just having a good ol day… I’m staring at a rocky point, looking like a recovering crackhead driving through the ghetto.
I can’t tell you how many people have come to me and said, “Yeah if I just got me a sponsor, I’d be right out there!” or “Yeah I love to fish, it’d be so great to just go fish tournaments.” Both of these people are delusional, but on opposite sides of the spectrum. The one that flat out makes me mad is, “Guess some people just get lucky like you!” I have worked extremely hard to get to this point. I have had a ton of help, and I have had things go my way. I live a blessed life, not a LUCKY one! People see my boat, the fish I catch, the social media posts. What they don’t see is the budgeting, the interviews with sponsors, the going crazy trying to think like a critter with a brain the size of a pea only to have it out-smart you!
The greatest thing about the sport of fishing is it offers you whatever you want out of it. If you want to be the guy who waits for the weekend to go fill his freezer, that is there for you. If you want to go catch a Bass, Musky, Walleye, or Crappie and toss him in after a great picture, you can. If you want to go test your ability against the best of the best, anyone with drive enough can do it! The absolute best thing about it is, no matter what kind of fisherman/woman you are we are all part of this universe that is fishing. We all reach into a tackle box, we all have the big one that got away, we all love to go in the bait shop and know these are our people!
Now go buy ya a bait and make a memory!
John P. Holtz
My Bait Shop Pro
This article was written by John P. Holtz, one of the Pro Anglers at My Bait Shop. Follow John's posts through the year as we head into the 2019 season.