As a longtime tournament angler, I read Paul Wagner’s recent article titled, “$20 and a Coke: How much do you owe your boater?” with a great deal of interest. It offered his perspective on the angler/co-angler relationship, and, while it was interesting, it only presents one boater’s view.
Let me start by saying his viewpoint is based on anglers and co-anglers at local club events or smaller regional tournaments, whereas my perspective is from larger professional events such as the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens. Mr. Wagner makes many valid points and it’s certainly one way to look at things, but it’s not the only way.
At the regional level, the co-angler is an important part of the overall tournament structure. Most importantly, from the boater’s side, having co-anglers means that I have total control of the boat, and I’ll get to make all of the decisions. This makes the competition on the boater’s side a more level playing field since they have to find their own fish, and everyone has the same amount of time to catch them since they aren’t sharing time with the non-boater.
From the co-angler’s side, a lower entry fee means that they can get their feet wet in the tournament scene without having to own a boat, pay the extra expenses associated with being there for seven to 10 days and compete with other co-anglers in their own tournament. To me, this is a win-win situation. Each side gets what they want.
Now, this doesn’t mean that the co-anglers don’t have responsibilities, but I certainly don’t feel like those responsibilities extend to helping with boat prep, cleaning up afterwards and even, dare I say it, paying for fuel and oil.
In my boat, co-anglers have just three responsibilities. First, show up on time and where we agreed to meet. Second, bring what you want to eat and drink; we’re both adults and should know how to take care of ourselves. Finally, let’s go out and have a fun day on the water. Yes, this is a serious tournament and it’s important to me, but there’s enough stress associated with that without any added drama. Things may go wrong and they might go well, but we’re both doing what we love to do, so why not enjoy it.
It’s also important to remember that the boater has responsibilities as well. Boaters should have their equipment in good working order, fueled and ready to go and have space available to the co-angler. They should also be prepared with a game plan for the day’s fishing and an idea of what they are going to do if that plan doesn’t work.
When I started fishing B.A.S.S. events in the mid ‘90s, we paired boater to boater. This system had several benefits, most notably that you fished with some fantastic anglers and learned something new almost every day on the water. The downsides were that you went to each day’s pairing without knowing if you would be able to fish your fish or boat. No one wants to go back to this.
The introduction of co-anglers to the sport eliminated boater-on-boater pairings and gave complete control of the boat to the one paying the big bucks to fish. Since they are filling an important need, they deserve our respect and thanks. They should be treated the way we would want to be treated when we fish with one of our friends, not like they are there to help with the expense and workload of tournament fishing.
Over the years I’ve fished B.A.S.S., I’ve had many co-anglers. With very few exceptions, I’d welcome each of them back into my boat at any time. Many of these co-anglers pre-fish with me, come by to visit and share meals with us at tournaments. They’ve become good friends, and that’s how all of the co-anglers deserve to and should be treated.