During last week’s Bassmaster Elite Series event on Lake Havasu, one of my Marshals asked an interesting question. He wanted to know if I preferred competing with an observer or if I missed having a co-angler along.
Although my immediate response was in favor of Marshals, the more we talked about it, the more I realized the old co-angler system wasn’t all that bad.
When the Elite Series was first established, co-anglers were an integral part of the program. Not only did they compete, they also served as observers and were helpful for safety reasons.
Reflecting back on those days, I really didn’t have a problem with someone fishing out of the back of my boat. Yeah, I may have had a draw or two that made for a long day, but overall most were good guys just trying to catch a fish … and who could fault them for that?
If a problem occurred, it was likely because I wasn’t on enough fish for two … or I was on a pattern that somehow slighted the angler in the back of the boat. Although I never intentionally tried to prevent a partner from catching fish, some patterns were so lean or specific, there was no way to compete otherwise.
I remember hearing a few horror stories — pros complaining about some co-angler casting over their line or to a fish that had just swiped at their lure. But to be fair, I heard similar complaints from co-anglers as well. I guess when there’s money on the line, competition can do strange things to any of us … like cloud our better judgement.
There were times when some of us actually benefitted from the help of a co-angler. For example, if we were throwing a fast-moving, reaction type lure and our co-angler caught a couple of key fish behind us using a slower presentation, that could tip us off to make a change. Or perhaps the co-angler was working a different depth zone and having better success. That, too, could provide a key piece to the puzzle.
Although the rules prevented us from asking for assistance, there was nothing to say we couldn’t go to school on what a co-angler was doing to catch fish behind us. And believe me, plenty of us benefitted by doing just that!
The Dirty Dozen
Throughout the early years of the Elite Series, B.A.S.S. provided official boats for those pros that advanced to the Top 12 final. Charged with the duties of trailering those boats to and from the events were a group of retired guys known affectionately as “The Dirty Dozen.”
All were good anglers and competitive, too, and most wanted to win the co-angler division of every event they entered.
During that period, I drew a number of them — repeatedly, in fact — and I always enjoyed their company. I recall on two separate occasions when members of their crew actually won out of the back of my boat. And that was exciting for each of us.
They used to tell me they had two lists: One for good draws, the other for bad draws. Apparently, I was on the good list — as I never interfered with their efforts to catch fish. As a result, I forged longstanding friendships with several of the Dirty Dozen — including Harry Potts, Jimmy Sparks and Tommy Swindle (Gerald's dad).
The Marshal program is now in its seventh year. And to be honest, I do prefer the newer format. The Marshals I’ve drawn seem to like it as well.
During competition, some will ask detailed questions on what we’re doing and why. Others simply take notes. Still others prefer to document the experience using their GoPro or cell phone cameras.
Those issued official BASSTrakk phones report our catches as they happen, and have the capability to send photos back to Bassmaster.com so that those following the live blog can see what’s going on.
However they choose to participate, the bottom line is they’re engaged. They’re there to learn and maximize the experience … and none ever seem to leave disappointed.
Even though they aren’t competing, it’s like they're invested somehow — each hoping we’ll succeed with them aboard. And that’s pretty cool.
So if you’ve ever wanted to witness firsthand what an Elite Series pro encounters in high-stakes competition, then you owe it to yourself to sign up. The cost is minimal, and who knows? You may even draw your favorite pro.
To enter, simply contact the B.A.S.S. tournament department. They’ll hook you up with the angling experience of a lifetime. And bring along someone to share the experience with. The more the merrier!