The other side of tournament fishing

I’ve been fishing tournaments since I was 13 years old so I like to think that I have a pretty good handle on how things should be run. But my experience this year trying to set up the “Keith Combs Sam Rayburn Slam” Open Tournament has made me realize that sometimes in order to really understand something you need to see it from a different perspective.

The tournament will take place on Oct. 29 out of Cassel Boykin Park on Sam Rayburn, and while my name is on it, I have to give much of the credit to Brian Vondereau of BLV Enterprises, one of my sponsors. Brian attended the Bassmaster Classic in New Orleans in 2011 and saw that Gerald Swindle had a Wounded Warrior in his boat. That lit a fire in him to organize some sort of similar effort to help out America’s heroes, and Brian quickly put his money where his mouth is, setting up a bass and crappie tournament to benefit Warriors Weekend on his home lake in south Texas.

I think that first year the tournament raised about $10,000. It’s grown since then, first to $25,000 and then to $35,000. It got enough notoriety that we thought we could make it even bigger by moving it to Sam Rayburn, which is fishing exceptionally well right now. It’s taking big weights to win every weekend tournament and that shows no sign of letting up. There’s a thirst for more big money tournaments in the area, and this could fulfill that need easily. There’s a $200 entry fee per team (which includes a big bass pot). In most tournaments you can expect a payout of approximately 80 percent of the entry fees. That’s understandable – the staff needs to eat and pay their mortgages, and the equipment comes at a cost. Because this is such a good cause, though, our sponsors have really stepped up, and we expect the payout to be somewhere in the 130 percent range. The winning team will get $10,000.

Of course, while we’re all excited about the tournament part of the event, I’m even more excited about what we’re doing for our wounded warriors. Several Elite Series pros and top local guides have stepped up and donated fishing trips, many of them including lodging, on the best lakes in the country. We’ll be auctioning those off on my Facebook page soon. Additionally, my sponsor Tackle Addict has taken a 50 quart cooler and loaded it up with gear from my sponsors to the point that it is overflowing. There are baits, hats, terminal tackle, even a trolling motor in the bundle. We’re going to raffle it off, and all of that money will go to Warriors Weekend.

So far, the entire fishing community has been incredibly supportive of this effort. I’ve met a ton of new people and everyone seems to want to lend a helping hand. We’ve even had another tournament organization offer to let us use not only their tournament setup and scales, but also their staff. Despite all of that help, I’m still a little bit nervous about making this go smoothly. I’ve always just showed up at tournaments, practiced and fished. I had no idea how many different considerations the tournament director has to account for – no detail can be forgotten. There’s always some other variable to consider.

On the Elite Series many of us are quick to criticize Trip Weldon when he makes a controversial decision. We’re all opinionated and we all want things to go our way all the time. This experience has led me to have additional respect for the people “behind the scenes” who make things happen for those of us who fish. The work is fun, and I promise you that we’re doing everything we can to make it an exceptional event, but I had no idea that so much planning was involved.

If you’d like more information about the tournament, click here.