Versatility key for co-anglers

If you’re a co-angler fishing in a Bassmaster Open tournament, it’s possible that you may have to be even more versatile.

SHREVEPORT-BOSSIER CITY, La. – If you talk with a professional angler competing on either the Bassmaster Elite Series or Open circuits, one word you often hear is “versatility.”

The pros have to be ready for changes in the weather, changes in the bite, changes of venue. It’s a challenge that keeps even the world’s best anglers on their toes.

If you’re a co-angler fishing in a Bassmaster Open tournament, it’s possible that you may have to be even more versatile. You’re paired with a different boater every day, and you automatically have to adapt to where your pro is fishing and what bite he’s working.
Now that is a really difficult circumstance.

But Ernie Smoak didn’t have much difficulty adapting to fishing with three different anglers over three days of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open No. 1. In fact, he excelled at doing it. So much so, that Smoak boated a limit of nine fish over three days that weighed a total of 23 pounds, 10 ounces. His performance earned him the co-angler championship of the tournament, not to mention a Skeeter/Yamaha boat/motor package valued at $25,000.

The competitor closest to him in the standings, Kim Giddens of Alabama, finished nearly three pounds behind.

In other words, Smoak “smoked” the competition.

Smoak is quite familiar with the Red River. He lives in Keatchie, about 30 minutes south of Shreveport. The 53-year old angler works as a facilities manager for the LSU Health Science Center in Shreveport, and has fished the pro side in years past in B.A.S.S. Open events. He took some time off to dedicate himself to work for a few years before deciding to give it a go as a co-angler in what amounts to his backyard here on the Red River.

He’s happy he did.

On Day One, he was paired fellow Louisiana angler Bo Keith, who was Carolina-rigging to a brush top. Smoak followed suit, but started swimming a Rage Craw.

“Once I started to drag it, I caught two four-pounders, and another little one,” Smoak said. He finished Day One with a three-fish total of 9-9.

On Day Two, Smoak rode with Texas pro Michael Randolph and made a run to Lone Lake in Pool 4. The pair fished a rock bank at the end of a deep oxbow and Smoak threw the Rage Craw again along the deeper trenches beside the rocks. The first fish he caught was a five-pounder and he added another two keepers to score a three-fish bag that totaled 7-14.

Day Three with Texas pro Roy Sanford was a total 180, however, from what Smoak fished during the first days of the tournament. Sanford was fishing in an area so shallow, both men said “You could almost see dirt, it was that shallow.”

“He told me he was going into Sullivan’s and said basically, he was going to be fishing dirt,” Smoak said. “It was about an hour run and it was really shallow. He was using a swim bait and I got the idea to swim the Craw. I got enough bites to be able to swim the craw and it pretty much held up the whole way through.”

Smoak said he’s won some small, local bass tournaments, but nothing like the Central Open Co-Angler Championship he locked down on Saturday.

“There were a couple of times I got choked up seeing my wife standing out there and seeing her getting teary eyed,” Smoak said. “But it feels really great to win this.”

So much so, that he hopes to put that new boat/motor package to good use soon. He’d like to give it another shot on the pro side.

“I’m gonna’ try to get back into it,” he said. “The job that I was promoted into it takes more of my time…But I’m coming up on retirement. So in about six or eight months, I may be able to get back into it do a lot more. I’m looking forward to it.”