My life as a co-angler

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James Overstreet

VanDam, Iaconelli, Swindle, Reese and the rest – bass fishing stars, captaining the best in 20-foot plus fishing machines, complete with the latest powerplants hung from the transom. You know their stories, but what about the tales of another group of fisherman, each with their own hurdles, with their own dreams and their own story? The co-angler. This season, we are going to pull back the curtain on this group of guys; diverse, solid fisherman who also have a story to tell.

Now, there are no co-anglers on the Bassmaster Elite Series, so the highest level a co can compete on is the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open Series. For $450, an angler can jump in a boat for two days, and for the fortunate 12, a third day, with up-and-coming pros looking to qualify for the GEICO Bassmaster Classic or an Elite invitation.  And in many Opens, much like the Xfinity Series in NASCAR, several Elites will participate.

Keep in mind, for these co-anglers, this isn’t a joyride or a chance to be a Marshall with a rod in hand. These guys are competing amongst themselves for serious cash and prizes, and in some cases, are preparing for a move to the bow in the near future.

This season, beginning at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes in Florida, I will be fishing as a co-angler on the Eastern Open trail. I'll be bringing you stories from back of the boat warriors and sharing ideas on how to prep for an event and what we might learn along the way. Oh, and I do plan on cashing a few checks as well.

My own tournament experience goes back to the early 1980s, and for most of that time I was the guy with my foot on the trolling motor. However, for the past few years, I have been forced to the back deck, after I sold my Ranger in Florida with full intentions of buying my next rig when I got to North Alabama. But a funny thing happened along the way … kids … and more kids and more kids. Fortunately, I have some great friends throughout Alabama and Tennessee, and I quickly learned my way around the other end of the boat.

Nowadays, most of my time in the back is spent fishing team events, which is a totally different animal than competing against other co-anglers. As teammates, my buddies and I work together, to find fish, land fish and weigh in fish. Plus, if we’re pitching grass or docks, we’ll both be on the front deck, picking apart the cover. But as a co, you’re fate in the back is not really a priority for your pro. Now, I have had the pleasure of fishing with John Crews, Charley Hartley, Gary Clouse and others who were always gracious and tremendous sportsmen, but if they were hitting docks or other tight shoreline cover, I better figure out a way to use the water I had left to fill my side of the livewell … and that’s totally understandable. 

Those guys paid an entry fee three times mine. Plus they hauled that rig to the lake, spent hours practicing, and in the case of Hartley, hours scrubbing and cleaning every fish scale in the carpet. Sometimes, you may find yourself in an open water situation where getting “back boated” is not really an issue. I remember one glorious day in June on Guntersville with former Rookie of the Year Derek Remitz. The wolverine and I both had 27-pound plus bags.

We’ll talk prepping for an event, what to expect, what is expected of you and we’ll share some of the Opens best co-angler stories. Plus, we’ll discuss how to attack a three-fish limit (versus five for the pros), picking the right six rods (the co limit), what tackle to put in the truck (everything) and what to put in your bag (the right things). So grab and few rods and jump on board, this is going to be a blast.

Thom Abraham is the host of Bassmaster Radio. He is fishing the Eastern Opens as a co-angler in 2018.