Fishing in tournaments is what every angler is inspired to do, at any level. There are two ways to do so, one way everyone knows is as a “Boater”, which you own your own boat and fish out of it. The not so glamorous way is as a “Non-Boater”, which means you draw a boater and compete with the other non-boaters in the field.
Being a Non-Boater in tournaments can be a great time on the water, but it could also be stressful. Every tournament you enter you are paired with someone different and their different style of fishing that they like to fish. You never know what to have rigged up before you hit the water. Sure, you will be given the Boaters phone number a day or two in advance to give him a call and chat, but half the time you will leave a voicemail and just show up at the ramp and have no clue what to expect. There are the few exceptions (thank you to everyone who has answered or called me first when we have been paired) when the Boater will give you a call or answer your phone call and you’ll have a chance to chat about where each of you have been fishing and where the fish are biting.
Always be prepared for anything on the water. As a Non-Boater you want to make sure you have everything you need (rods, tackle, life vest, and snacks) but you also want to be sure to keep it to a minimum. Too much stuff on the boat could make your Boater upset and that would make for a long day. Yes, you are fishing on the boat with him/her but the boat doesn’t belong to you, and you will only have so much room to keep your belongings. In most cases, your Boater will let you put snacks and drinks in the cooler with theirs, but anything else that you would want to put in storage, good luck! Find the right number of rods that will be suitable for the body of water you are about to fish. For example, I fish Lake Okeechobee a ton. I found that six rods are all I need. Rods for flipping heavy cover, a spinnerbait rod, worm rod, a top water rod, and I always have 1 rod with a Gambler Big EZ on it (personal favorite and my “GO TO” rig).
While on the water, it’s important to have some boat etiquette. These are simple things, don’t cast over the boater’s line, be ready to help with the net, don’t leave your trash on the boat. Yes, you are in the back of the boat and you won’t always get first choice at where to cast or could have limited opportunity at times. This means nothing! The body of water is always big enough for the both of you, and you will have your chances at fish just like the guy in the front. Be ready to change your tackle to what has been put in front of you and once you get that bite be ready for it! If you end up at a spot where you don’t feel comfortable, it’s time to learn how to fish that water, which in the long run will make you a better angler.
Quick story about my last tournament a few weeks back. The Boater I was paired with was someone who I had fished a tournament with before. We exchanged a few messages about where on the lake we have been fishing and that he pre-fished and found a spot where he was comfortable fishing and that is where we were going to start. On takeoff we had engine problems. We made it maybe a mile from the ramp. Our options were to fish there and hope for the best, or put the boat on the trailer and hope someone could fix the problem right away. We talked it over and we both agreed to stay, fish and hope for the best. Right away we both had fish in the boat. The bites were few and far between for both of us. Thankfully the trolling motor was still working and we could move around some. The both of us had a combined 16 bites all day. I had seven and only caught four bass and a mudfish, while my boater caught his limit. Idling back in both of us talking about what “could have been” if the motor didn’t fail us and all the fish we would’ve caught, we tried keeping each other’s spirits up. Come weigh in time with my four fish I end up finishing third! Also, beating my boater who had his limit. It was a surprise especially thinking we both had nothing to show for our day except catching fish not far from the ramp.
At every tournament, always remember to bring cash, and offer it to your Boater. This shows some gratitude to the complete stranger you met eight hours ago and they let you on their boat. Clean up all your trash and help them with getting their fish for the weigh in. Also, be sure to offer to help load up the boat and anything else that could come up. I would say 50/50 on guys who will even take the gas money and the same goes with the help on loading the boat on the trailer.
At the end of the day you still accomplished your goal, you got out on the water and you were able to fish. Any angler at any level loves that feeling more than anything. My one goal for every tournament is to make sure I have something to weigh in. It doesn’t matter if it’s a limit of six pounders or on fish for a pound and a half. I proved to myself I can go out and fish whatever body of water that has been put in front of me and catch fish.
Good luck to all you Non-Boaters out there! Its tough fishing but it’s always worth it when you can have a bigger bag than the person in the front of the boat!