March 1, 2004 by Rob Newell
When FLW Outdoors laid the foundation for its pro-am formats, officials intentionally chose the title "co-angler" to describe the angler who fishes from the back deck rather than traditional monikers like "no-boater" or "amateur." FLW Outdoors realized that many "amateurs" were not only boat owners, but also good anglers who wanted more visibility in the sport. With that, the role of the co-angler has evolved. For example, it used to be that pros practiced and "amateurs" showed up just to fish the tournament. These days, however, more and more co-anglers are also putting in practice time to get a feel for what the fish are doing. Should co-anglers tow their own boats to tournaments or practice with a pro? How can co-anglers who do not own a boat get hooked up with a pro to practice? These will be the topics of the next two installments of the Co-angler's Clinic. For co-anglers who own boats, deciding whether or not to take your rig to a tournament largely depends on the type of FLW Outdoors event you are fishing, number of days you can practice, the tournament venue and its distance from home. The answer to this question starts with identifying your goals as a co-angler. If you want to learn about specific techniques and find alternative tactics for catching fish in "used" water, then practicing with a pro is your best bet. If you are trying to find fish in hopes of convincing a pro to go to them during the tournament, then you will be better off taking your own boat. Co-anglers who get into FLW Outdoors events near their home usually opt for practicing on their own. Being native to the area offers many advantages, including inherent knowledge of the lake and its fishing patterns. Also, the chances of a pro entertaining a co-angler's fishing suggestions increase if the co-angler is a local. Checking a few sweet spots before the tournament could pay off if a pro is open to suggestions. However, if you are a co-angler headed to foreign waters, then you might let the particular circuit dictate your decision as to whether you want tow your boat for practice. The Wal-Mart FLW Tour, for example, is made up mostly of touring pros. They usually spend somewhere between three to 10 days practicing for an FLW event. By the time the tournament starts, they usually know exactly how and where they want to fish. Even if a co-angler brings a boat and finds the honey hole of lifetime, the chances of convincing an FLW Tour pro of going to it are slim. In this case you will probably learn more about what's going on and, more importantly, what you need to be prepared for by practicing with a pro. BFL events are quite different. BFL boaters are often faced with a limited amount of practice time. A BFL boater that gets one day of scouting on an unfamiliar lake will likely be all ears for suggestions if his co-angler has practiced a day or two. Somewhere in between are the EverStart and TTT events, which can be evaluated case by case based on a few other conditions. Distance from home and the number of days you can practice are legitimate concerns. Towing a boat 500 miles for one day of practice on a lake you know absolutely nothing about may be arbitrary. Also, the venue and your accommodations should be considerations. If you are in a 200-boat tournament and staying in one of only three motels in town, parking your rig is likely going to be a nightmare. Conversely, if the tournament is being held in a city with a myriad of motels or you have a cabin out by the lake with plenty of room, then taking your own boat becomes a more viable option. If you do plan on practicing from your boat in hopes of swaying a pro to your fishing areas, here are a few suggestions: â€¢ Practice near the put-in. The closer your areas are to weigh-in, the better your chances of sampling them during the tournament. Occasionally, pros will come in a few minutes early and fish near the check-in. If you have a productive place or two nearby, the pro might be willing to give it a shot. Trying to convince a pro to go to fish that are 30 miles out of the way is much more difficult to do. â€¢ Know your spots well. If a pro should agree to try one of your places during the day, be able to put him right on the spot. Your credibility begins to diminish by the minute if a pro takes you to your spot and there is a lot of: "Well, I think it's over here ... or maybe it's over there. ... I'm not really sure." Be direct about how to get there and exactly where to start. â€¢ Be prepared to make a deal. Don't be surprised if your pro agrees to go to your fish under the condition that he can return to them the next day should the area pan out. â€¢ Some pros are automatically resistant to trying a co-angler's spot for a variety of reasons. When you meet your pro at the pairing, avoid introducing yourself with stories of the big ones you caught in practice. Wait until the appropriate time in the conversation and simply tell him you practiced on your own and you have some places in mind if he is interested and leave it at that. â€¢ Don't exaggerate your catch in an effort to influence your pro. Most pros can see right through this and it ruins any chances of going to your area. â€¢ Don't badger a pro with your recommendations all day long. Again, it's perfectly fine to make a suggestion or two, but leave it at that. The pro is going to be more likely to try your place if you have been patient and helpful. â€¢ Shake fish off in practice. Practice as if you were going to fish the tournament yourself. Of course you will want to check a couple for size but "sore-mouthing" 15 keepers from one spot the day before the tournament can be counterproductive and it's not necessarily a good selling point with your pro. Remember, a pro has complete control of the boat. If a pro does not want to sample your areas, don't get frustrated. He or she paid the higher entry for that right and you must respect that.