By Derek Vahey
In the past I have fished out of the back of other anglers boats while competing in team tournaments and have had some less than desirable experiences. Many boat issues occurred because my partner did not maintain his equipment very well. When I decided to compete in the Bass Fishing League Ozark Division as a co-angler, it was a difficult decision. The bad experiences from the past as a back seat partner weighed heavily on my mind. To save some money fishing my first full season, I made the decision to compete as a co-angler even though I could have utilized my own boat.
The first tournament of the year held on Table Rock Lake in early March. I traveled from St. Louis and settled in awaiting the pre-tournament meeting for pairing and rules review. This meeting is required for all anglers participating in the tournament. After arriving at the local Wal-Mart where the meeting and weigh-in were to take place I noticed many beautiful boats and tow vehicles. The crowded parking lot full of anglers was adding to my excitement as the pairings were issued. I was going out number twenty with a field of 102 boats.
After waiting a long time I realize my partner, the boater, is not at the meeting. This meeting is mandatory per the BFL rules and my partner has not shown up. The decision to compete as a co-angler is quickly becoming a very bad choice. After the tournament officials found I was left without a partner they asked if I would like to call him; I had no choice and said “absolutely”. The first call resulted in a voice mail so I immediately called again and got an answer. He reported he was having some battery issues and still planned to attend the tournament. I made it clear he should be there by take-off as I had a lot of time and money invested in this event. In addition, I told him our boat number, boat check-in time and take-off time.
The uncertainty is causing me some issue with trusting if he will actually show up for the tournament. Realizing the situation is now out of my control I prepared for the morning take-off with the assumptions he will show up. Considering the circumstances, I slept rather well and was waiting at the boat ramp at 5:30am. Twenty-five minutes later, I called my partner and he said he was in line at a ramp across the lake. He expected to meet me in about 20 minutes; my concerns began to fade.
My partner calls me when he reaches the ramp to pick me up and reality set in quickly. His boat was just a few years old but its condition was horrible at best. The boat was filthy dirty and his equipment was scattered throughout the boat. Rods, hooks, old line and lures were everywhere. I settled in, stowed my gear and asked, “How far are we going to run to our first stop?” He replied, “about a half an hour”. My rods were rigged with jerkbaits, Midwest Custom Tackle Football Jigs and a grub. I was ready for my first cast.
His Bass Cat was rigged with a 250hp Mercury ProXS and it was fast. We made our first stop in record time. We were in the back of a creek arm in about eight feet of water. I had done extensive research for fishing Table Rock Lake and assumed we would be targeting main and secondary points trying to catch fish staging to spawn. Instead, we were going to beat the banks and I am not sure why he chose this strategy. While I am casting to deeper water as he beat the banks he reported, “I pre-fished this area a few days ago and did not catch any keepers.” Trying to prepare for my hopes of catching some legal sized fish I asked where he kept his net and he replied, “Man, I knew I forgot something in the truck.” We are fishing for thousands of dollars and he forgot the net in his truck.
We had fished down the banks for about an hour while he continually threw a wiggle wart. He finally connected with a short fish and I had not had a bite. After bouncing off some flooded timber I notice he is fumblinging around in the front of the boat. He turns and says, “Man, we are screwed. The trolling motor batteries are dead.” During the rest of the day, we positioned the boat with the big motor and drifted with the wind to fish this same cove all day long. He caught about six fish all day with just one nice keeper and I did not catch a single fish. Words cannot express my frustration and disappointment.
During the long ride home I made yet another decision. I will never enter another tournament as a co-angler as long as I have my own boat. I am sure there are many good partners available for each tournament but this experience is something I will never forget.