No matter how you shake it, it's true that you start each tournament at a disadvantage in the back of the boat. It's not just a matter of the boater having first pitch/flip/cast to a piece of structure, it's also that you have to fish the way the boater prefers. You may prefer to fish slow and methodically, but the boater has the trolling motor on high burning a spinnerbait the entire time. The boater may be flipping to the front end of docks all day and not giving you a chance to get a cast in there. What can we do to be successful in these situations? Here are some ideas on how to approach fishing from the back of the boat…
* Be a courteous non-boater – I'm not going to get into all the things necessary to be a courteous non-boater; except, show up on time, help them get the boat in and out, don't show up with a tremendous amount of gear, bring a PFD for yourself, take care of the boat like it was your own, and pay them some gas money at the end of the day. Be sure to give enough to help cover how much running they did in the boat. $20 is a minimum in my book, and upwards to $30 or more if they ran
the boat a long ways. It's a small amount of money considering the price of boats and gas these days. Remember, it's not just the gas in the boat or even the launch fee, it's also the gas they used to tow their boat to the launch ramp. Those prices are pretty small considering the cost of bass boats these days in initial price and maintenance. I believe these are the most critical in being a courteous non-boater. Most other things can be overlooked, as long as you take care of these bare necessities you will be in good shape.
* Contact the Boater – This is critical and maybe the most important step to take. Contact the boater the day before, or even the week before if you have the opportunity. First find out when to meet at the ramp. Don't be late! You are not going to get a fair shake if they are ticked off at you before you even get there. Find out how they are planning to fish, this can save you invaluable time. If the boater is planning on fishing a C-rig for a good portion of the day, be ready to do so. One tip I received about C-Rigging is to pre-rig your weight and swivel, and then tie together several hooks with a loop on the end to attach to the swivel, at various lengths. This way you can switch up between 18" lengths from weight to hook to a 30" from weight to hook in no time. If they plan to fish mats all day, have your gear rigged and ready for it. Don't waste time tying up when the boater is fishing, you are already at a disadvantage, so don't lose valuable casts! One more conversation to have, is how they prefer you to handle the net. Know this ahead of time, where is the net, do you want me to get it on every fish, or just when you yell for it. Don't go shifting around in the boat until you know they want you to net the fish for them!
* Be different – What I mean is throw something different than the boater when possible. If they are flipping docks, go ahead and go i there after them. If they flip to every piece of the dock, that means they are taking their time, so you will get your casts. Now the trick is, throw something different here. If the boater is throwing a ring worm in june bug, and you throw the same worm, chances are you will not get many bites. But, if they are flipping a big jig or 9" worm, go with a grub, senko, trick worm, finesse worm. If they are throwing a finesse worm, throw something big, like a jig or 9" worm. If you have to downsize to get a bite, and the boater is throwing something small too, well try a different color. Give the fish something else to look at, that'll give you a chance to pick up those fish they missed. So many times at the weigh-ins I hear a non-boater say, well the boater was flipping docks all day and didn't leave me any fish. That's plain bull, even the best angler out there is not picking up every fish, have confidence you will get that bite, and you will. Just be different somehow than the boater, with a different bait, color, size, depth, speed, give them something different to trigger a bite in the fish they missed…
* Versatility – It's been said many times, and it'll be said many more that you must be versatile to be a successful tournament fisherman. Well, this is much more important when you are fishing from the back of the boat, because you sometimes have no choice but to fish a certain way. A boater can generally get away with their shortcomings, because they know what they are and will avoiding them if possible. As a rider, you sometimes are forced to face them. That means get out there on your free time and learn how to fish a Carolina rig or topwater. What ever your shortcomings are, practice those when you have the chance. You are going to be forced at times to fish a field of matted grass by punching through them, or fishing a frog on top. You are at the mercy of the boater, so the more techniques you know, the better chance you have. If they are sitting in 40 feet of water drop-shotting, hopefully you already knew that was a possibility and are prepared to do it. The best part, is you are going to throw something a little bit different then the boater, and at a different length to get that bite.
* Other tricks – One trick, if you find the boater is just plain fishing too fast to get any bites, well give them the old swing and a miss. Nothing slows down a boater like an angler in the back getting a bite. Tell them "wow, I really tried to slow down that retrieve and I got a bite, just couldn't get that hook in them." That'll slow them down, even if just for a short while. Another tip, flip to the other dock. I see a lot of docks lined up next to each other. A lot of times the boater will fish down one side and then up the other. Fish just the opposite. Flip to the far dock they plan on getting to next.
As long as you are not casting ahead of the window, that's fair game. Also, keep in mind what side of the dock you or your boater got a bite on. I know when there is a current going under the docks, typically the fish are all faced one way, into the current. Note that so you can make more casts to the right side of a dock.
* Suggesting spots – This is a tough one, and to each their own. My preference is, if I have not fished this lake/river in the past week, I try not to offer any suggestions on spots unless asked. The boater is going to get ticked if they waste 30-40 minutes running to a spot, fishing it for another 30 minutes and find the fish are just not there. If they ask you about any suggestions on spots because they haven't fished there much or there normal spots are not productive, well then suggest them. But don't be in the back of the boat complaining about how terrible this spot is if you don't have any suggestions. Merely suggest, maybe we need to go deeper today to find them, or maybe they are on the flats with all this wind. Whatever you do, don't suggest they make a long milk run in the morning to a spot you know is great if you haven't been there in a year.
* Have fun – Finally, have fun. Sure, tournament fishing is expensive, but don't forget to have fun. There are plenty of friendships I've made with a boater in a tournament where neither of us got any bites. Stay up beat, and talk with the boater. Ask them about how they did last tournament, or what club they are in, the last time they fished here, etc. Keep up a nice conversation if they prefer to talk, but most importantly, have a good time. No matter how poorly one does fishing that day, you still should have a good time, after all, it's better than working.
Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed it.
Michael Holiday, aka Creel Limit Zero, is a forum moderator and a
member of the Ultimate Bass staff. He can be reached at