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An Economical Taste Of Tournament Fishing

By Wayne Ek


Field staffing for two marketing groups allows me to work at a number of fishing/hunting and boating shows during the year. Surprisingly, one of the most commonly asked questions is about getting started in tournament fishing.  I get the feeling that there are a substantial number of anglers that fish for both bass and walleyes on a recreational level, but wonder what it would be like to fish a tournament for their favorite species.  I fish a number of different tournament series so I know that tournament fishing can become very time consuming and quite expensive.  But, there is a simple way to get a “little taste of tournament fishing” to see if you like it, to satisfy your curiosity and still keep the time commitment and out-of-pocket-costs to a minimum.

 When someone says “tournament fishing “ I usually think they are referring to bass or walleye tournaments, which make up the bulk of the tournaments here in the upper Midwest.  All of the tournaments I fish are for bass, so the information in this article is generally related to bass fishing tournaments.  No matter which species of fish the tournament is for, the formats will generally be similar. There are a number of different tournament formats, but the ones that give the first time Amateur angler the best taste of tournament fishing at the lowest cost is the Pro/Am format.  This format matches a Pro angler with an Amateur angler.  As the Amateur angler you don’t need to take time off work to pre-fish.  You don’t need a boat, trailer or tow vehicle.  On some circuits you don’t have to pay entry fees for the whole circuit, just the one tournament you have elected to fish.  The Amateur angler really has to do nothing more than pay his/her entry fee and show up at the pre-tournament meeting to meet his/her Pro partner.

Most Pro/Am tournaments use one of three formats for weighing the fish.

§  The first format is called a shared weight format.  With this format the Pro and the Amateur are fishing as a team.  They will both benefit from any fish caught, no matter which angler catches the fish.

§   The second format is called a modified shared weight format.  This format is structured so the Amateur angler gets to add the weight of their fish to that of the fish caught by the Pro angler. This then becomes the Amateur anglers total weight for the tournament day. With this format the Pro angler derives no benefit from any fish his Amateur partner catches during the tournament.

§  The third format is called the non-shared weight format.  In this system the Pro angler weighs up to 5 fish for his/her total weight.  The Amateur angler can weigh up to 5 fish for their total weight. Neither party benefits from the fish caught by their partner. 

 Personally, I feel that the non-shared or modified shared weight tournaments are not a good place for a novice angler to experience tournament fishing for the first time.  From my experience and in speaking with other Pro and Amateur anglers these types of formats can be more competitive for the Amateur angler than the basic shared weight format. This can cause a novice angler undue stress or tension. Leaving them with a bad first impression of what tournament fishing is really like.  On a non-shared weight tournament the Pro angler may feel they do not have the time to explain fishing patterns, structure or techniques to their Amateur partners, leaving the Amateur angler to their own devices.  This can really be frustrating to a novice tournament angler who is hoping to catch some fish or learn a new technique.  I do, however, think that these formats are an excellent place for the experienced angler to test their skills and build on their tournament knowledge.  Also, by fishing tournaments with these formats an experienced Amateur angler can develop the confidence to move over to the Pro side of a tournament series.

   Of the three formats, the shared weight format will generally be less stressful for the novice angler.  This format can at times feel more like a guided fishing trip than a large tournament.  During a shared weight tournament the Pro angler has everything to gain by helping his novice amateur partner catch fish and understand the techniques they will be using to do so.  With a shared weight tournament the Pro will usually be more than willing to take time away from fishing to explain to their Amateur partner which bait to use or how to use a certain type of bait. 

 The biggest costs will be the tournament entry fee.  In the upper Midwest I think you will be hard pressed to find a Pro/Am tournament that has an amateur entry fee over $250.00, most are in the $200.00 range.  When you think about it, that’s a bargain.  I run a fishing guide business during the soft-water months (summer) and our fee for 1or 2 anglers is $300.00 for an 8-hour trip.  So for less money than you would pay a fishing guide (hopefully I’m not going to lose business here) you get to fish with a Pro angler, usually in a top of the line boat and if you place high enough in the standings you will cash a check.  Even if you do not cash a check (win prize money) some tournaments offer just-out-of-the-money prizes or various door prizes.

There are some other costs associated with tournament fishing.  On most Pro/Am tournaments the tournament director will encourage the Amateur anglers to contribute to the cost of boat gas, usually $25 to $30.  There can be hotel and meal costs, but with so many tournaments in the upper Midwest you should be able to find a tournament close to your home, allowing you to avoid the cost of hotels and meals.

 For parents who have a child (over 16 years old) who is showing a strong interest in fishing, see if they want to experience tournament fishing.  This could be a great gift from you and a great experience for them. This is also a great gift for a senior who just doesn’t get out fishing as much as they wish they could.

 Another great thing about a shared weight tournament is that you will not have to bring a boatload of gear.  Most of my Amateur partners bring 2 or 3 rods and a small tackle pack.  Trust me on this one…  If your fishing a shared-weight tournament your Pro partner will let you know what he wants you to use and generally will have more than enough equipment for both of you.  The other things you will need to bring are:

  • A life vest (PFD)
  • Lunch and something to drink
  • Sunglasses
  • Rain gear
  • A warm coat for early spring or late summer tournaments

 Here in the upper Midwest I’m aware of 3 major Pro/Am tournament series to choose from.  Some are shared weight and others are non-shared weight formats.  They are:

  • BassMasters Weekend Series (now run by American Bass Anglers)
  • FLW, Bass Fishing League (BFL)
  • Silverado  

 All of these series are well run professional tournaments, which cater to both the Pro and Amateur angler.  If you want “ a little taste of tournament fishing” with some fun thrown in, along with a little adrenaline rush, not to mention the possibility of cashing a prize check, give one of the Pro/Am tournament series a try.


 As always, stay safe and we hope to see you on the water.


Wayne Ek is a fishing guide, tournament angler and writer living in Alexandria, Minnesota.  For more information you can contact him at