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Getting Started: Which Tournament Trail is Best for you?
By Ken Warren


While attending sports shows and talking with novice anglers I often hear similar questions about the different tournament trails and which one they should fish. There is no general answer to that question but this article will attempt to explain the difference, as well as the pros and cons of each to assist you in answering that question for yourself.

First, let me say, as good as you may think you are, very few will set the tournament world on fire the first few years. The vast majority will undergo a humbling experience as they learn the ropes and realize tournament fishing is a little different from fishing for fun.

First, I would suggest you select tournaments that are relatively cheap but will allow you a good opportunity to learn new techniques and water. This will give you the “best bang for you buck.” Keeping this in mind you have three solid paths to get you started. Review the following formats and decide which is right for you.

The cheapest and lowest pressure will come from local bass clubs. You can find these clubs by asking at your local tackle store or searching on-line.  The entry fees vary greatly from club to club but, in general, will run from $20 to $40 per tournament, with a few even cheaper. Joining a bass club is a great way to enter the tournament world while still keeping the training wheels on to some degree. It is not as high pressure as the various tournament trails out there and the focus is often to just have fun with friends while making things more interesting by having some money on the line.

Even if you win a club tournament you will probably still be in the hole if you consider all the expenses like gas, hotels, or food. Clubs are fun due to the activities before and after the tournaments where members often get together for dinner, drinks, etc. Clubs do however, take a little extra investment of time because you are expected to attend monthly meetings and participate in fund raising, conservation projects and, or, charity work with the other members. The biggest benefit from clubs is the sharing of information and the help that new people often receive from the older members. You can join clubs with or without a boat in most cases. In fact, I recommend you start fishing as a non-boater regardless of which path you choose. This will expose you to the largest array of different techniques, as you will be paired with different boaters throughout the season.

The next two paths are more intense and also more expensive but with it comes the chance to actually win some real money. If you can find a friend that is interested in taking the plunge with you, the two of you could compete on one of the various team trails assuming one of you has a boat. This can be a fun way to enjoy tournaments with a good friend but be sure it is someone you can rely on. In a team tournament the two of you share the entry fee (around $100) and expenses as well as having to share the pot should you take home a check. While many people enjoy this type of tournament circuit, I am not convinced it is a good way to get started. I think you will progress more slowly because you are not exposed to all the different styles or the other anglers as quickly. It is also easy to get stuck in a rut doing the same thing over and over again because it is comfortable but not really productive.

The final choice is similar in cost and intensity to the team circuit but you are more on your own. These can cost as low as $50 and you can enter tournaments with either a draw or a pro-am format. In both formats boaters and non-boaters are paired together via a draw. The difference is that in a draw format, boaters and non-boaters compete against each other as well as everyone else while in a pro-am format there is a boater (pro) and a non-boater (am) category so the boaters compete against only the boaters and the nons against nons. In either of these you are always exposed to different anglers and you will grow quickly. In fact you could enter a professional bass tournament with BASS or FLW and fish with one of the top pros as his amateur partner. This can be a little pricey at $300-$700 bucks but you get 2 to 3 days of fishing with the best in the world.

While there are vast numbers of different circuits in the US, here are a few circuits to check out in my neck of the woods.

Team Trails:

Angler’s Choice
Bass World Sports
Big Bucks Bass
Fishers of Men

Draw Trail:

American Bass Anglers

Pro/Am Trails:

Central Pro-Am