By Trevor Knight
With the economy in the gutter, rising tournament costs, and the shrinking sponsorship market, it’s getting more and more difficult to make it as a professional angler, especially if you are just starting out. At the end of my first full year of fishing professionally, I have learned how to be competitive without breaking the bank. Here are some tips that can help both tournament and recreational anglers bass on a budget.
Probably the biggest myth that has been perpetuated in bass fishing over the last two decades is that you need to have a $50,000 bass boat to be competitive. The bass don’t care if you are in a brand new 21 foot bass boat or a 20 year old 17 foot aluminum boat. I learned this lesson when I fished the PAA TTBC qualifier last February at Choke Canyon Reservoir. At the time, I was still a grad student at Texas A&M, and I was invited to fish the qualifier against more than 60 professional anglers and South Texas guides. I had a 1987 17 foot Bass Tracker with a 1987 70 hp Evinrude. The boat was only worth about $3000 and the next cheapest boat there was probably $20,000 with the average boat valued around $40,000. I was in 6th place after the first day and ended up finishing in 16th, well within the top 25 cut that would qualify for the TTBC. The $50,000 boats are for guys who have money to burn or don’t care about going into debt. True, you may be able to get to the spot first with that rig, but you still have to catch the fish. A downside to those big boats is that they burn a lot more fuel than their smaller cousins. I now run a 19 foot Stratos and have had it out on Champlain, Lake Ontario, Okeechobee, and Toledo Bend. A 19 foot bass boat can handle big water just fine.
The next few tips have to do with saving fuel. Fuel costs are one of the biggest expenses an angler will incur over the course of the year. Instead of driving your boat from one end of the lake to fish a spot on the other end of the lake, try trailering your boat and launching it at a ramp close to where you want to fish. Outboard engines have a fuel mileage of less than 5 miles/gallon while on plane. Even the biggest gas guzzling vehicles get better mileage than that. By trailering to various ramps, you will save money on fuel and also decrease the risk of damaging your boat in rough water or hitting an underwater obstruction.
It is also a good idea to buy gas for your boat away from the lake. Marinas always charge more for gas on the water than gas stations located away from the lake. A gas station five miles from the lake will typically be 20 to 30 cents cheaper than a marina on the water. Don’t be lazy. Fill up on the way to the lake or drive a few miles from the ramp and fill up.
It always makes me laugh when I see a guy who is practicing for a tournament or just fishing for fun, and he is flying across the lake at full throttle. Then he complains about how he has to fill up after the day is over. Instead of running wide open all day in practice, ease off and run at 3000 to 4000 rpms. It will vary from boat to boat and motor to motor, but somewhere within that range will be the optimal fuel efficiency at which to run. Depending on the size of the fuel tank, that can translate to 30 to 50 miles more per tank of fuel than if it were run wide open. That can be another two days of fishing without filling up.
Now I would like to share one of my favorite thrifty tips. Most anglers fill the oil reservoir up and then throw away the 1 gallon oil jug. Instead of throwing away that empty jug, take it back to your local marine dealer and have them refill it with oil. Most marine dealers have the oil they sell in 55 gallon drums out back that they use when performing maintenance on customers’ boats. More often than not they will refill your empty oil jug for less than it would cost to buy a brand new one. I take my empty Evinrude XD100 one gallon jugs back to my local marine dealer and get them filled for $31. A new one gallon jug of XD100 oil would have cost me $45. That can translate to over $100 in savings per year. Not only are you saving money by reusing those oil jugs, but you are also helping the environment by reducing the amount of trash sent to landfills.
It only took me one tournament to realize that staying in motels is not the way to go. Even staying at an economy motel at a rate of $40 per night for one week will cost around $300 after tax. Normally, you can find a campground in the same area for $18 to $30 dollars per night. That turns into a huge savings if you fish multiple tournaments each year. I recommend purchasing a nice used truck camper for less than $4000. You can take the camper off the truck once you get to the campground, which makes launching your boat and driving around much easier once you are there. Another benefit is that you have your own bed instead of a nasty motel bed. It is also less likely that someone will try to break into your boat at a campground than at a motel parking lot on the interstate. If you cannot afford to buy a truck camper, a truck cap or tent will work. To me it does not make sense to waste money on a motel room when it is so much more comfortable and cheaper staying in a camper.
Another plus of having a camper is that you can do your own cooking. I try to avoid restaurants as much as possible while I am on the road. All you need is a microwave, some poptarts, PB&J, and ChiliMac. An entire day of meals will cost me less than a burger combo at a fast food place. A dinner at a franchise restaurant will cost more than $10, while a nice size dinner prepared in the camper will cost less than $5. Another plus is that you are preparing your own food, so you know exactly who has had their hands on it.
If you are making a trip more than a couple hours from home you need to be prepared for all types of weather, regardless of the season. I was fishing a tournament in upstate New York this year in August. The temperatures were in the 80s the entire week before the tournament. The night before the tournament the temperature dropped to lows in the 40s with highs in the low 50s during the day. All I had were short sleeve shirts, a windbreaker, shorts, and one pair of jeans. If I had brought my cold weather gear I would not have had to make a late night run to buy a hoodie and some gloves. It is a good idea to be prepared for anything Mother Nature can throw at you, even if it is the middle of summer or dead of winter. Always have gloves, thermals, heavy socks, raingear, waterproof boots, sunglasses, and sun block. I would also recommend that you bring basic tools, electrical wire and tape, and duct tape. If something breaks on the boat you may be able to fix it yourself if you have some basic tools. It will save you time and money.
A tip that goes along with being prepared relates to tackle. It is a good idea to research the lakes you will be fishing in the upcoming year and identify the tackle that you will need for each one. Then buy your lures and line in bulk. Buying in bulk reduces the cost per unit, especially with soft plastics and line. While you may pay more up front, by the end of the year you end up saving money. For example, buying fluorocarbon on 200 yard spools would cost you 10 cents per yard. If you buy the same line on a 2000 yard spool it would cost you 8 cents per yard. If you use 1000 yards of that fluorocarbon each year, then you would save $20 by purchasing the 2000 yard spool. Factor in the multiple line sizes and types that you would use during the year and you are looking at saving of over $150 each year. When you add the soft plastics you use to the equation you end up saving a lot of money simply by being prepared and buying in bulk. Online tackle stores are great places to find tackle in bulk as well as find great deals on sale items.
Another way to save money on tackle is to make it yourself. There is some initial upfront cost related to the equipment you need to make your own tackle, but within a year or two the equipment will have paid for itself. A good example would be making your own drop shot weights. You would need to purchase a melting pot, line grip swivels, the drop shot mold, and lead. After you have this equipment you would be able to pour your own drop shot weights at a cost of less than 20 cents per weight. Buying drop shot weights at retail will cost at least 33 cents per weight for even the cheapest ones on the market. If you do a lot of drop shot fishing up north where zebra mussels are present, then you know you are going to go through a lot of weights. Making your own will save you money in the long run, and there is just a great feeling of satisfaction from catching fish on tackle you made yourself.
These are some of the best ways I have found to fish all year long without ending up in the red. Hopefully these tips will help you stay out of debt while keeping the line wet.