Co-anglers compete for the love of fishing
Outdoors By JOHN PHILLIPS
No one seems to notice an unseen army of national amateur fishermen, who compete in all the major bass-fishing tournaments. Very few people know who these back-of-the-boat guys are, what they do, how they compete, why they compete, and that they're actually winning money.
"I primarily fish the co-angler side of the FLW tour," said Todd Lee of Jasper, "but I also fish in some of the Bassmasters co-angler events too."
The co-angler is the fisherman in the back of the boat, often called a no-boater or an observer, who rides with the pros and actually competes for cash and prizes just like the pros do. But the co-angler doesn't compete against the pros in a tournament but rather against the other tournament co-anglers. The co-angler fishes the "used" water after a professional angler has finished with it.
"One of the problems with being a co-angler on the Bassmasters circuit is that their co-anglers are selected by a lottery," Lee explains. "However, in the FLW tournaments, co-anglers can sign up to fish all the tournaments just like the pros do. Also, the points we accumulate in each tournament count for us to go to the FLW Classic at no cost, just like the pro anglers do.
"Although a pro angler pays anywhere from $1800 to $2000 to enter a tournament, a co-angler only pays about $600. The winner of the FLW Championship takes home $500,000, and the winner of the FLW Co-Angler Championship takes home $25,000."
Often people ask Lee why he doesn't step to the front of the boat, pay the big bucks and compete as a pro fisherman, since he's fished tournaments as a co-angler for 20 years and won two FLW Co-Angler Classics.
Simple. Lee has a full-time job at his family-owned grocery store in Jasper.
"I can earn a living for my family every year in a grocery store and still get to fish with the best bass fishermen in the world, and learn from them," he said. "I count many of the nation's top pro fishermen as my friends, and I room with some of them when I go to tournaments. I truly feel I've got the best of both worlds. I get to fish with the pros in the major tournaments, and I get to keep my day job and have time for my family."
Lee mentions that he does have a difficult time with patience when he's a co-angler. "Many days we won't catch as many bass as the pros do," he said. "And in a really tough tournament, landing one or two keeper fish each day can put a co-angler in the top 10 spots of the co-angler tournament."
The co-angler tournament takes place at the same time and under the same rules as the major bass tournament. But you'll never see the co-anglers walk across a stage or on TV, or hear their winnings announced.
Even if one of the fishermen wins the Co-Angler Classic, no one but the other co-anglers at the Classic know who's won. But Todd Lee and the other back-of-the-boat co-anglers love their sport and their form of competition as much as the national pros do. These men get to learn about all the new baits and tactics yet witness first-hand the agony of defeat and the glory of victory.
"I feel like I'm successful if I win enough money each year to pay my expenses," Lee said. "In the 10 years I've been fishing, I've earned more than $130,000 as a co-angler and certainly more than have covered my expenses. I really enjoy tournament bass fishing, being with the tournament pros, seeing all the new products and learning the latest techniques."
Although these co-anglers sit in the backs of boats, never step into the spotlight and for the most part go unseen by the general bass-fishing public, these highly-skilled bass anglers enjoy competition. They also have to be among the best bass fishermen in the world, since they have to catch the bass that the best bass fishermen in the world haven't or won't.