Fishing as a Co-Angler: Benefits, Challenges, and Techniques

The trees and grass are coming to life. The lakes and rivers are warming up. Every time I have plans to go fishing, Mother Nature throws in a random storm or cold spell. But spring is finally here, and it’s time to get out on the water and chase some fish. As anglers, this can be the best fishing of the year, and it’s what most of us have obsessed about all winter. For tournament anglers, spring fishing, including fishing as a co-angler, is a time of endless events to enter and an opportunity to start a new season off with a bang.

The past few seasons, I have spent my springs in certain geographical areas. This allowed me to get to know certain bodies of water without having to travel a great distance and incurring the expenses associated with that. This spring, I decided to change it up and branch out to learn about some new fisheries in different parts of the country. I’ve been eager to fish some of these places, and this season was my opportunity.

With the extra travel, expenses, and the number of events stacked on top of each other in the spring, I opted to take advantage of fishing from the back of the boat as a co-angler more than I have in the past. Over the course of ten days, instead of fishing one event as a boater, I was able to squeeze in three multiple-day events because I was willing to fish as a co-angler. Let me tell you, it was awesome, and I learned a ton!

Kyle Gelles fishing as a co-angler with 4 fish

How I Choose When to Fish as a Co-angler

My process of determining when to fish as a boater or as a co-angler really hasn’t changed from when I started tournament fishing. I’ve always believed there is no substitute for getting out on the water. My decision on which end of the boat to fish from has always boiled down to what my goals are for the season and how I can become the best angler, gain the most experience, or learn as much as possible with the financial resources I have available.

Setting Goals

Every year, I set goals for myself as a boater, such as fishing a particular circuit, making a certain championship, or, when I was back at home, having the opportunity to beat my best fishing buddies in as many side pots as possible.

I calculate what these goals are going to require financially and time-wise, and then all the other fishing I do is about becoming a better angler. This is where fishing as a co-angler comes in. My travel expenses are the same no matter if I fish as a boater or co-angler because I always tow my boat with me, but the entry fee side is where it can make a difference.

On average, one tournament entry fee as a boater costs as much as three tournament entry fees as a co-angler. In my simple-minded head, for the same cost, fishing as a co-angler is two extra opportunities to compete and learn as much as possible.

Challenges of Fishing as a Co-angler

If you have ever waited in a bag line at a tournament, you will hear some of the craziest stories. Some of them are about giants that came off, or something funny that happened during the day. But I’ve noticed that many of the stories are of someone who fished as a co-angler criticizing the boater they fished with. The most common complaints are:

• My boater was a jerk

• My boater was live-scoping all day

• My boater back-boated me

• My boater wasn’t around fish

I’m not saying there aren’t challenges to fishing as a co-angler, but I believe that most of the time, your situation as a co-angler is what you make of it. I’m just as competitive fishing as a co-angler as I am as a boater. I want to do well no matter what side of the boat I’m fishing from. I would argue that unless your boater shows up at the wrong lake, then most of the time your criticism of them is just an excuse. I’ve caught myself falling into the trap of doing the same thing at times. But fishing as a co-angler is about learning to catch fish under the given circumstances and in the water you have in front of you. Period!

Kyle Gelles and other bass fishing anglers standing in line at the water tanks at a tournament weigh in

Fishing as a Co-angler: Techniques That Have Helped Me 

Fishing as a co-angler has opened my mind to fishing techniques and patterns that have helped me when I fish as a boater. Some of my best days as a co-angler have been when I didn’t mesh well personality-wise with my boater, my boater was chasing fish on live scope all day, or my boater paralleled a bank. I’m not saying I didn’t have to come up with other ways to catch fish, but fishing as a co-angler has taught me that there are generally opportunities to catch fish on different patterns within the same areas. Here are some examples and how I’ve adapted:

Situation: Boater Paralleling a Bank

This situation was scary for me as a co-angler at first, but now I’ve gotten to the point where if the fish are shallow, I’d almost prefer a boater to parallel a bank. I used to try to use the same bait as my boater and make short pitches alongside the boat, but then I realized I have the same opportunity to have efficient casting angles down the bank as my boater. I just have to do it behind the boat. Some of my favorite baits for this situation are a shallow crankbait, a light Carolina/split shot rig, or a jerkbait. I’m not saying other baits won’t work, but for me, these baits usually catch fish year-round and they get hung up less. That’s important when you are making long casts behind the boat.

Situation: Boater is Live-Scoping

This is becoming a more concerning topic of conversation among co-anglers. It’s easy to get discouraged when you are out in the middle of the lake over one hundred feet of water chasing suspended fish. It feels like you are fishing the dead sea because you lose all ability to feel bottom contours, structure, etc. However, it is still possible to catch fish.

The biggest key for me is to watch and get a feel for how deep my boater is letting his bait go. Try to figure out how deep those fish are generally suspended and choose a bait you can fish efficiently at that depth. Typically, a jerkbait, tailspin, or an umbrella rig (if legal) are my top choices in this situation. You want to choose baits that are moving because they are generally the most efficient, and your boater will be zigzagging or making circles. You don’t want to be in the way.

One caveat to this is a drop shot. Every time your boater catches a fish, there are generally more with it, and they will follow that fish and suspend right below the boat. A little drop shot suspended right there will usually do the trick and can sometimes lead to catching big fish as a co-angler.

These are just a couple of examples of the challenges of fishing as a co-angler and my solutions may not fit all situations. However, I am always trying to pick a bait that I feel a fish will eat and that will be the most efficient for my position as a co-angler. They may not be my favorite baits for the time of year or place, but if I can get bites on them and they fit the situation the best, then that is what I am going to throw. It has definitely helped me become comfortable fishing techniques or patterns I wouldn’t generally target when fishing as a boater.

Kyle Gelles on a cold day holding up a largemouth bass after a tournament weigh in

Help Yourself by Helping Your Boater

By fishing as both a co-angler and a boater, I’ve noticed that there are things you can do as a co-angler to help your boater, which will make life better for you. I’m not saying you have to cater to your boater and hold their sandwich while they drive the boat, but if you do some simple things and watch, I’ll bet you will notice a difference, even if these acts go unnoticed.

First, help keep your boater’s lures from tangling in your reels or line while you move from spot to spot. I’m guilty of this myself as a boater, but if your boater likes to hang their lures at the end of their rod tips on the passenger side of the boat, try to help keep them organized. This will help keep them fishing smoothly, which keeps them calm, and also reduces the chance of their baits tangling with your equipment. This is good for them and allows for more casts for you as well. It doesn’t take away from your fishing as you can generally do this while you are idling in or out of an area.

Secondly, don’t try to deviate your boater from their game plan by making hints or talking about how good fishing is elsewhere. Generally, a boater has a plan to catch the biggest fish they know how to, given the clues they have had during practice. I have never met someone who likes to fish set out in a tournament to intentionally not catch any fish. I’m not saying you can’t talk fishing or put your heads together, but unless your input is solicited, let your boater do their thing and you focus on catching as many fish as you can in the water you are presented with.

One last tip that has helped me catch the most fish is do not, and I repeat do not try to match your boater cast for cast. Unless your boater is fishing an isolated spot and they have insisted you go ahead and cast there, give them their space to do their work. You don’t want to push your boater. Even if they don’t say anything, if you are pushing them, they will tense up and will naturally position the boat in a way that makes it harder for you to fish or they will fish an area more thoroughly before they pass it up to you. I’ve noticed when fishing as a co-angler I have caught many more fish when my boater isn’t worried about me in the back of the boat casting beyond what is comfortable to them. You can fish as hard as you possibly can, but if your boater isn’t worried about you pushing them, they will leave more open water for you to fish.

Kyle Gelles fishing as a co-angler and Colby Pellerito

Fishing as a co-angler: yay or nay?

Whether it’s from the front of the boat or fishing as a co-angler, I’m nowhere near the best there is nor do I have all the right theories, but I can claim that I’m trying to use every opportunity I can to become better during the spring fishing period. I’m not saying that there aren’t days as a co-angler where I haven’t wished I was fishing from the front of my own boat, but overall, the lessons, fishing techniques, and even friendships I’ve made because I jumped in an event as a co-angler have taught me so much about the sport and myself as an angler. Maybe one day, all this time on the water will come full circle and will help me make a splash in the tournament scene. Until then, I will keep learning and catching fish this spring fishing season.

Kyle Gelles with 2 largemouth bass at a co-angler weigh in

P.S. Baits and gear that have been crushing it for me this spring. Some are sponsor products and some not. Check them out!

Tube in shad colors – I have always thrown tubes, but it has never dawned on me to throw the shad colors. The Dry Creek Outfitters 3.5” Tournament Tube in the Ghost Hologram  color has saved my fishing many times this spring when rigged on a drop shot.

> Dry Creek Tube Link: Dry Creek 3 1/2″ Creek Tube – Dry Creek Outfitters

6”-8” Swimbaits – This is the season to be tossing around a big bait to catch those giant pre and post spawn fish. You can also catch numbers on these baits this time of year too. Some of my favorites lately have been the Keitech 5.8” or the Bass Mafia Daingerous swimbaits.

> Bass Mafia Daingerous Swimbait Link: Bass Mafia Daingerous Unrigged Swimbait 2pk – Tackle Warehouse

> Keitech 5.8” Link: Keitech Swing Impact FAT Swimbait – Tackle Warehouse

Quality Sunglasses – Even as a co-angle sight fishing can come into play. Quality polarized glasses will allow you to see bedding fish, light spots, and structure in the water. They will also reduce eye fatigue after a long sunny day. My new favorites this year or the Waterland Co. sunglasses. Slaunch frames with green mirror lenses.

> Waterland Slaunch Series Link : Slaunch Series (waterlandco.com)

View additional posts in ‘The Lost Angler’ series here and here.

KYLE GELLES

KYLE GELLES

I’m an average angler who loves to tournament bass fish. I left home to chase my dream of competing full time against the best anglers in the country. Most of the time I have no idea what I’m doing, and this is my behind-the-scenes story of life on the road, fishing, and learning a little something along the way.

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Fishing as a Co-Angler: Benefits, Challenges, and Techniques

One of the key aspects of determining when to fish as a co-angler or a boater lies in setting personal goals. Whether it’s about becoming a better angler, gaining more experience, or optimizing available resources, weighing the financial and time considerations is crucial. While fishing as a boater may come with its advantages, fishing as a co-angler provides multiple opportunities to compete and learn, often at a fraction of the cost.
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