Fishing Up Front: Moving from Co to Pro
Tournament bass fishing has exploded in popularity the last 30 years. Countless bass clubs and tournament circuits now exist. College fishing teams, and even high school teams, are growing rapidly.
For a multitude of reasons, tournament bass fishing is a passion for many. Camaraderie, exploring new waters, and competition make up the bulk of reasons. But regardless of motivation, one goal persists among all of them – a continuance of improvement with skills and knowledge.
Fishing Up Front: Transitioning from the Back
Perhaps the most intimidating step in succession is going from the “back of the boat to the front.” Being in the back typically requires only casting and lure presentation, but fishing up front creates tremendous pressure – because the one up front makes the decisions.
Cody Bertrand of Dyer, Indiana, made a successful transition from back to front in amidst the stiffest competition, the Bassmaster Open Series. In the back of the boat during 2016, he won the Open on the James River in Virginia. And just last month, he won over $4,000 in the Open on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes in Florida as a boater.
Fishing Up Front: Lessons as a Co-angler
“My goal was to be the boater in these professional events,” he admits, “but I also knew that it was best to learn as much as possible from the back first. Being in the back of the boat gives the opportunity to learn from multiple anglers and see different bodies of water with a smaller investment.”
Part of Bertrand’s litmus test was proving he could compete from the back. “My first experience as a co-angler was on Lake Erie in 2015. It was a literal baptism, the lake was churning with 8-foot waves!” Entering as a co-angler was a wise decision for a multitude of reasons. “There was no way, with my lack of experience in waves like that, that I could have competed as a boater in that event. I didn’t do very well in the tournament, but I learned a bunch about running a boat in those waves.”
“I had the drive [to be up front] but I first needed to learn how the professionals attack different waters and organized their boats and tackle.” He made a list of goals to accomplish as a co-angler before making the switch. “I wanted to compete for a win and Angler of the Year.”
Fishing Up Front: Make Practice a Priority
It didn’t take him long. His first victory came in his first full season, 2016, at the James River tournament. Followed up by finishing in the Top 5 in Angler of the Year standings during 2016 and 2017.
“Learning the different bodies of water and how to organize were the best lessons. When it came to fishing,” Bertrand reveals, “the greatest lesson was trying to catch fish the professional was not fishing for. The pro is going to a spot he had success at during practice, and there’s no way the co-angler is going to get prime casting angles to those spots. So, I learned to look for a spot he missed. This has paid big dividends as a boater, because I’m now trained to do this with all the advantages of being up front.”
To accomplish this in the back, he studied the electronics, searched with his eyes, and felt the bottom of the lake with his lure choices. “It’s called looking for a spot on a spot. If you can find something different and close to their prime spot, it can hold a fish that has not been pressured.”
Even as a co-angler, it was a priority to practice before the tournament. He insists, “Practice clued me into the dominant patterns on the lake. Since co-anglers are only allowed a certain amount of tackle, this narrowed the guessing game on what to pack for the tournament. I was better equipped mentally to make good decisions and could adjust to wherever the pro took me.”
When to Become a Professional
“I knew during 2018 that it was time to go as a boater.” His explains, “My skills were comparable to the professionals I was paired up with. Plus, I had accomplished my goals. ”
During a tournament on Lake Champlain in New York as a co-angler, his skills were put to the test.
“I was partnered up with a professional that missed practice because his truck broke down on the way there. He didn’t have any fish marked or any idea where to spend his time. So, I offered spots and patterns I had found in practice. He took my advice we both caught good limits of fish.”
This confirmed that he could make decisions to compete as a professional.
Bertrand’s additional thoughts before making the leap:
- “Figure the finances! Do not do this until you have enough money saved up that it will not change your lifestyle.”
- Be a co-angler first. “If I hadn’t spent time in the back of the boat, I wouldn’t be enjoying the success I’m having now. The lessons I learned prepared me for this stage.”
- Confidence. “Being 90% sure isn’t enough: you need to be 100% confident you can make the decisions to be successful.”
- There is no substitute for time on the water. “With so many local tournaments, spend time in some lower-risk events as a boater to practice decision making.”
Consider some insurance too – lots of hazards exist in the water, and they can ruin a day of fishing. Megaware products protect against many of these dangers.