Life on the road may seem glamorous; plush tow vehicles, fancy equipment, fishing a new body of water every few weeks, and who doesn’t enjoy the conveniences of modern hotels. Not to mention spending hours upon hours on the water trying to hook that ever-so-elusive hawg and catching hundreds of other fish along the way. What you don’t hear about are the blown tires, expensive last minute repairs, high equipment costs, unpredictable fuel costs, and deadlines to prefish and make that captains meeting time. But that’s just part of the experience! Part of the fun. Part of the challenge. So many times I’ve had friends and acquaintances express envy of what I get to do from month to month. It’s pretty great. However, what many don’t see are the countless hours of preparation spent to make a season go as smoothly as possible. Here’s a little glimpse into what happens from start to finish.
I could talk about tournament prep until I’m blue in the face, and then keep going because, lets face it, my lung capacity will astonish you. I’d like to shed a little light on the process, start to finish, in order to make the travel as efficient as possible and to minimize setbacks while away from home. As with anything worth doing, it should all start with a plan.
In late Fall, when lakes begin to freeze and we enter that “in between” phase of nature in Michigan where lakes don’t have safe ice to ice fish but it’s not a good idea to go risk the gel coat on your boat plowing through ice, tournament schedules are released and thus begins the planning stages. I’ll enter tournament dates and times onto my calendar which makes searching a breeze. This allows me to get a broad overview of the season and where I will be and when and I’ll be able to estimate how much tournament prep I will have to do depending on whether or not I’ve fished the particular venue before. Care is made to prevent any conflicts such as work commitments, trade shows, seminars, etc. Also, this saves valuable time when wanting to reference something quick because I won’t have to keep going to the league’s website time after time when all I want is a date, time, or location. Within the first few weeks of the schedule release, all of the planning is completed for the year. Ahead of the game? You bet. Tournaments aren’t won before they begin but they are often lost.
What comes next are the actual travel plans. Michigan is not convenient when it comes to predominately southern tournaments in late winter and early spring. That means there is some “windshield time”. A lot of it, in fact. I’ll calculate the round-trip milage from home to the tournament’s host city and back home and that’ll give me how much time I’ll be on the road and an approximation of how much fuel cost there will be. It’s not atypical to spend $300 or more just on gas for the tow vehicle. Friends: envious now?
Then comes the task of booking lodging. For this, I use a variety of sources such as Book.com and IHG.com. A good tip is to check with your league’s weigh-in location because sometimes discounted lodging rates are available through the league’s website, too. A lot of participants enjoy camping and there are normally campgrounds nearby but after being on the road and in the boat for so many hours per day, I like my air-conditioned room with a shower and comfortable bed. The last thing I want to do is set up camp after spending 10 or more hours on the road. It comes at a premium but for my needs, the benefits of a good night’s rest outweighs the cost. There’s a lot to be said about mental and physical sharpness at such a high level of competition. The last thing we want to do is forget a tow strap or drain plug when your good name is plastered all over your jersey. That’s the stuff that ends up on YouTube. Trust me.
How about length of stay? A typical weekend includes a late afternoon drive that spans through most of the night beginning on a Thursday. Check-ins are never earlier than 10pm and can be as late as 3am on Friday. Below is an example of a normal Friday.
- Wake up: 5am
- Breakfast: 5:30am
- At the ramp: 6am
- On the water: 6:30am
- Loading up: 1pm
- Quick nap: 2pm
- Tournament strategies: 2:30pm
- Dinner: 5pm
- Captains Meeting: 6:30pm
- Bed: 9pm
There isn’t much wiggle room here so all of the equipment is kept in tip-top shape and rigging is done ahead of time, if possible. Of course there are always wrenches such as really great days of practice or really bad days. Weather is also a consideration and can totally wipe out a day of practice leaving me feeling unprepared and scratching my head. I also have a rule that I follow, after the captains meeting, I don’t think about fishing or the tournament. Once my plan is in place and the meeting ends, attention is diverted leaving no chance to second guess anything except that questionable chicken salad I had for dinner that night. The Yelp reviews were great, though.
When Saturday rolls around, it’s another early day beginning as early as 3am, in some cases. Of course a normal “lines in” time is 6 or 6:30am, there’s a lot of equipment and personal preparation that goes into effect and I’m not just talking about clean socks and underwear, although those are important. Thanks, Mom. I can remember a few instances where I forgot to pack water and a source of protein which can make a long, stressful day that much worse. And it always seems to be on those 95 degree, 95% humidity days, too. When the weigh-in begins in late afternoon, it’s not too uncommon to feel like you’ve been run over by a truck. I know, I know, it’s a tough life spending an entire day on the water doing what we love. And it is a passion, but there’s a lot riding on every cast and decision. One bad decision can be costly in time, money, and mental toughness. Oh yeah, don’t forget to have fun and enjoy yourself even if you’re not due in with a full stringer.
There’s normally some sort of dinner or catered event after weigh-in where competitors switch from their cut-throat “win at all costs” mentalities to a more cordial demeanor. Or sometimes groups of friends or fellow competitors will take off and go have dinner at a local establishment and celebrate or commiserate. Either way, it’s a great way to end a day on the water and to begin to relax a bit.
When Sunday morning rolls around, this is where a decision is made to forget the alarm clock and sleep late or to set it and hit the road. Distance from home is another factor as I don’t want to be driving late into the night. Tournament venues closer to home allow me to see a local point of interest along the way which is a great way to get out of the vehicle and stretch the legs. However, that’s not always possible with 12 hour trips knowing work starts promptly Monday morning. But, you guessed it, another $300 in the tank plus an occasional $15 tab at a Waffle House.
I’ll be the first to admit, that’s an exciting weekend but so many variables have to go according to plan. Each one that doesn’t takes its toll on a person. No trip is perfect, though. And when you multiply this by ten, the last thing you want to do at the end of the season in October is take a road trip with friends or family. “Life is a highway” never rang more true than for bass fishermen competing at any level. Many cannot afford this type of lifestyle and I’m very grateful for the ability to do so through sponsors. (Oh yeah, did I include the pressure from them to do well and to keep them satisfied?)
Purposely left out of the article: Orange construction barrels, road ragers, and noisy hotel guests.