Think you can hold your own against the bass fishing heroes of Saturday morning TV? Travel to a pro-am tournament and find out.
All major bass tournaments now feature pro-am events, in which two tournaments take place simultaneously–one for the pros, another for the amateurs. Any angler can sign up and fish as an amateur, and they can often beat their professional partners and come away with bragging rights. Best of all, pro-am tournaments are a great way to learn from some of the best fishermen on the planet and to visit the top waters in the country. Here is how they work and the best places to go.
In a pro-am tournament, the pro supplies the boat and has full say about where to fish. He casts from the bow, while the amateur is relegated to the stern. You succeed and suffer together.
Amateurs get off cheap, with entry fees starting as low as $75, a fraction of the cost of a fishing guide. And amateurs can win a sizable chunk of change, or even a bass boat. Prizes and fees depend upon the tournament series.
Bruce Dale of Jamestown, Ohio, has fished as an amateur in many tournaments since he first started competing in pro-ams four years ago, and he has learned how to fish virtually every type of lure, cover, structure, and bass water ranging from natural lakes to massive reservoirs to river systems.
“I thought I was a pretty good bass fisherman before I started fishing the pro-ams,” says Dale. “Well, I found out I had a lot to learn.”
According to Dale, some tournament sites are kinder to amateurs than others. Lakes in which bass hold in large beds of aquatic vegetation are good bets because bass spread out and give backseat anglers a fair shot at them.
Smallmouth fisheries on the Great Lakes are ideal for amateurs. Here, bass feed on expansive underwater flats, reefs, and grassbeds.
TOP TOURNAMENT DESTINATIONS
The following waters are good for amateur fishermen and are hosting upcoming tournaments.
 California Delta, May 5–8, EverStart Series By May, the huge largemouth bass in the California Delta have finished spawning. You’ll find them lounging in shallow, matted milfoil beds. This combination makes for explosive fishing opportunities. Retrieve soft, weedless surface baits over the grass in small tidal lakes and along the edges of diversion canals. Other productive baits include spinner-baits, topwater plugs, jigs, and tubes. Be sure to bring a stout flipping rod.
 Lake Champlain, New York, June 23-26, Wal-Mart FLW Tour Most spawning activity should be over. For largemouths, head to the southern end of Lake Champlain and probe thick milfoil beds 4 to 6 feet deep with a flipping rod and soft-plastic baits, such as tubes and worms. The northern end of the lake yields mainly smallmouth bass. Fish scattered vegetation around shoals and on shallow flats with jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, jigs, and topwater plugs.
For more pro-am tournaments, contact FLW Outdoors (www.flwoutdoors.com) and B.A.S.S. (www.bassmaster.com).