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California Bass Clubs are Different!

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Just to make things clear, I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong here or anything that needs fixing, just different from what I have been used to; a different way of thinking, a different motivation, and a different dynamic.  I am a supporter that each club should be exactly what it wants to be, without any kind of interference or direction from anyone outside the club membership.  And if any member falls into the minority of that Libertarian viewpoint, well then they can easily start up another club, form it however they see fit, and see how many members they can draw.

I have an earlier article on Fish Explorer from a few years back about how to find a bass club that fits your own style and needs: Anatomy of a Bass Club. My search for a new California club began last year on the day I found out that I would be moving here, and it has been an ongoing journey.

My first club was in Missouri when I lived in Kansas City.  Missouri is a bass fishing state, to say the least.  In the early 90s there was only one BASS Federation and the Missouri membership was well over 5,000 statewide. 

When I decided I wanted to join a club it was for one reason only: I wanted to go fishing.  Back then I fished several times a year, but I wanted to go several times a month.  I had a few friends I sometimes fished with but they were also infrequent in their outings.  Joining a club provided the format, and being a member gave me no excuses, I could go bass fishing almost every month and meet others who knew how.

The Missouri club was the Smithville Bassmasters, so named after the town and local lake just north of Kansas City, MO.  By comparison to any other club I have been involved with it was gigantic with over 175 members and the largest BASS Federation club in the world for several years.  The membership fee was only $50 per year and a normal club tournament had a $35 entry fee and over 70 boats with a draw format (boaters and non-boaters would be randomly paired together for the day).  No one could fish alone and pairing was required.  At first, the Smithville Bassmasters only fished one lake (Smithville) on one day (a Sunday) each month between April and October.

Billed as the working man’s club with no travel, no overnights, low entry fees, and only one weekend a month, it was very attractive for a lot of anglers for many reasons.  Some like me were new and working stiffs who did not have the funds or the time to travel.  Others liked to fish the big tournaments in Missouri with big payouts, so having a local club like this kept the other weekends open and provided a means of fishing more often locally without the expense of the bigger events, (though Smithville Bassmasters events were often larger than some of the regional “semi-pro” operations at the time and sometimes even paid out better despite the lower entry fee).  Eventually the club began incorporating visits to other lakes and some overnight events because, frankly, only fishing one place can get old.

My first bass club holds fond memories for me; my first tournament check, my first bass over six pounds, and my conversion from Zebco 33s and spinning reels to baitcasting outfits.  I used to go to the lake for a Smithville Bassmasters event with my rods strapped to the backrest of a motorcycle and my tackle box strapped to the seat!  After six years in the club I had grown from my Plano Topsider Tackle Box to my very own Champion 171 full of more tackle than I could carry.  A year after purchasing my first boat I moved to bass fishing purgatory, Colorado.

In 1997 I moved to Denver, CO, which caused me to wonder if I would have to sell the boat and replace it with waders and a buggy whip rod.  Thankfully I was wrong.  I stopped into a local boat dealer and they told me about the Denver Bassmasters. This club was similar in format to the Smithville club and provided a comfortable transition since the old-timers at the Denver Bassmasters (formed in 1971) welcomed every new member. 

During my time in Denver I had been a member of several bass clubs, but always a member of Denver Bassmasters, which also featured a draw tournament format with low yearly dues and low tournament fees.  We always said that club fishing was for fun and learning and if you won a club tournament you might get your gas money out of it. 

Over the next fifteen years the club maintained the philosophy that it was a teaching club and encouraged new members to join and has always supported its youth club, the Denver Jr. Bassmasters.  As a Denver Bassmaster I learned how to finesse fish from anglers who had done so for a long time, I made the Colorado State Team several times and attended my first BASS Nation Western Divisional Tournament, and I held almost every club and/or state federation officer position.

At one time a group within the Denver Bassmasters wanted to do things a little different from rest of the members, which had consistently maintained about 65 members over the years. So the Colorado Bassmasters was formed and lasted for several years. I was invited to join this offshoot which had about 10-15 members, most of whom also maintained membership in Denver Bassmasters.



The Colorado Bassmasters was a small club all about having fun with the buds.  Monthly meetings consisted of about fifteen minutes in the living room of one member’s home where ‘business’ was conducted, any important club plans were made, and state federation details were imparted.  After that, the attendees would adjourn to the basement to play pool, darts, and have what amounted to a monthly party.  Dues and entry fees were low, club drama was almost non-existent, and having a good time was paramount.  Good times will be remembered fondly.

I used to fish the Bassmaster Weekend Series  when it had a Kansas division.  The Kansas Division drew quite a few boats from the Front Range (eastern slope) of Colorado and when that Division ended a group of Colorado bass anglers decided they would start their own circuit instead of having to drive to eastern Oklahoma or Missouri to find one.  Thus the 5280 BassHunters was formed.

5280 BassHunters  was unique in that it basically had two purposes: to conduct a bass tournament circuit and to support a junior club, the 5280 Jr. BassHunters.  The founding members organized a team tournament circuit and the club joined The Bass Federation (TBF)  resulting from the recent B.A.S.S. Federation  split.  During the operation of the 5280 BassHunters  tournament circuit I learned a lot about fishing team tournaments, how to conduct bass tournaments, and maintaining a balance between the organization’s goals, angler participation and sponsor obligations.  Eventually the circuit started by the club became independent because, in reality, a club with well over 60 members was relying on about five people who actually did all the work to operate a 150 member circuit, and staying affiliated with one federation organization was limiting the participation for a lot of anglers in Colorado.  That is how the Rocky Mountain Team Series  became a reality, with the earlier version a testing and learning ground for those conducting the events.

I knew of the Ventura County Bass Club because of its members who had attended B.A.S.S. Nation Western Divisional events that I was also at.  When I moved to Ventura County, CA I found the club’s information on the internet and went to a meeting the first month I was here.  Since I was used to being a member of both bass club affiliations, BASS Nation and TBF/FLW, I also looked up the local TBF affiliated club, the West Valley Bass Club. I joined the Ventura Club and fished my first California Lake, Castaic, in January, and quickly learned that California bass are as different as California Bass Clubs, but that is a different article!  I will likely join the TBF affiliated club, too, but this first year, having to deal with the relocation, finding a home, starting a business, etc., I thought it best to curtail my tournament season somewhat.

The first thing I noticed is that while clubs I have joined in the past had a $50-65 membership fee, the CA club fees are $200 and more!  What I have learned is that the bass clubs I know about here do not have club tournaments with entry fees and payouts, so no portion of entry fees are raising funds for the club.  Club tournaments are strictly for fun and bragging rights and not prizes.

I also gather that lake permits are much, much higher than the states I have been in before, where permits fees were $25-30 per event.  Some of the fees here are 10-times that amount.  Welcome to California style regulation and taxation, I guess.  In the end, there are more club events but they don’t have extra fees to attend them, so the yearly fee total seems to even out in the end.

Three of the past clubs were quite large and were always looking to grow larger by encouraging new members.  The CA clubs near me seem to be small and happy to stay that way.  It’s not that new members are not welcome, as I was welcomed and encouraged after attending each of the local clubs near me, the Ventura County Bass Club and the West Valley Bass Club.  But actively seeking new members does not seem to be important.

One huge difference in California from Colorado is that there are a lot of competing organizations out here to choose from and a lot of money events with different formats, pro/am or team or shared weight draw, that I am not used to.  Where I most recently came from, heck, we had to start our own circuit just to have one!

As I am getting used to my new dynamic I am sure I will discover many more new and interesting differences about bass clubs.  What I am most interested to know is what is important to you about a club?  Do you like a small club or a large club?  One with all boaters where fishing by yourself is not discouraged or where you can bring an outsider to the event with you or one with an equilibrium between boaters and  non-boaters with a draw format to make sure everyone fishes with another club member?  Are entry fees and payout important in club events?

Lastly, if you are interested in finding out more about fishing clubs and organizations please visit the “Fishing Clubs” tab to find an organization near you.  If you know of a group not listed please send me the information so they can be added.


© 2024 Jeff Jones
About the author, Jeff Jones:
An avid angler and writer, Jeff started tournament bass fishing in 1990. While his first love is bass fishing, he also enjoys fishing for other species including fly-fishing and saltwater. Jeff is active with area bass organizations and has held most officer position at either the club or state level and has been a frequent State Team Qualifier. A guest speaker for the Bass Pro Shops Spring Fishing Classic, Jeff has presented numerous seminars and tank demonstrations and is dedicated to promoting the sport of fishing through education and youth.