Most bass clubs are not really about tournament fishing; in fact, most bass clubs have tournaments just to get out fishing. Bass clubs are about learning and camaraderie. One of the best and fastest ways to learn to bass fish is to join a bass club, because bass club members can teach you techniques and knowledge that otherwise would take years of fishing experience to learn on ones own. Bass club members are a walking-talking library of knowledge and experience, and a great way to get on the water more often and get your own experience. But, since there are a number of clubs to choose from, which one is the right one for you? The choice depends on you and what you want from a bass club.
Years ago, before I joined my first bass club, I used to go fishing with a couple of good friends to the bigger lakes on a few weekends each year. We would have a good time regardless of how the fishing was because we were among friends, but we always did much the same thing, went to the same places, every time. Our closed group had a routine that varied very little from trip to trip. One day though, after realizing that it was summer and that I had not taken the time to go fishing for awhile, I decided to check into a bass club. I wanted to find a bass club so I would have an excuse to go fishing at least once each month. In a club, that opportunity is available. This was before a resource like fishexplorer.com was available (even before I had internet), and information on finding a bass club was harder to find.
One day while I was driving along a highway just outside of the city where I lived and I saw a truck pulling a bass boat going the other way. The boat and topper windows had fishing decals everywhere. I thought, “I bet that guy knows a bass club.” I spun the car around and gave chase. I flashed my lights and got the driver to pull over. He must have thought I was crazy, but I was desperate.
I told the driver I had pulled him over to find out if he knew of a bass club and he seemed relieved that there was nothing wrong with his trailer. He was fishing tournaments at the pro level and was not involved in a bass club at the time, although he did help me out. He was very nice about the whole thing and told me that he heard of a new club starting close to where I lived. That club became my first bass club.
Almost a decade later, as I prepared to move to Denver in 1997, I thought about selling the boat I had bought the year before. I thought, ‘Who needs a bass boat in Colorado?’ I thought I would have to put away my heavy flippin’ stick and pick up a 5wt fly rod, (my fly rod at the time was an 8wt bass rod,) put away my spinner-baits and get a fly vest, trade the horsepower for waders and boots. I thought wrong, and I got a pleasant surprise.
That first week in Denver I passed by a boat dealership. I went in and asked if they knew of any bass clubs. Royce at Aurora Marine handed me a flyer and said, ‘Sure, here’s one, the Denver Bassmasters.” I went to the next meeting, joined, and fished the next tournament they held. Again, I got a surprise.
In that first club tournament, at John Martin Reservoir, I learned more about finesse fishing with club member Bob than I ever knew existed. Back in Missouri we fished ½ oz flippin’ jigs and 11 inch Powerworms. I had actually never seen a tube before. Now finesse fishing is as common across the county as bass boats are in Texas. I was schooled on fishing light line, light weight, and to use a weenie-worm and tube on the first weekend from a member who is still known as one of the best finesse fishermen around. And Bob was nice enough to share his tackle with me and show me how to rig it and use it. After that weekend I went over to Falcon Tackle with a Plano box and said, “filler’ up with what I need to fish tubes and weenie-worms.” I got a medium-light spinning rod and a smaller spinning reel since my spinning outfit was a medium-heavy rod with size 40 spinning reel, used mainly for catfishing in Missouri. The very first Colorado club tournament was a learning experience that has carried me until today and one I will always remember.
A bass club can be a teaching tool and a learning experience. In many clubs a member will fish with a different member at each outing, learning something different each time, and therefore the learning curve is greatly shortened. Clubs talk about specific techniques, old and new, learning from each other. Best of all for the new guy, there is an immediate connection with people who for a long time have actually been doing what you want to learn how to do.
There are two national organizations that most clubs are affiliated with. A club affiliated with the Bass Anglers Sportsman’s Society (B.A.S.S.) will be a part of a state Chapter and members have the opportunity to make a State Team and advance through Divisional, and then National, B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Tournaments to possibly qualify for the Bassmasters Classic, the Superbowl of Bass Fishing. Clubs that are affiliated with The Bass Federation, (T.B.F.) and Forrest L. Wood Outdoors (FLW) will also have a state Chapter, and members can qualify through similar tournaments, and make it all the way to the FLW Championship. Every club is different, so you should check out what clubs are available and attend a meeting or two before making a decision to join.
There are questions you should ask when in search of the bass club that is right for you. How close are they to where you live or work? To get the most from a club you should make as many meetings as possible to meet members and talk shop, so a club that is convenient to attend might be important to you.
Members of 5280 BassHunters and Joseph's Journey at a fundraiser held by the club to support the charity. Joseph's Journey is dedicated to providing outdoor experiences for children with terminal and life-threatening illness.
Some clubs are draw format, meaning that when it comes tournament time a boater’s name goes in one hat and a non-boater’s name goes in another. Names are drawn and those two would drive, share expenses, and fish together. Some clubs are team format, meaning that you join or partner with another member for the whole year. Others might not even have club fishing outings yet remain a club for various reasons.
As an example, I have been a member of four clubs and each has been very different. Three I am currently involved with. The first was Smithville Bassmasters in Missouri, which became at one time the largest B.A.S.S. affiliate bass club in the world with over 175 members and an average of 70 boats per tournament. In the beginning this club was about fishing local, and only one day each month. As the club evolved, and fishing on one lake became old, the club began having outings at other lakes and fishing all weekend instead of one day.
The second club, and I’m currently a member, is the Denver Bassmasters, a B.A.S.S. affiliate and one of the largest in Colorado. They focus on teaching new members about bass fishing, doing conservation projects, and supporting a youth club. Some of the members have been in that club since the 1970’s when it started! There is a good mix of long-time members and relatively new members. Each brings a different skill level and experience that others can learn from. Club tournaments are low-priced and are not for ‘making money.’ Winning a club tournament might get your entry fee and gas expense back, but what can be learned is priceless.
The third club I have and currently belong to is the Colorado Bassmasters, another B.A.S.S. affiliate. It’s a very small club with a tight group. The members know each other pretty well and have a good time together. This club is more like the group of friends that I would fish with back in Missouri; having fun times fishing is the goal without long meetings and club ‘business.’
The fourth that I’ve been a member (still am) is 5280 BassHunters, a TBF affiliate club. This club was started by members of many other clubs for the purpose of conducting a bass tournament circuit. The group effort that 5280 BassHunters put in is what developed the 5280 Team Series that has now grown and been renamed the Rocky Mountain Team Series (RMTS.) 5280 BassHunters does not host club tournaments, but sometimes will run an impromptu jackpot tournament. They also support a youth club and a local charity organization, Joseph’s Journey, which takes terminal and seriously ill children on dream trips hunting and fishing. Membership in 5280 BassHunters is not required to fish in the Rocky Mountain Team Series.
Some clubs only fish locally; others will fish a mix of local and farther locations like Ute in New Mexico, Cedar Bluff in Kansas or Lake Powell in Utah. Some will not have club events, but operate other forms of tournaments. Some have local weeknight tournaments and others are always on weekends. Some are one day contests and others are two day events. Some entry fees cost very little and others are more expensive, but with greater reward.
Find out which clubs do the kind of things you think you would like to do. Do they actually have club tournaments to learn from other members? How much are club dues and tournament entry fees? Are you paired with a different person each tournament or do you have to sign up with a partner? Do they stay local or travel to other waters? Do they require specific attendance or activity participation? Do they have a youth club and is that important to you? Maybe you have kids that are getting of the age to start learning to fish. What if you do or do not have a boat? Is the club even looking for new members? Searching the internet and visiting club pages can tell you some of the details, but visiting with members of the club will tell you much more.
At the bottom of the fishexplorer.com page is a tab for ‘Fishing Clubs.’ This will give you information on some of the many clubs in the state and there may be more. An internet search will find most if not all clubs in your area. Go to the B.A.S.S or other such websites, and they will guide you to affiliated clubs. Ask around, tackle shops are often familiar with area groups. Post your interests on the FishExplorer.com forum, many club members belong to Fish Explorer, of which I am only one.