Fishing Tournament Etiquette

The unwritten rules of the game

Are you fired up about the tournament season ahead? Of course! There’s a lot to be excited about when winter gives way to spring. New tackle, a clean slate and a winning attitude are all part of the game.

Whether you compete in bass club tournaments or national pro-level events as a co-angler, there are written rules to be followed. By signing the entry form, you agree to those rules of the competition set forth by the tournament organization or club.

There are also unwritten rules that are just as important. As you spool fresh line on those reels and sharpen the hooks of your favorite lures, review this primer of those unwritten rules. Tournament etiquette goes a long way in enjoying the sport and getting the most from the spirit of competition.



Community holes are the notorious spots everyone loves to hate. They are go-to areas when tournament strategies fail to shine, but they can also get really crowded as word gets out about their reliability. Tempers grow short and sometimes confrontations get ugly on the water or later at the weigh-in.

If you find yourself in the middle of a community hole bite, be respectful of other anglers. You can share the water by asking those around you what specific areas they plan to fish. With everyone cooperating—and communicating their intentions—community holes can actually be shared without testing the patience of everyone.



On a smaller scale, you might face a similar scenario as the tournament leader, or as a contender for a top finish. Communication is equally as important. Set respectful boundaries on the water for sharing the confined area with someone else. You can also do that by privately conversing at the weigh-in. Be willing to compromise and practice good sportsmanship.

Sharing an area can be a win-win for you and the other angler. If you catch more weight, he/she might even relinquish the area, leaving it all to you for the taking. Or you might be the one who does the same, realizing the other might pay it forward on another day.



Unsportsmanlike behavior is unfortunately a given in some situations. Another competitor or non-tournament angler might cut you off as you move along a productive shoreline. This is one of the most difficult of all scenarios and one that is becoming all too common.

Don’t join the race and try to get ahead of the other angler. Step off the trolling motor pedal and decide if staying there is a good idea. If you leave, so might the other competitor encroaching on your spot. Then, you can come back later and resume your fishing. Above all else, you can avoid an argument that goes nowhere.

Be cautious on this one. Many tournament organizations have rules in place to penalize unsportsmanlike conduct. And remember, like it or not, the tournament director makes the final call.



That productive dock might be private, but the water on which it floats or stands is public. Even so, showing courtesy can go a long way in the neighborhood. That is especially true during summer when families and friends gather on their dock to enjoy a sunny day of fishing or swimming.

As you approach a dock—occupied or not—back off the throttle from a safe distance and avoid creating a wake that might cause damage to the dock or moored boats. Be proactive with a friendly greeting and ask permission to fish around the dock. Some dock owners have ill feelings towards tournament anglers and rightfully so. Don’t be the guy who ignores them and bullies his way into their backyard. Be friendly and respectful.



You idle beyond the no-wake buoys at the takeoff site and hammer down on the throttle, trimming the motor to gain the most speed and performance of your bass boat. That is all part of the exhilarating rush of being first to your best fishing area.

What is not cool is having a lead foot all the time. Be safe and don’t endanger the safety of you, a partner or other boaters as you speed across the lake and encounter boat wakes or other vessels.

At takeoff and even after planing off, leave plenty of running room between you and the other competitors. It’s not a race—it’s fishing. You can argue that hammering down gains you more casts, but the lure presentation is what puts the fish on the hook.



The operating expense of a boat can be costly—especially at the club level with a season’s worth of weekend tournaments. Offer gas money, even if you draw a big-name pro as a co-angler in a pro-level contest. Paying it forward goes a long way, either in a close-knit club or as you strive to practice good sportsmanship.



Don’t be the partner that shows up at the takeoff dock having to make multiple trips to load your tackle into the boat. Today’s bass boats are indeed roomy, and considerate boaters leave empty one or more storage compartments just for their co-anglers.

If you are the non-boater partner, consolidate the lures you know will be productive into a compact soft tackle storage bag. You can organize hot lures into plastic utility boxes and have them ready for action. A half-dozen rod-and-reel combos are usually adequate for the day. Think of a three-piece package of gear: Rods, tackle storage bag and personal duffel bag with rain gear, outerwear and snacks.



A big no-no is trying to out-fish your partner from the back of the boat. Casting toward the bow and ahead of him/her is unsportsmanlike. Remember, both of you are sharing a tight space with the same goal—put fish into the livewell.

Common courtesy goes a long way. Depending on the rules, your partner might even share the front deck if things get off to a good start.

If you are on the front deck, be a good sport and position the boat at an angle to provide adequate space for your partner to make a favorable lure presentation. If you are in the back, maximize your chances of success by making precise casts into unused water that keep the lure longer in the strike zone.



The initial meeting with your partner sets the course for either a good or bad experience on the water. When it comes time to decide whose boat gets used, be honest about how successful you were in practice. Don’t lie to impress. Doing so harms your integrity going forward. If you’re not on a productive pattern, just admit to it, move on and give up your right to be the boater. You might even learn from your partner and do better during the tournament.



The spirit of human nature brings out the worst and best in us all. If you find yourself in a confrontation with another competitor, be calm and avoid overreacting with comments you will later regret.

Be willing to compromise, work together with your partner or adversary and follow the most important unwritten rule of them all—enjoy the experience and time spent in the great outdoors!

The Bass Pro Shops® Tournament Rewards® program can help you enhance your tournament winnings! Through participation in this industry-leading program, you can receive up to $7,000 in extra cash and Bass Pro Shops Rewards Points when you compete and win eligible tournaments from your NITRO® boat.



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