Every year around the world, anglers try their hand and test their skills for a chance at reeling in a winning catch. Fishing tournaments allow you to test your angling against other enthusiasts, they provide friendly competition, as well as huge cash prizes. Bass is one of the most sought after game fish across the globe, whether it’s freshwater or saltwater fishing. That’s why bass fishing tournaments are some of the best and the most competitive angling events. There are other fishing competitions centered around other game fish like walleye and sturgeon, but largemouth bass is arguably the most sought after.
From smaller in-state competitions like the Alabama Bass Trail to massive world-famous series like the Bassmaster Classic, these fishing tournaments draw a huge audience and create a lot of revenue for fishing organizations. A lot of these tournaments take place during the best time of year to fish for bass so that you have the best chance of reeling in a lunker! The very best bass fishing lakes in the US host competitive angling tournaments. In this article, we’ll give you a brief introduction to the world of competitive bass fishing, as well as introducing the eight best bass fishing tournaments that you can aim to compete in!
A brief guide to tournament fishing
Fishing tournaments exist to provide an incentive for the many hours of practice, expensive equipment, and pure determination to build your angling skills. Some fishermen want to work towards a career in the sport, while others love the friendly competition. Whatever the reason, bass fishing competitions are an excellent place to try your skills against other avid anglers. Bass lakes full of largemouth and smallmouth bass, as well as many other varieties, host intense competitions to determine who is the best.
The easiest way to get involved in competitive bass fishing is to find your local bass club. As well as gaining the opportunity to get involved in some bass fishing tournaments, you’ll also benefit from advice from more experienced anglers, as well as meeting like-minded friends who love bass fishing as much as you do. Competing in such an elevated angling setting is truly a bucket list activity for many fishermen around the world, so don’t miss out on your chance to get involved.
There are several different ways in which those who enter bass fishing competitions are categorized. A lot of tournaments require fishing from boats rather than from a fishing spot on the shore, so you might think that if you don’t own a boat then this could be a disadvantage. While not every tournament will allow you to enter without a boat, many allow you to fish from a vessel belonging to someone else. In this case, your entry fee would be lower, however, the cash prize you might come out with can also be reduced. The same goes for the difference in winnings between those entering as a “non-boater” and professional anglers.
Non-boaters are generally expected to pay for half of the fuel costs to whoever owns the boat, and must also accept that the owner will be in control of the boat at all times. As well as these stipulations, we have some advice on what equipment to take on your first bass fishing tournament. You might think that you need all of the best and most expensive gear to compete in a bass fishing tournament, but in reality, all you need is a basic setup and a lot of determination.
We advise keeping your rod and tackle selection as basic and simple as possible until you figure out what works best for you. It’s also a good idea to make sure you don’t overextend your abilities, as trying out some more complicated equipment for the first time in a competitive environment is never a good idea. Stick to what you know, and what you know you’re good at. Don’t feel intimidated by experienced professionals with expensive setups; you can be just as successful an angler with a regular selection of gear, including rods, bait, tackle, and hooks.
We recommend taking one reliable medium action rod, and one medium-heavy too. Use the medium rod for when you need to cast and retrieve, with spinnerbaits and crankbaits. Reserve the medium-heavy action fishing rod for jig setups, as well as soft plastic baits. Additionally, if you’re not confident in your baitcasting abilities, stick to spinning equipment; there’s no reason to waste time and get frustrated fishing equipment that won’t show off your best!
1. FLW (Fishing League Worldwide) Pro Circuit
The Fishing League Worldwide Championship is a competition for pro anglers who all fight for the FLW title. One hundred and fifty professional fishermen compete in seven regular-season tournaments before the top fifty proceed to fight for the title, bragging rights, and a Pro Circuit cash prize of $820,000 dollars in 2020. All 150 pro anglers compete for two days, on a five-bass limit. By day three, only 30 of the best bass anglers will remain, and the championship round on day four only 10 of the top bass fisherman in the country will remain.
Rules in the final round follow the Major League Fishing guidelines on a catch, weigh, and instantly release format. Groups are split to compete on two days each and results are calculated from a cumulative total for both days. On the sixth and final day of the competition, the top 10 frontrunners also have the chance to win a new title, the FLW Title Champion, and win $200,000.
The FLW Pro Circuit is held across several states and fishing lakes, including the Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Brookeland Texas. The states of Atlanta, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Michigan all also host tournaments for the Bassmaster Pro Series. In Arkansas, Lake Dardanelle is the location of one bass fishing competition, featured in our article on the best fishing in Arkansas. The Harris Chain of Lakes in Florida is also a featured location, it’s one of the best bass fishing lakes in the USA.
2. Alabama Bass Trail Tournament Series
The Alabama Bass Trail is a series of fishing tournaments for pairs of anglers, who compete in teams for a chance to win big. Each qualifying event has a $10,000 cash prize for each first-place team, and then these winners go on to compete for the grand prize of $500,000. The teams are split into two divisions, and there’s no entry fee, so all you have to focus on is bringing your very best angling game.
From the North and South qualifying divisions comes 75 teams to compete for the Alabama title, and in addition, the top 15 high school teams, the top 5 college teams, and the top 5 couples teams also advance to the championship. The competitors must make sure they enter all five of the qualifying events in their division, in order to assure their place in this bass tournament championship. With prime fishing spots like Lake Guntersville, Alabama is one of the best places for bass anglers to compete.
The Alabama Bass Trail Tournament has several bonus programs in place to make the competition even more exciting. One of these is a $250 prize which goes to the highest place finisher wearing an Alabama Bass Trail shirt, hat, or jersey during the tournament. Additions like this make bass tournaments more fun, and definitely make the Alabama Bass Trail Tournament Series one of the best.
3. The Big Bass Bash
The Big Bass Bash is one of the largest fishing tournaments in the US, aimed at novice anglers who want to compete and have a chance to win huge prizes, just like pro fishermen. Founded in 2006, this series of events take place at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, the Grand Lake in Oklahoma, and the Pickwick/Wilson Lake in Alabama. Rather than just targeting professionals, the Big Bass Bash invites amateurs to compete for the largest catch.
Unlike many other tournaments, based on a team arrangement and a cumulative point total, all it takes to win the Big Bass Bash is for one angler to catch one prize-winning fish. The biggest bass caught will earn the angler who reeled it in a cash prize of $30,000. The overall total of prizes to be won is over $100,000, so there’s a lot to compete for.
4. Anglers in Action
Anglers in Action is another bass fishing competition that is closely linked with the Big Bass Bash. This fishing tournament is one of the largest for bass in the Midwest and is for members of the club. There are four divisions which anglers can choose to fish in; the Lake of the Ozarks and Table Rock Lake, both in Missouri, the Grand Lake in Oklahoma, and the Open Division, which offers anglers who may not have a flexible schedule a chance to compete on their own time.
At the end of the year, competitors can try their hand at the event that all of Anglers in Action leads up to; the Tournament of Champions. Instead of a cash prize, the winner of this grand final will receive a brand new Ranger boat package. Rather than paying an entry fee, fishermen pay an annual membership fee to Anglers in Action and can add an optional donation upon entry to the competition to increase the prize money.
Arguably the highest level of professional bass fishing tournaments is the Bassmaster Elite Series, where only the best anglers at the top of their game can compete. Fishermen must qualify for this competition, either through the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster or the B.A.S.S. Nation tournaments. Even pro anglers who’ve qualified for the Elite Series in previous years must maintain enough points throughout the season, or risk losing their spot and chance to fight for the title.
Winners of the Bassmaster Elite Series can be awarded the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year award, and may also qualify for the Bassmaster Classic. The Bassmaster Elite series and it’s qualifying competitions are located in the states of Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, New York, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, California, South Carolina, Nevada, and Kentucky. This includes prime bass lakes and locations like the St. Lawrence River, and Chickamauga. As you can see, this massive nationwide competition invites anglers from across the United States. It also allows anglers of any experience level to compete, as long as they’re good enough, and this includes high school and college competitors as well as long-time professionals.
The Bassmaster Elite Series is an 11-event tournament, which narrows down hundreds if not thousands of applicants to the top 100. These champions then compete for $100,000 in each of five events, while the top boater prize is a mind-blowing sum above seven million dollars. However, even if you don’t snag the top spot, there’s still a great chance of an impressive cash prize. Winners down to 50th place will all receive a reward for their hard work, starting at a sum of $10,000.
6. Bassmaster Opens
The Bassmaster Opens are an inclusive series of competitions designed to give everyone the chance to compete for a bass tournament title. The event features an Eastern and Central division and winners of each of these automatically secure a place in the prestigious Bassmaster Classic. The top 4 anglers from each division gain entry into the Bassmaster Elite series, up to a total of 12 competitors.
The Eastern division of the tournament takes place in Florida at the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, then to Cherokee Lake in Tennessee, and Oneida in New York. The Central division also visits a range of excellent bass fisheries, including Sam Rayburn, a spot notorious for producing huge 30 pounders. There are a lot of cash prizes to be won across the Bassmaster Opens tournament, totaling to a massive two million dollars split between competing anglers.
7. Bassmaster B.A.S.S. Nation Series
The B.A.S.S. Nation Series is another Bassmaster tournament geared towards narrowing down the very best for the Bassmaster Classic. This global network of fishing clubs holds events and activities for anglers all around, including a range of tournaments. These local and regional competitions are highly inclusive, and the top three competitors can advance to the biggest bass fishing tournament there is; the Bassmaster Classic. The Bassmaster B.A.S.S. Nation series challenges anglers to catch big fish in teams decided by their state. Each state can enter 10 boaters and 10 non-boaters, as well as two additional alternative anglers. Each state conducts a competition in the style of the Bassmaster Opens to determine who gets the privilege of competing.
The competitors are slowly whittled down until it’s time for the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship. This is a three-day event, and on the second day, the best non-boater is provided with their own vessel to fish from in the final. A five-fish limit is in place throughout, with the cumulative total deciding who emerges as champion. As we mentioned, the top three from this grand finale can compete in the Bassmaster Classic, a huge opportunity and privilege to go up against the pros.
8. Bassmaster Classic
When it comes to professional bass fishing tournaments, there is no higher level than the Bassmaster Classic. This world-famous competition is the most ruthless and elite bass angling tournament there is, so even competing is a testament to the skills and dedication of bass anglers. The first Bassmaster Classic was held in the summer of 1971 on Lake Mead, Nevada. However, nowadays, the tournament takes place in the late winter, making hooking that winning catch even more difficult.
The event takes place over the course of three days, with spectated weigh-ins and hours of televised coverage. Currently, the grand prize for winning the Bassmaster Classic totals at $300,000, but we think the bragging rights you earn are even bigger. The competition is fierce, by the end of the first day, at least half of hopeful anglers will have been eliminated. It’s not just about qualifying for the next round; you have to bring your top game to every second of the competition or the final standings just won’t fall in your favor.
Competitive bass fishing is an amazing way to test out your angling skills against amateurs and professionals alike. Not only do they offer the opportunity to win amazing prizes and the best bragging rights a bass angler can have, but they also go a lot towards conservation efforts in our country’s natural areas.
Tournaments like the Alabama Bass Trail and the Bassmaster classic fuel eco-friendly programs that contribute to clear lakes and pollution-free water. That’s just another fantastic reason to get down to your local bass club and join up today!
Bonus tip: Watch this video to see what it’s like at the huge Bassmaster Classic awards ceremony!