In 2009, the Bassmaster Elite Series shook up the industry and did away with its co-angler program. In its place, they instituted the “marshal” program. For those of you not familiar with tournament fishing, a co-angler is a person who enters a tournament without a boat and is randomly paired with an angler with a boat. The co-angler fishes from the back of the boat, competing only against other co-anglers. They are literally along for the ride and have no say in fishing locations. It is not ideal and you can see why this can be problematic at the highest level of the sport.
At the highest professional levels, anglers’ livelihoods are dependent on the next fish they catch. Having a co-angler along can create stressful situations to say the least. Co-anglers are still in place at lower level competitions, but at the highest levels like Major League Fishing, the Bassmaster Elite, and the FLW Pro circuits, volunteer “marshals” (or in the case of the MLF, paid
officials) ride along with the anglers to monitor safety, gain from instructional value, and basically keep an eye on things from a rules point of view.
Not to be confused with the European post World War II recovery plan, the Bassmaster Elite marshal plan does not allow riders to fish, but simply to observe the pros for a day (or multiple days). Sound boring? If you are an avid fisherman of any kind, I promise you it is not. It is a fantastic learning opportunity to watch the very best anglers in the world-up close and personal- work their craft. Imagine being in the huddle with Tom Brady every down for an entire game. Every marshal I have talked with likens it to being in the middle of the action.
Recently my dad, Fred Said (that’s right, Said, Fred), had the opportunity to be a marshal for the Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year Championship on Lake St. Clair in September 2019. He had a great experience and recommends that you consider becoming a marshal if the pro tour comes to a lake near you. The full schedule, as well as information on becoming a marshal, can be found at the end of this interview. The following are Fred’s highlights of his experience:
iBass360: Let’s get the basics out of the way- how much did it cost you to marshal?
Fred: It was $150, but I think it's going down. They gave us a really nice shirt and two hats, not quite a $150 value, but it certainly gets some of your money back. We also received some free gear from a few of the sponsors of the event. They didn’t serve a meal at my event because it was the AOY championship and there were only fifty anglers, but I know at most regular season events they have a good meal at the registration meeting the evening before the event.
Editor's Note: I confirmed with both BASS and FLW that the 2020 cost to marshal will be $100. With FLW there will be random chances for marshals to win some money.
iBass360: How early prior to the event did you have to register?
Fred: I registered about a month after it after registration opened. They still had plenty of spots open, but I know that some lakes down south fill up quickly. I also know that events held earlier in the season (mine was in late September) fill up quickly, so if you are interested you should definitely register as soon as possible.
iBass360: How much time did you need to commit?
Fred: After my participation was confirmed, they mailed me a survey checking to see if I would be willing to shoot some video with my phone, run BASStrakk, make myself familiar with the rules, etc. I had to complete it and mail it back. I also had to attend a registration meeting the afternoon before the first day of the tournament. The meeting was not very long. It was to familiarize the marshals with the rules and the technology we would be using throughout the
tournament days. We also met our day-one angler at the meeting. The whole thing took maybe two hours.
On the days of the tournament I was required to meet my angler at the ramp about an hour before blastoff. The tournament day runs roughly eight hours. After we got back to the dock I helped my anglers bag their fish, and if they wanted help, get their boat on the trailer. All in all it was about a 10-hour day start to finish.
Editor’s note: BASStrakk is the phone app where marshals submit weights of the fish the anglers catch during the day. Weights are updated live on the website throughout
the day from marshal submissions. FLW has a similar system.
iBass360: I can already anticipate our readers asking- do they need to know how to back up a trailer to be a marshal?
Fred: Absolutely not. These guys are pros and do it all the time with no help. If you want to help some will take it, but you do not need to know how to back up a trailer.
iBass360: How many days were you a marshal?
Fred: Because this was the Bassmaster Elite AOY championship, where all anglers fished all three days, and because they were short on marshals, I was able to go out all three days. I know in regular events, marshals are guaranteed at least two days on the water with a different angler each day. Some will have the opportunity to go on day three as well, but it’s not guaranteed.
iBass360: What did you need to bring each day to the event?
Fred: The only thing we really needed to bring was appropriate weather gear and sun protection. You definitely want to overcompensate- plan for everything- making sure you have the right gear for the weather possibilities since you have to sit or stand in the boat for extended periods of time, rain or shine. In my case it was very cold and windy, especially the first day.
I did bring snacks and drinks for myself. The pro angler is obliged to provide you with some dry
storage for a small bag of snacks or an extra jacket. I brought my phone but BASS also provided us with phones to use to Skype live video to send in information for BASStrakk. Obviously, don’t expect the pro to have anything for you in terms of water, snacks, or appropriate clothing.
iBass360: How were you notified who your pro partners were, and how/where you would meet them each day?
Fred: We were sent texts from BASS each afternoon when we got back to the dock. The text contained the name and phone number of the angler with whom we were paired. It was up to us to make contact. I gave my pro some time before contacting him, knowing how busy they are. If I did not hear from him for a couple hours, I would text him. Since we had to arrive an hour early at the ramp, we had plenty of time to meet in the morning before blastoff. I did have one of my pros arrive quite late, but he did text me and let me know when he would be there and where to meet around the ramp.
iBass360: How would you describe your overall experience?
Fred: Overall it was a very positive experience and I learned a lot. I would definitely do it again, especially if I had some other friends doing it with me. It can be hard to be in a boat for eight hours and not fish, but the experience was really good. St. Clair is a lake with which I am very familiar, so perhaps I did not learn as much as I would have on an unfamiliar lake, but it was very educational and enjoyable to watch anglers perform at the top of their game. I would highly recommend it to someone who has not done it. It was also very cool just to be part of the event and be in the mix with all the pros, including the behind the scenes activity.
iBass360: Is there anything that you would say to potential marshals to help them maximize their experience?
Fred: First, make sure you watch the tour events all year long online. It helps to be familiar with the names of the pros and how they have been doing, so that when you go, you know their names, maybe a little about them and maybe even recognize their face, sponsors etc. It makes it much more enjoyable when you know who the guys are.
Second, get a buddy to do it with you. I did not know any of the other marshals and it would have been nice to have someone to share the experience at the ramp in the morning, and after we got
back to the dock in the afternoon.
Third, be observant out there! Watch what the pro is doing and don’t be afraid to ask him why he is doing certain things. All my pros were really friendly and willing to answer questions.
Fourth, and I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, really make sure you are prepared for the conditions- wind, temperature, sun- all of it. Look ahead at the forecast and make sure you have the right gear to stay warm and dry.
Finally, you really need to be ready for almost anything. Two of my pros were very professional in every way- including mannerisms, language, fishing and driving the boat. They were complete pros. One of them was not quite there. Obviously his fishing skill got him to this level, but just because he had a fancy jersey did not mean he knews how to be professional in all aspects of the game, especially when driving the boat in rough water.
iBass360: Can you share a couple things that you learned from your pros?
Fred: Tackle-wise, they all basically used the same thing. St. Clair lures are pretty standard: crankbait, swimbait, dropshot. One thing that was really reinforced to me is the importance of
persistence. It might look like these guys go out and just wail on the fish every day, but really most of them are just super persistent. My day one pro did not have a fish at 11 AM, but caught seven the rest of the day to bring in over 19 lbs.
To be honest, with one of my pros, I learned more what “not” to do. He picked up a dropshot with one lure and fished it the whole day, despite having several other lures rigged and on deck. There is a fine line between persistence and hard-headedness. Needless to say he did not do well.
I also got to watch one of my pros take the “all or nothing” approach. It worked well for him on one of the days, but not so much on the day I was with him. He fished shallow all day, which is not something that is done a lot on St. Clair, especially in multi-day tournaments. It was interesting to watch.
iBass360: Many folks might think the pros are very quiet or stoic when they are fishing-focused on their job. Did you find that to be the case? Were you able to hold conversations and ask questions?
Fred: It really depends on the angler, but in general, I had conversations with all of the anglers. You have to be somewhat guarded because you cannot give them any information that might help them, but we had good conversation. You definitely want to make sure you are not distracting the pro from feeling bites and such. They were all pretty friendly and willing to answer questions.
iBass360: Would you recommend it to other anglers and why?
Fred: I would definitely recommend it. If you are someone who loves bass fishing and has never done it, it’s a great learning experience and it was a lot of fun to have an inside look at a pro tournament. It was very educational and entertaining to watch the pros performing at such a high level.
iBass360: Thanks so much Fred! Good luck on the water! If you are interested in becoming a marshal, here is whatyou need to know for each tournament trail and the lakes each tour will be visiting in 2020.
Bassmaster Elite Series Marshal Information: www.bassmaster.com/elite
In 2020 the Bassmaster Elite Series will be visiting the St. John’s River (FL), Lake Chickamauga (TN), Lake Eufaula (AL, The Classic), Lake Santee Cooper (SC), The Sabine River (TX), Lake Fork (TX), the St. Lawrence River (NY), Lake Champlain (NY), and Lake St. Clair (MI). See https://www.bassmaster.com/bassmaster-tournament-trail-schedule for dates.
FLW Pro Circuit Marshal Information: www.flwfishing.com/marshals
In 2020 the FLW Pro Circuit will be visiting Sam Rayburn Reservoir (TX), the Harris Chain of Lakes (FL), Lake Martin (AL), Cherokee Lake (TN), Lake Hartwell (SC), Lake Dardanelle (AR), The Detroit River (MI), and the St. Lawrence River (NY). See https://www.flwfishing.com/tips/2019-08-08-2020-flw-tour-schedule for dates
Ryan Said is a tournament angler and U.S. Coast Guard licensed guide on Lake St. Clair. He also guides Lake Erie, and many of Michigan's inland lakes. He books trips through Marcels Guide Service - an affiliation that is beginning its seventh season. In 2011, after winning the Bassmaster Northern Open points championship, Ryan had the honor of fishing the Bassmaster Classic and the Bassmaster Elite series trail. He has fished the Bassmaster Open Series several times, as well as the Costa Series. Ryan is an engineer and teaches high school math. He coaches the college bass fishing team at Lawrence Tech, and offers seminars and "on the water" instruction for high school anglers. Ryan is pro staff for Dobyns Rods, Lew's Reels, Costa Sunglasses, P-Line and Blackfish Gear