Ol’ Salt Advice: On Freshwater Bass Tournaments - The Fisherman

Ol’ Salt Advice: On Freshwater Bass Tournaments

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An angler in a bass boat plies the shoreline of Lake Hopatcong, one of New Jersey’s outstanding tournament lakes.

Tournament bass angler offers words of wisdom for club contest competitors. 

Edward Prozer was a rodeo champion before he began bass fishing. While growing up in Howell Township, he cared for a horse in his backyard and went to work breaking them. A cow-town rodeo impressed him as an easy way to make money, and at age 17, he began competing, though he told me he found it wasn’t easy. During a persistent career, he was a saddle-bronc rider champion of the American Professional Rodeo Association 13 times, and a qualifier among the first three for the International Finals Rodeo.

He retired at age 46. Who could blame him at that age! “I had to find something to fill the void,” Prozer told me. Having fished a few ponds and jetties with his father, he watched a Bill Dance show. “You know,” he told himself, “I’d like to do that.” He phoned the New Jersey Bass Federation. They suggested he join Hawg Heaven Bassmasters. He won his first tournament with them on the Hudson.

Tournament Acumen

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Edward Prozer poses beside his Ranger bass boat. The longtime tournament basser and rodeo champ offers advice for up and coming club tournament competitors.

I met Prozer while fishing the private Culver Lake in Sussex County. I had wondered for decades if I would get a chance to fish there. Eventually, my friend John Lusk invited me to give it a try. He told me I might get to meet a tournament bass fisherman who lives a few houses over from his mother. We had caught sunfish, perch, white catfish, when Prozer stopped by, giving me a jig with a white Mister Twister to tie on. He pointed and said, “That’s where a weedy hump rises a few feet in about 12-feet of water.”

I cast to the edge in front of me and managed to avoid collecting green stuff. I felt a bump, set the hook, and then I watched, astonished, as my first cast transformed into a leaping largemouth. “See, what did I tell you?” he said.

He fished 11 club tournaments each of 20-some years with Hawg Heaven, placing seven or eight times in the annual top six. Candlewood Lake, the Hudson, the Potomac and Lake Hopatcong were mainstays. He also fished state federation tournaments, in which the top six of member clubs continue to participate, placing at 17, 23, and in the top 50 several times.

“I remember a Candlewood tournament when I came in with 20 pounds of smallies,” he said. He does have a competitive outlook, but his appreciation for the comradery makes his voice important at a time when membership in New Jersey bass clubs is in decline, an eventuality he has first-hand knowledge about.

Before we get to that issue, take some advice on winning tournaments. No magic bullet exists. “There are so many variables involved in fishing. You should never go at it with a closed mind, because that never works out.”

The Hudson serves as an example. “You have to figure out tides, creeks. It’s a learning experience that doesn’t come overnight. You develop things. You have to know how to learn what to do.”

His first win did come overnight, though, and while fishing Hudson tributary creeks, he especially focused on “spadderdock with spinnerbaits and tubes,” but it took him a while before he felt at home on Catskill Creek, the Esopus, and the Roundout. He spoke confidently also of lakes – Candlewood, Champlain, Swartswood, Wallenpaupack, Hopatcong, feeling that although tournament success depends on the numbers, it has more to do with a deep appreciation for the water. The American Bass Anglers Association exemplifies a particular irony that illustrates his sense of slowing down.

“They’re not a big-boat bass club. Trackers with 60’s and 40’s. Those are the guys you gotta watch out for, because they’re not going to run as hard. They’re going to fish everything that’s in front of them. Harder than the guy with the big bass boat, because the guy with the big boat is gonna run farther.”

Advice On Club Membership

I fished a couple of iBass360 tournaments on Spruce Run Reservoir a few years back. They reminded me of my tournament days decades ago. During my late teens, I fished Mercer County Bassmasters tournaments and a state federation tournament. I felt as if I could crank a Big-O at top speed all day, but as I began to say, Prozer’s advice is contrary to whipping the reins, and as I’ve grown older, I agree with him.

First, I confess that while his observation of Tracker owners seems spot on, I was in love with Ranger bass boats during my teens. It was easy to dream of those powerful boats during the 70s. Prozer still loves them. He said about his first, “I didn’t think I could afford a Ranger at the time,” but he found he could buy one used.

The salesman said, “If you keep this boat in good shape, I’ll give you every penny back you paid for it.” The salesman wouldn’t lose if Prozer came back for a new boat, which he did a year later.

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The author shot this photo of iBass360 members after a tournament on Spruce Run Reservoir.

“He returned every cent. I’ve been hooked on Rangers ever since.”

At the height of statewide interest in bass clubs, the boat fit right in with Hawg Heaven, the club having 19 members, more or less typical of other clubs. Prozer pointed out that while plenty of clubs exist in New Jersey now, they might have five or six members. It’s not the quality of fishing in the state’s region that is discouraging membership.

“It got to be so expensive,” he said.

When joining a club, he advises, “Do your reading, do your homework. You don’t need to buy 10 $100 rods and $200 reels to get into bass fishing. If you buy just four rods, two spinning and two baitcasters, if you’re comfortable with baitcasters, it will suffice for anything you want to do for the first years of fishing. Keep expenses to a minimum and go to tournaments where you can afford to go. Don’t get into it like you’re going to the Bassmaster Classic next year. When I first got in, that was the big thing. You had to be in it to win it.”

Let The Water Teach You

Prozer’s view after retiring from competition is informed by experience. He told me, “I always thought I had to buy the next best thing that came out. That’s the farthest thing from the truth.” He observed, “Things that worked 30 years ago are still working today.”

The means matter less than how they’re used, and they matter less than how competition changes approach, or as he remarked, “develops things.” It’s more than a matter of developing strategy. “Knowing how to learn” is a key character trait, and it centers on paying attention to the water rather than to what’s in the head. Knowing beforehand might help, but it’s more important to acquire new knowledge on the spot.

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Better-sized bass tend to win tournaments. Let clues from the water lead you to them.

Tournament fishing is not altogether the same as contemplative fishing. The very best of contemplative fishing might be done alone, whereas a tournament is a social event that develops character among others. The camaraderie influences how each competitor responds to fishing situations. Knowing how to learn takes what others are doing into account, but Prozer reminded me that the water will reveal its secrets if you do most of your searching there and search out what others do less. After all, you can’t help but be informed about others when fishing a tournament.

Some anglers feel dead-set against what they think is a ruthless sport, as if the deeper value of fishing – its contemplative quality – is the mainstay that will see the demise of pitting man against man, but Prozer sees competition as camaraderie, as this article’s end will show.

Again, everyone participates together in a tournament. That’s not to say no bitter-minded competitors exist, only to point out Prozer’s advice doesn’t include them. Besides, as a tournament angler, he had a way of suiting himself as any contemplative angler does, by paying attention. What else is an open mind?

Describing the quality most important to a tournament angler, he began with the fundamental. “Time spent on the water is not wasted,” Prozer said. Any non-competitor might agree. He continued, “If you catch no fish, at least you learn something. Time on the water is the best teacher.” Allow the fishing situation to inform you. It has specific qualities you can decipher, but you have to tune in so the water reveals clues you can’t possibly think of without paying attention.

He spoke about a man whose engine broke down during a Hudson River tournament, limiting him to his electric as he won that tournament. Effective fishing, competitive or not, is less about burning a Big-O at manic speed than settling into fishing situations so you can learn from them.

Prozer gave a big shout-out to friends he knew from Hawg Heaven: “Hey! To Bob Rose, Roy, and Mike! Our friendship is undying. It’s all about the comradery.” If that doesn’t sum up the essence of the competition as friendship, I don’t know what does.

I told him, “What a beautiful way to end a career.”

He and his friends frequently fish New York’s Thousand Islands, enjoying some fantastic smallmouth action. “One day, I caught 66. My biggest was a little over 6. That’s a spoiler, because that happens once or twice in your life.”

Though outings with friends continue to highlight his days, I asked him what he finds most enjoyable. He said, “I live on Culver Lake and the most enjoyable time is getting up in the morning, having my coffee, looking out on the lake, and to be able to go down and get in my boat, go out, and go fishing. That’s the ultimate.”

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