For the last 10 years, bass fishermen have come from all over the country to land the biggest fish and take the top prize in the Toyota Texas Bass Classic, part of the annual Toyota Texas Fest. For 2016, 38 professional anglers gathered to battle it out for $100,000 and a new Nitro Z20 bass-fishing boat.
During the tournament anglers spent hours in remote locations on Lake Ray Roberts, 60 miles north of Dallas. Many anglers spent hours (and sometimes days) on the road to get there. While the anglers depend on experience and fishing gear to win the top prize, they also rely on the most important tool at their disposal — their pickup truck.
After spending a few days watching the action in May, it was clear how important vehicles are to their success. Here's what we learned about why anglers need pickups.
Everyone has to tow; with that said, one of the more surprising things we saw was the diversity of vehicles in the parking lots. There were half-, three-quarter- and one-ton trucks in gasoline and diesel engine flavors. We also saw a variety of bed lengths and several dualie setups.
This diversity in vehicles is due to manufacturer sponsorships as well as personal tastes and lifestyles. Aaron Martens, a perennially ranked top 10 fisherman on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour, uses a Ram 3500 dualie with the Cummins diesel engine for his fishing operation.
"I use the dualie because I have an overhead camper that I take with me on the road," Martens said. "With how much traveling we do, it is definitely nice to tow with the dualie setup for safety."
We're guessing having a familiar, comfortable bed to sleep on isn't so bad either.
Pickups: Another Piece of Gear
Just as with truck owners, professional anglers believe in having the right tool for the job, and one of the most important tools at each fisherman's disposal is a pickup truck. Texas bass fishing guide and professional angler James Caldemeyer put 35,000 miles on his 2016 Toyota Tundra last year, crisscrossing his way to tournaments across the country, from Texas to upstate New York.
"My truck is part of my office, really, when I'm on the road along with my boat," Caldemeyer said. "It's basically a part of my team."
A key aspect of a good pickup is a comfortable interior. After putting in 10 to 12 hours each day fishing, a pickup with a comfortable interior helps make difficult travel schedules a little easier.
"From the professional point of view, having a comfortable interior is important," Caldemeyer said. "You aren't as tired when you arrive and you really don't feel that travel lag."
Fuel Economy: Minor Factor
Every truckmaker has made great strides in city, highway and combined fuel economy; however, when Caldemeyer was asked about fuel economy, he minimized the topic and brought up reliability.
"Fuel economy isn't that big deal to me," Caldemeyer said, "I want something I can rely on. I'm not going to worry about 1-2 mpg when I think about the long-term reliability and dependability. That's what's really important to me when I'm traveling with the type of schedule I have during the course of year. … I want the vehicle to get me there on time."
Caldemeyer that put 36,000 miles on his truck last year, and an informal perusal survey of the parking lots revealed that competitors are not worried about maximizing fuel economy. The majority of the trucks we saw were equipped with V-8s, four full-size doors and bigger-than-stock off-road tires.
Martens and Caldemeyer share some observations about truck modifications and their affect on performance. "Most of the fisherman put big tires, lifts and other things on their trucks for looks," Martens said. "That just kills the fuel economy."
However, unlike Caldemeyer, Martens learned to care about fuel economy from other competitors who gave him some good advice. That's why he chose the Ram heavy duty with the Cummins engine.
"I regularly get over 10 mpg out of my Ram with the boat and camper on it," Martens said. "That fuel economy is the best I ever had and I always have used diesel for better fuel economy. When towing just my boat, I get 13 to 17 mpg."
The Right Accessories Make a Difference
Most of the trucks we saw at the Texas Bass Classic were outfitted with extra storage and many had bed covers featuring a variety of storage items such as pullout drawers and pull-down trays.
These storage systems are essential, Caldemeyer said, in keeping his nearly $100,000 truck and trailer organized. His Tundra features a Leer pickup shell and a Decked bed storage system with two pullout drawers made out of polyethylene and steel; it's capable of carrying up to 2,000 pounds of gear. He uses the pullout drawers to hold plastic boxes with several separators for different lures. He has other pull-down trays for hats, shoes and other clothing items.
Anglers without a bed cover or cap rely on camper trailers instead. Martens says his camper has quite a bit of storage inside and has plenty of room to bring everything he needs to each competition.
Professional anglers happily share Information about storing or loading gear — that's obvious from looking at their trucks, which are similarly equipped.
However, lure choice and bait preferences are guarded like military secrets.
Basic Towing Skills Key to Launching a Boat
Watching pro fishermen launch their boats in the dark morning hours was like watching efficient, supersmart robots executing a task. Each fisherman took less than five minutes to launch a boat without getting in the way of next truck and boat in the queue. And from what we could tell, they weren't using any of the new towing-assist technology such as Ford's Pro Trailer Backup Assist or Chevrolet's trailering camera system.
Many of the anglers relied on the basics such as using their mirrors when backing up (instead of turning their heads) as well as setting the parking brake on slippery ramps when launching a boat.
"I can't tell you how many guys I've seen put their whole rig in the water by not using the parking brake," Caldemeyer said. "The transmission slips or they forget to put it into park and the whole rig goes right down into the water."
Plus, even though it seems fast, the anglers do take their time to make sure everything is done correctly before climbing out of their vehicles to launch their boat.
Here are some tips to help keep your next boating (and launching) experience safe and fun:
- Make sure all your mirrors are properly adjusted, then use them. Jackknifes are more likely if you twist and turn your neck to look behind you.
- Always put the transmission in Park and set your parking brake when stopped on a boat launch.
- Relax and take your time. If it takes a few minutes to think your way through, take the time. You may have spectators but don't let that put pressure on you to launch your boat quickly.
After a weekend of watching the professionals at work, it reminded us how important it is to have the right gear, take your time when executing a boat hookup or release, and have fun.
No word yet on dates for the 2017 Toyota Texas Bass Classic, but click here for more info. The Bassmaster Elite Series tour is currently ongoing along with the Fishing League Worldwide's Bass Fishing League tour.
Cars.com photos by Tim Esterdahl