Camping culture - Major League Fishing

Camping culture

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EverStart Series pro Rodger Beaver sorts his tackle next to his camper at Wind Creek State Park in Alabama. Photo by Rob Newell. Angler: Rodger Beaver.
August 31, 2001 • Rob Newell • Archives

Sleeping bags and campfires vs. double beds and continental breakfast. The battle is on.

If you are a professional angler, what do you do after a long day on the water? Secure your boat and head straight to the hotel for a good night’s sleep, right? Well, no. Many seasoned veterans and rookies alike say the tranquility of local campgrounds is far superior to the “modern conveniences” of hotel living.

“If I could not camp, I might not fish tournaments,” jokes Wal-Mart FLW Tour angler Dwayne Horton of Knoxville, Tenn. “For me, camping is as much a part of tournament fishing as rods and reels. It is convenient, efficient, quiet, and I get a whole lot more rest.”

Horton knows a thing or two about camping. He has been camping in his van at national bass tournaments for the last 10 years. He says what initially drove him to the campground was the constant jockeying for parking places at hotels.

“At hotels, you have to come in an hour early to claim your parking space. Then you have to get up an hour early to beat the mad rush out of the parking lot,” Horton says. “And, there is the noise. Whether it is trucks running up and down the highway, or kids running up and down the hallway, there is always some kind of noise at hotels.”

Team Alpo angler Dwayne Horton finds camping with his conversion van more convienient than fighting hotel crowds.Tired of squabbling for a place to park, and seeking some peace and quiet, Horton went to the campground and has hardly stayed in a hotel since.

If there is one great misconception about bass anglers who stay in campgrounds, it is that such anglers cannot afford to stay anywhere else. While campgrounds are certainly more economical, that is not the only reason more anglers are showing up at the campgrounds for tournaments.

“This is not about being unable to afford a hotel room,” says two-time EverStart champion Curt Lytle of Suffolk, Va., who camps in his van at tournaments. “I am just not comfortable in hotel rooms. I like to sleep in my own bed.”

Lake Martin FLW Tour winner Takahiro Omori of Emory, Texas, started out camping because of financial reasons but has returned to the campground for the aesthetics and convenience. “I used to stay at the campground because I had no money, and I was always wishing I could stay in a hotel,” Omori says. “Then I stayed at a hotel a couple of times and I went right back to the campground.”

Tournament anglers who camp claim that the greatest asset of camping is convenience. Many popular tournament-fishing lakes have camping facilities right at the official launch site. This allows anglers to stay at the launch site without making a commute to the lake each day.

Some of the bigger state parks even have a launch ramp within the campground that is restricted to registered campers only. This is like having a private boat ramp in your back yard. Additionally, campgrounds on lakes usually feature waterfront sites so anglers can keep their boats in the water and avoid the ramps altogether.

Even the most basic campgrounds provide bathhouses with bathrooms and showers. Each campsite usually features electrical outlets, water and sewer hook-ups for larger motor homes with onboard bathrooms. More elaborate campgrounds will have everything from large sheltered pavilions to swim beaches and playgrounds. Some campgrounds have so many amenities that one would think they pulled into a resort rather than a campground.

Prices for campgrounds depend on ownership (state vs. private), season and duration of the stay. The average campsite ranges from $10 to $20 per night. Anglers who share campsites can really put a dent in lodging costs.

The inside of an FLW pro's palace on the roadCamping units range from tents and pickup trucks with camper tops to luxurious motor coaches. There is no limit to the amount of modern conveniences that can be installed in camping units these days. With features such as queen-sized beds, central heat and air, full kitchens, bathrooms and satellite television, some camping units could make lakeside condominiums look shabby.

But for those in the fishing business, modest campers and vans are commonplace. Most anglers carry the basics: a small electric heater and fan, refrigerator/cooler and maybe an electric stove top or small microwave for cooking.

The reasons fishermen camp are as varied as bass fishing techniques. For some, camping means saving money; for others, camping means staying in tune with nature’s rhythms.

When EverStart Challenge champion Alister Johnson of Cottondale, Fla., and Cumberland EverStart winner Rodger Beaver of Leesburg, Ga., decided to add the Wal-Mart FLW Tour to their already hectic EverStart schedule, they knew they were going to have to be economically efficient about traveling. The two anglers discovered that renting campsites by the month proved to be easiest on the wallet.

Johnson and Beaver share a camper unit that they stage at each tournament site during the entire month of an event. “On the way home from a tournament, we will drop off the trailer and boats at the next tournament’s campground, go home, then come back for the tournament,” says Johnson. “That way we do not have to fool with reservations or checkouts. The trailer is there for the month. We can come and go for practice whenever we want and it costs us less than a hotel would cost for one week.

When North Carolina angler Robert Karbas of Wake Forest, N.C., decided to fish the Wal-Mart FLW Tour he invested in a pickup truck camper complete with a small kitchen and bathroom. “It is like a home away from home during tournaments,” he says.

After a couple of weeks in a hotel, Omori says he did not like lugging all of his equipment in and out of a hotel room.

Takahiro Omori used to camp for economic reasons. Now it's for peace of mind.“I was worried about someone stealing my things out of my boat or truck in the parking lot. So every night I would bring everything in the room,” says Omori, who camps in a conversion van camper. “I found it was much easier to leave everything in place and just sleep in there with it.”

For Wal-Mart FLW Tour angler Asa Godsey of Mechanicsville, Va., and his wife, Betty, staying in a campground simply means being able to take along their dog, Smoky. “We do not have to worry about the `no pet’ rule at hotels,” says Godsey, who owns a motor home. “Plus we love to cook, and having our own kitchen lets us do that.”

But for some anglers, camping means being closer to the natural world and being more aware of the subtle changes that often affect fishing.

“You can feel the changes in the weather much more accurately sleeping in a van at the campground than sleeping in a controlled environment in a hotel room,” Lytle says. “I know when the wind changes, when the temperature drops, when the humidity increases, or when the sky clouds up before other competitors. This lets me think about adjustments before they do.”

Lytle also likes to be where he can observe animal behavior at all times. “Just having birds, squirrels and sometimes deer around gives me a barometer of the overall wildlife activity during the week,” he says. “Some people might be surprised by the correlation between the activity of land animals and fish activity, especially in the spring time.”

Rick Clunn of Ava, Mo., could be considered the grandfather of camping along the tournament trail. The legendary tournament angler has been camping in a van for a majority of his 27 years as a professional angler.

Clunn attributes a certain degree of his success directly to camping. The reasons for his modest living quarters are twofold. Clunn is always seeking to minimize distractions while heightening awareness and attunement to nature’s rhythms.

“Towns and cities mean traffic; hotels mean limited parking, conversations with other anglers, television, noise etc. I am not trying to be antisocial, but all of these things are small distractions that culminate to take away from my overall mental focus,” Clunn says. “By camping, I can eliminate those distractions.”

More importantly, Clunn has found that camping keeps him acclimated to the impending weather and allows him to stay more connected to the natural world. “As fishermen, we must become part of the natural world,” says Clunn who rarely heats or cools his van when camping. “By being acclimated to the weather at all times, my body does not have to transition for drastically different temperatures. Acclimation and a heightened awareness of the weather and animal activity all play a part in staying connected to the natural world.”

While camping may be a good scenario for some anglers, it is not for everybody. Horton admits there are some disadvantages. “It can get tough when it rains continuously for several days. In a small space like a van, you eventually run out of `dry air,'” he says.

Camping in the warmer months can mean gnats and mosquitoes, as well. These bloodthirsty insects generally force camping anglers into their living quarters before the sun goes down. “When that happens, there is nothing else to do but go to bed and get a little extra sleep,” Horton concludes, “which is exactly why I was drawn to campgrounds in the first place.”

10 Great Bass Fishing and Camping Destinations

Looking for a campground where you can pitch your tent and wet a line? Here are 10 campgrounds located on well-known bass fishing lakes that have been “pro-approved” by professional anglers.

* Wind Creek State Park, Lake Martin, Ala. 642 sites. (265) 329-0845. One of the most popular parks among tournament pros who camp.

* Lake Point State Park, Lake Eufaula, Ala. 244 sites. (334) 687-6676. Dwayne Horton of Knoxville, Tenn., says it’s the cleanest park he has ever stayed in.

* Santee State Park, Santee Cooper, S.C. 163 sites. (803) 854-2408.

* Dreher Island State Park, Lake Murray, S.C. 112 sites. (803) 364-4152. Definitely at the end of the road, but well worth the trip.

* Hart State Park, Lake Hartwell, Ga. 65 sites. (706) 376-8756.

* Okee-Tantie Recreation Area, Okeechobee, Fla. 150 sites. (941) 763-2622. A true Florida camping experience.

* North Bend Park, Buggs Island (Kerr Reservoir), Va. 250 sites. (804) 738-6144. Another favorite among the pros.

* Lake Guntersville State Park, Lake Guntersville, Ala. 321 sites. (256) 571-5455.

* Lanier Islands, Lake Lanier, Ga. 304 sites. (770) 932-7270. This one is a bit pricey because it is a private resort. Beautiful in the fall. Lots of deer.

* Prairie Creek Campground, Beaver Lake, Ark. 125 sites. (501) 925-3957.