Tournament Bass Fishing & Texas Hold ‘em

Comparing the Two Hobbies and Examining Traditional Tournaments vs Catch-Weigh-Release Events

Authored By:  Tadd Johnson with Contributions by Champions Tour Staff and Anglers

For the past twenty plus years tournament bass fishing and Texas Hold ‘em have consumed my time outside of work and spending time with my family.

When it comes to Texas hold ‘em there has always been two variations of the game that have been debated for years on what is the better game, limit & no-limit hold ‘em.

For years tournament bass fishing had one format, catch and bring in your biggest five bass limit.  Over the last several years a new variation and format has emerged, catch, record, release or CRR for short. This is the format that the Champions Tour events are.

With this new format of tournament fishing starting, the obvious question is what style defines a better fisherman? This has been a question that has been debated for years with hold ‘em. What makes you a better player limit or no-limit? I have read what feels like countless debates on both, but it seems to be a real hot topic these days in the tournament bass fishing world.

This may sound strange, but I have always thought both hold ‘em and tournament bass fishing have a lot of similarities. Most people who do not do either one think that both poker and fishing are mainly all about luck.

Now I will say luck can have a small amount to do with the result, but I believe that in both skill factors in at around ninety percent and luck or avoiding bad luck makes up the remaining ten percent. To me having a 5 lb bass pull off at the boat is basically the same as losing to a 2 outer on the river. Sometimes you can do everything right and still loose the hand or the fish.

Tournament Bass Fishing & Texas Hold ‘em

Now if you put yourself in the right position time and time again you can offset the luck or bad luck side and at that point skill tips the scales. Therefore, there are small amounts of professionals in both that can do it very successfully for a living. I try to over time stay in the black or at least keep at a break-even player although in poker I have way fewer expenses, so it is usually an easier task from year to year. So, I do not see myself quitting my day job anytime soon.

Now let’s talk more about the big question in each, what is better or takes more skill? To answer that we need to dig a little deeper. I have now fished five fish limit tournaments for over twenty years and the Champions Tour (CRR style) for three years. I feel that a five fish limit tournament is more like no-limit poker and CRR is more like limit.

Champions Tour angler Noah Schultz has quite the story to tell from the 2019 season. Not only did he walk away with a brand new Skeeter Boat and Yamaha Outboard at the Championship on Bay Lake, but he also won the Leech Lake event AND he won the Blackfish Classic on Lake Minnetonka.  We caught up with Noah and got some great insight…

“The Champions Tour has forced me to be a better angler in every aspect, decision making, execution, and efficiency need to be spot on or you will not succeed. One lost fish, one bad decision, or wasted time will drop you down the leader board in a hurry and possibly cost you the tournament as we have seen because many Champions Tour tournaments are decided by one fish.” 

By sharpening these skills which need to be on point for the Champions Tour, they are even more fine-tuned and ready to put to use during other tournaments. 

Five fish limit and no-limit hold ‘em
“A chip and a chair” is a term that is used quite often because in no-limit there is always a chance no matter how short stacked you are. You can go from the small stack to chip leader in a matter of a few hands.

In a five fish limit tournament, the same can be true, you can struggle all day, but win the tournament in your last five casts. It’s all about timing and being mentally strong enough to know you are never out of it. Terms that come to mind are swing for the fences, high risk equals high reward and quality over quantity are all very important when planning your strategy’s.

In no-limit I am calculating implied odds more than just what’s in the pot. In other words, I’m thinking about the risk verse possible reward if we get our whole stack of chips in that pot. It’s all about putting all my chips in and hoping for big rewards of big pots and big bass even if the pot odds are not always exactly right.

I’m taking bigger risks when fishing because I only need five big bites all day. I will usually try some things that I have not even considered just looking for a big reward. In a five fish limit I may go long periods of time without getting a bite, I am targeting big fish. If a 2 pounder gets away, I may not get that upset because it likely will not affect my outcome.

The Champions Tour and limit poker
While limit poker is considered more of a grind; you need to avoid even small mistakes because it’s much harder to win it back in big lump sums. You need to really win a minimum of one pot per round to stay a head of the game. Now that pot does not have to be a monster, but it sure helps if it’s on the bigger side.

Just like in the Champions Tour, you must always be catching bass, no down time, big or small, if they weigh a pound they count. Once you get behind it is harder to catch back up in both. It’s an all-day grind.

If I lose a scoreable bass I’m never happy because I know it could very likely affect the outcome and at the end of the day my payout. In limit poker it’s more about calculating pot odds verse number of outs and making the best decision over the long term. Very small percentages make the difference between a winning and losing session.

On the Champions Tour, I think in the same terms, losing a few small bass can be the difference in cashing a check or not. I am always looking for numbers of fish first and it’s just a bonus if they are big ones. You need to make sure you are keeping up with the LiveWell App updates.

In talking with fellow Champions Tour Pro and FLW Tour Pro, Matt Stefan, he had a prime example of how the difference in the two styles of events will play a role in how an angler practices.  “At the Championship last year on Bay Lake, I found some of the nicest milfoil I have seen in a long time and spent my first day of practice trying to make the milfoil bite happen.”  What Matt found did not surprise him, fewer bites, but the ones he did get were fish in the 3 lb class.  “The bites were sporadic and not frequent enough to compete with the numbers of smaller fish you could catch doing other things, so I switched up and went looking for the numbers. Had this been a five fish event I wouldn’t have left the milfoil.”

Pulling it all together…
As I have thought about these questions, other activities or sports have also come to mind…

In billiards, nine ball verse eight ball
Boxing or MMA
Deer hunting and pheasant hunting
Event in the competitive cooking scene, BBQ verse steak cooking

I have spent way more time preparing for five fish limit tournaments, but over the three years fishing the Champions Tour it has taught me several things.

First, fish do not always school by size. I used to get on a school and if I was catching a lot of the same average sized bass, I would leave thinking there was not much room for improvement. I have now seen that many times I catch the biggest fish in the school once I have cleared out some of the smaller ones.

Likewise, I used to be worried that releasing a bass back into the water would shut down that school. I can personally say that in the last three years on the Champions Tour, I have put that to the test and in most cases have found it not to be true.

In the end, I have concluded that if you take the time to learn from each variation you will become better at both, it’s a win-win situation!

I have learned things from limit poker that make me a better no limit player and vice versa. The same holds true for five fish limit bass tournaments and the Champions Tour (CRR style tournaments).

Tournament Bass Fishing & Texas Hold ‘em

“The best part about fishing both tournament types is that it makes you a better angler, it opens up your eyes to how different strategies and patterns come into play and when they excel,” said Stefan.  “You can use that information to help you in other tournaments, I’ve taken a lot of what I’ve learned on the Champions Tour to figure out ways to quickly catch limits or secure fish to fill out limits at the end of a day in five fish limit tournaments.”

So before arguing about what is better, I’d say if you have not tried fishing the Champions Tour to give it a shot.  Download the LiveWell App and do a club or league tournament, just to try it out, it’s just easy. You really have nothing to lose and so much to gain.

“The Champions Tour format and the LiveWell App will without a doubt make you step up your angling,” said Schultz. “The intensity and pace of this format is mind blowing, it keeps you on the edge of your seat all day long! If anybody is a non-believer just give it a try and tournament fishing will never be the same!”