By Linda Berry
“Now remind me again why I do this,” I mumbled to myself as I struggled to a standing position from the air mattress that had lost its support overnight. I slowly slid my feet into my clogs and searched for the zipper pull on the door of my cabin tent. “Why did I stay up so late working on my tackle? …these tournaments are killing me… I’m getting too old for this”! I step outside my tent and see other anglers emerging from their RVs and campers. The smell of coffee fills the air amidst the scent of smoke from our smoldering campfires. Through the heavy fog that floats motionless above the glassy surface of the lake I catch a glimpse of brake lights at the launch ramp across the cove. At that point, “I sure am glad we are staying in this campground. It is so convenient to everything.”
My sister (whose tent is set up next to mine) must be anxious as she had already loaded her rods and tackle into her car and was leaving to meet her boater in the parking lot near the ramp. “Good luck” we told each other. Guess I better get moving myself…it’s time to “rock and roll”! My Day-One partner is also staying in the campground. After I load my tackle into the boat, we head for the launch ramp. It will soon be safe light. As we are waiting for our boat number to be called, I glance back across the cove at the two tents set up side-by-side in the campground. My sister and I call them our “motel rooms in a bag” because that is how the tents were packaged when we purchased them. We have sure shared some great adventures since we decided to start camping at these tournaments. Until 2008, we had always opted for the cheapest motel room we could find. Even after splitting the expense, it was still a lot to pay for a place to lie down and catch 4 or 5 hours of sleep (if we were lucky) on tournament nights. At past tournaments, I had heard some of the anglers mention staying at a campground in their RV. I sure couldn’t afford to invest in or pay the gas expenses to pull or drive one of those to each tournament. I have always associated camping with “tents”.
After some research on campgrounds at each of the tournament locations, we decided to give it a try. The initial investment was about $100 each by the time we bought our tent and air mattress. The tent-site over-night fees averaged anywhere from $12 and $18 per night. We would have all the comforts of a motel room at the campground as they provided electricity and water as well as a bathhouse and laundry-mat. I was also surprised to learn that most campgrounds have Internet service. I decided to bring along a dorm-room size refrigerator that I picked up at a yard sale for $15. It saves us on ice and allows us to stock up on a few groceries. That helps cut down on expenses as well because we don’t eat out as much. The refrigerator also keeps the squirrels and other varmints from eating your vittles! We found out real fast that they will eat through a plastic tub to get to any food. Ants are the biggest nuisance, but they can be dealt with if you come prepared.
Our very first time to camp will probably always be our most memorable. It was mid-March 2008 in Lewisville, Texas. The night before the tournament, there were tornado watches all around and the wind was howling across the campground, putting our new tents to the test. The other campers were all in RVs and several had stopped by before dark to offer us a safer place to stay if conditions got worse. We decided to ride the storm out in our tents. At 3 a.m. the tornado sirens went off. The camper next door had come to tell us to get to the bathhouse – NOW! The bathhouse is a designated emergency shelter in a campground. My poor sister was scared to death and ran from her tent. By the time I stepped out of mine, she was already at the bathhouse peaking out the door to see if I was on my way. I looked at the sky and listened for the roar of a “freight train”. I really didn’t want to join everyone in the bathhouse, but I went anyway. I knew my sister would be worried about me until I got there. I was more worried about our tents, but after everything was over, our tents were still standing! We camped out at 3 of the 4 events in 2008 and plan to camp at all 4 events in 2009. It seems to be a novelty to some of the other anglers that we stay in tents instead of a motel room or an RV.
Another thing I have started doing to save even more money is to sleep in my truck when I am traveling. It has a camper shell on the truck bed. I have put padding and carpet down to sleep on and keep a plastic tote in the back filled with blankets and pillows. I use to drive as many hours as possible on a road trip and then spend an hour or more trying to find a motel room I could afford just to lay down for a few hours before continuing on my journey. Many people don’t know this, but all Wal-Mart locations are supposed to allow travelers to park overnight. It is a reasonably safe place to pull over and get some rest as they have security cameras and some even have security patrols. Most Wal-Mart stores are open all night, so if you need to use a restroom, it is at your disposal. If you need something to eat or drink, you can just go in and buy it. This saves me an average of $80 to $100 per tournament by not having to stay at a motel while traveling to and from a tournament.
This year I am also fishing the BASS Weekend Series. The tournaments in the division I fish are all within a 2 or 3 hour drive from my home. They are only one-day events but you have to be there the evening before for registration and pairings. I forego the motel room and sleep in my truck overnight at either a campground or Wal-Mart – whichever is nearest the launch. I have been known to sleep in my truck at the ramp itself where it is permitted. I always sleep in my clothes so I wake up dressed and ready to go. I keep enough snacks and drinks in my truck to get me through the night and tournament day.
One other item that I can’t be without is my “BassRoom”. It is a tent designed for a boat. It sets up in seconds. Its intended use is for “privacy” on the water when nature calls, but it is so versatile. I can actually set it up on my boat while my boat is still on the trailer and sleep under it, using my boat seats as a bed. If I pull into a campground late in the evening and I am too tired to set up my cabin tent, I can just pop open my “BassRoom”. It is equally as fast and easy to take down. You can learn more about this product at http://www.coveryourbass.com.
I am a work-a-holic. Fishing is my only outlet – my stress relief. When the going gets tough like it is now with the recession, I adjust and make the sacrifices necessary in order to continue to pursue my passion. A “motel room in a bag” is like a pent-house suite after a long hard day of tournament fishing. If you really think about it, camping is not a sacrifice. Instead of a concrete jungle, you are in the great outdoors. Instead of the stale odor of a motel room, you are breathing fresh air. Instead of trying to go to sleep with all the noise of the city and the people in the room next door, you are listening to tree frogs and hoot owls. Don’t knock camping at your tournament events until you give it a try. You can use the money you save to pay for another fishing trip! The cycle never ends – Happy Camping and Happy Fishing!
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