Bass Fishing on a Budget: Catching Bass Without Breaking the Bank

Meet the Author

Shaye Baker started fishing with his dad in Alabama as soon as they could find a life jacket small enough to fit him. Competing with his father in local tournaments, Shaye quickly found a hunger for competitive bass fishing. He furthered his fishing career at Auburn University helping to establish the Auburn University Bass Fishing Club. While at Auburn, Shaye served as the President of the club and qualified to fish on the traveling team amassing six Top 5 finishes including two 3rd place finishes in consecutive FLW College Fishing National Championships. While beginning to dabble in the world of outdoor journalism, Shaye continued to fish semi-pro events finishing in the Top 5 in the Bassmaster Opens, FLW Costa Series and BFLs. Finding himself at a crossroads, Shaye chose to put down the rod and pick up the pen and camera to focus on his career in outdoor journalism. Shaye has had work featured in Bassmaster Magazine, FLW Outdoors Magazine, B.A.S.S.Times and the Japanese bass fishing magazine, Basser. Shaye has also had work featured on ESPN and, and While working with B.A.S.S., Shaye initiated and spearheaded their GoPro division which brought more video coverage to the fans than had ever been done before in competitive fishing. After his tenure with some of the best companies in the business, Shaye identified a need for competitive fishing where participation didn’t cost a fortune. By founding UPLOADED, the Online Fishing Series, Shaye established a free tournament series where anglers could film their fish catches and upload their videos to compete against other anglers for prizes.
So, you like to fish but you don’t like to spend money, or more likely, you don’t have a lot of extra money to spend. Well I’ve been right there in your shoes from time to time. I am single with no kids so I typically have a little more expendable income to throw at fishing than most, but times definitely get tight here and there. And no matter how much money you have, the fishing world has gone crazy. So, bass fishing on a budget is easier said than done!
Loaded bass boats have an MSRP of $100,000 these days which is truly astonishing.
We are also constantly advertised to… we have to have this new thing or that new thing in order to catch a bass. Some of it has merit if you can afford it. I talk about some of those expensive but valuable tools as well as other more economical advances in my piece on Bass Fishing Technology. But in this piece, we’re going to talk about ways to help you catch more fish, and even compete in tournaments if you want, without having to rob a bank on the way to the lake.

Chapter 1 - Bass Fishing on a Budget: Travel

Jump to Chapter: Top | Travel | Housing | Food | Gear & Tackle | Takeaways |

Bass Fishing on a Budget: Travel

Whether you’re headed out of town for a fun weekend fishing trip or you’re fishing a Bassmaster Open for a week, you can really run a traveling tab up in a hurry. Some things are unavoidable. You have to have gas. You may run into some tolls. But there are certainly ways to cut corners by planning ahead and being a little resourceful.

Planning out your trip to avoid tolls is one quick win you can make if you’re bass fishing on a budget, but that’ll shave off a few bucks here and there. You might not see it make a huge difference. So, another option, especially when traveling across numerous states, is to look at average gas prices for each state.

This can prevent you from paying $2.50 per gallon five miles from a state line where just on the other side you could have paid $1.98. It might seem trivial, but it can save you from a headache and save you money.
These two tactics may be small wins in the grand scheme of things, so next we’re going to look at the biggest bank breaker when you’re traveling, housing.

Chapter 2 - Bass Fishing on a Budget: Housing

Jump to Chapter: Top | Travel | Housing | Food | Gear & Tackle | Takeaways |

Bass Fishing on a Budget: Housing

Let’s start with one of the big ticket items, housing. You’re doing good these days to find anything under $100 a night that doesn’t come with complimentary cockroaches and cigarette burns in the bedsheets. If you’re traveling with a group of 4 or 5, renting a house, cabin or trailer is a viable option to cut a little cost. But if you’re hoofing it on your own, you can break the bank finding somewhere to lay your head before you ever make a cast.
The most affordable option is camping.
That being said, camping brings all sorts of hassles along with it. You’re more exposed to the elements, be it rain, wind, cold, heat, noise, bugs or some other annoyance. But I’ve got a solution for you that worked really well for me. It does require a little work and money upfront, but will pay for itself in the first few trips and is honestly safer and more comfortable than staying in a hotel in my opinion.

So as the story goes, I was having a conversation with MLF Pro Brandon Palaniuk about the advantages of camping in his truck, the “Tundra Suites” as he lovingly refers to it. He had me sold on the convenience and budgeting aspects of it but one point I raised to him is that I can’t stand to be hot when I sleep. He said, “So get you an AC.” Well duh, I thought. That makes sense. I had an ARE truck cap on my Chevy Silverado at the time but I wasn’t about to ride around with a window unit hanging out of the side.
That wasn’t what he had in mind either. He explained that he had never done it, but that he had considered cutting a hole in a piece of plywood, dropping the tailgate, placing the plywood in the place of the tailgate and then mounting the window unit in the hole of the plywood, using the tailgate to support the weight of the unit. Seemed like a great idea to me so I tried it out. Threw in a 6” thick twin memory foam mattress and the end result was this.
And it was awesome! The window unit was on sale and so was the mattress. I already had the truck cap. It’s been a few years so I don’t remember the exact prices but I want to say I had about $1,300 in the whole setup, including the truck cap. But you could do it for much less by purchasing a cheaper truck cap off the internet. Even if the colors didn’t match you could just put it on when you were going to camp and take it off the rest of the time.
I was actually camping in this very setup when I led the first two days and inevitably finished 3rd in the Bassmaster Elite/Open Wildcard on Lake Okeechobee in 2013.
At the time, I was fishing the Bassmaster Opens and traveling alone. So my setup even at $1,300 paid for itself after the first couple tournaments compared to if I were to have gotten a hotel room for two weeks instead. And it was way better than a hotel room. For starters, I was staying in campgrounds. Around good to the core, grass roots Americans who not only weren’t going to mess with my stuff, but they weren’t going to let anyone else mess with it either.

I would have everything packed up in my truck cap when I left home, then take a popup tent along with me that I would store all my extra stuff in while I was there for the week. Stuff like food, fold out chairs and a $30 microwave. Which leads to the next great way to cut cost when traveling, food.

Chapter 3 - Bass Fishing on a Budget: Food

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Bass Fishing on a Budget: Food

When you’re traveling and fishing, especially in a tournament situation, time is very valuable. And eating out is convenient. So we tend to do so a lot. But if you average $8 for a breakfast combo, $15 for snacks on the water and $20 for dinner when the day is done,  you’re looking at $300 per week just in food. And nothing you’re getting conveniently or at prices less than these is going to be very healthy.

If you buy a bottle of water at a gas station, you’re looking at $2. That same bottle of water from a case of water bought at Sam’s, Walmart or some other large store is around $0.14.
Preparedness will save you hundreds of dollars in a hurry when it comes to what you consume while traveling.
Whenever I would get to town, I’d go by the grocery store and buy my groceries for the week. My favorite combo was pre-grilled chicken that was refrigerated paired with microwaveable rice packs. I’d eat a nice hot meal each night for 5 or 6 bucks.

Not worried about the lack of substance in your diet? It’s been non-scientifically proven by college students across the country that the human body can survive on Ramen noodles for at least a week. And don’t forget the gold standard in coin conserving cuisine, PB&J sandwiches.

If you’re a little more concerned with the contents of what you consume, you can grab bulk packs of almonds, cheese and jerky and you’ll have healthy snacks on the boat for the whole week. If you’re careful, $100 will go a long way towards getting you through a week on the road.

Chapter 4 - Bass Fishing on a Budget: Gear & Tackle

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Bass Fishing on a Budget: Gear & Tackle

Once you go to a fishery a time or two, you get a pretty good idea of what you’re going to need. Now, I love local tackle shops as much as anyone and I do think we should support them, but some have been known to do a little price gouging. And it only takes one tough day on the water to find yourself in there buying up a couple hundred bucks worth of whatever anyone says they’re biting.

Furthermore, having spare props, extra oil and whatever else you might need before you leave the house is critical to keep from having to pay the 50% markup/convenience fee that you’ll run into if you get in a jam. You may end up having to buy a couple packs of soft plastics here and there, but at least you won’t be seriously considering a second mortgage by the time you get home.

Bass Fishing on a Budget: Equipment

Companies know there are two sets of consumers out there. One consumer is looking for the capabilities of high end products, but can’t afford them. And one consumer will pay whatever price to have the latest and greatest products.
So, companies cater to both customers.
Case in point, Lowrance offers a lineup of graphs called the Elite Ti2 which have traditional Chirp sonar, SideScan, DownScan, touch screen and are linkable through the NEMA network so you can share waypoints. Tell me now, what more do you really need? And the best part, an Elite Ti2 12 is $1,000 cheaper than Lowrance’s new HDS 12 LIVE. That’s $2,999.99 versus $1,999.99. Both have the new built in C-Map and both are Genesis LIVE compatible.

I ran two of the first generation Elite Ti 9 units for a year and absolutely loved them. Very responsive and fantastic units. The 9” display is really where you see these graphs become even more affordable at $924.97 for the first generation units that are now on clearance and $999 for the Elite Ti2 in a 9” display. Think about it, if you go from the HDS 12 to an Elite 9 Ti2, you can have all the same meaningful capabilities with a 3” smaller display for $2,000 less. Allow me to reiterate, you can buy three of the Elite Ti2 9” units for the price of one HDS 12 LIVE.

And Lowrance is not alone in this. Humminbird has similar options with their Helix lineup which is much more affordable than their Solix series but also very capable according to the product descriptions and reviews I’ve seen. The same can be said for Power-Pole, offering their Sportsman Series for approximately $700 cheaper per Pole than their Blade Series. Both products perform the same fundamental task. They swiftly and silently secure your boat in shallow water.
Thankfully, there’s also an even cheaper option for anglers on a budget.
Thanks to ANGLR’s free mobile and web application, anglers who can’t break the bank for their electronics. I can mark catches and waypoints as well as track all of the water and weather conditions seamlessly while I practice and fish. Afterwards, I can analyze all of that data to find patterns and trends!

Bass Fishing on a Budget: Tackle

When it comes to rods, reels, lures, fishing line and other tackle, there’s a wide range of price points to pick from. There are certainly a few high end products that are worth the price tag and then there are cheaply made products that are much more likely to fail. But the price point doesn’t always correlate to the quality.
Some companies garner selling power from their brand names much like Nike would versus a lesser known shoe company.
So you have to be careful when trying to find a product within your budget that will still get the job done. That’s the sweet spot in the spectrum I like to call ‘plenty good enough’.

Bass Fishing on a Budget: Rods

A great example of this is the fishing rod and reel market. There’s zero chance that you could ever convince me that there’s a bass fishing rod or reel worth $700 alone, though there are rods and reels out there at that price point. That being said, I obviously can’t head out to fish competitively with a cane pole.
But with a little smart shopping, you can build a solid arsenal on a budget.
The rod series that I use the most now is Fitzgerald Fishing’s entry level rod, the Vursa Series. Notice I didn’t say ‘Fitzgerald’s cheap rod series’. Because they’re not cheaply made rods. They’re built with quality components but priced at a reasonable price of $129.99. In the interest of full disclosure, I can buy these rods at a discount from Fitzgerald Fishing. But I could also buy their higher end rods at that same discount, some of which I do for reasons I’ll share shortly. But by and large, my rod box is filled with Vursas.

And I’m sure there are other rod series from other companies just like the Vursa Series that are quality rods at a reasonable price point. But these are the ones I use because they’re rods I’ve developed a lot of confidence in. They’re strong, light and come in a serviceable variety of lengths and powers to fit most techniques. As I previously stated, I do have a few rods from some of Fitzgerald’s higher end lineups like their 7’10” Ledge Rod for big baits and A-Rigs and their 7’8” Big Jig/Heavy Mat Flippin’ rod for punching. Why? Because there’s nothing in the Vursa lineup that can do these things for me.

But for the rest of what I do, the Vursa Series is ‘plenty good enough’ and comes in about $70 cheaper that what seems to have become the industry standard of $200 for a fishing rod. Here’s a video of me boat flipping a six-and-a-half pounder on my 7’3” Heavy Vursa that I use for a frog rod to illustrate what I mean by ‘plenty good enough’.

Bass Fishing on a Budget: Reels

The reels are a little trickier than the rods. The big difference is that you can pick up a rod and what you see is what you get. It’s hard to wear one out in other words. If the rod feels good and has solid components, you’re in pretty good shape. The only issue you might have is breakage and you’ll typically figure that out in the first trip or two.
But the quality of a good reel comes down to its life expectancy.
Sure it needs good components, a good drag and good braking system. But there a lot of reels out there now and many have that at first glance these days. The real value in a reel comes from its longevity.

What I would say is a ‘good reel’ for the money is the Lew’s Speed Spool LFS Series. Again, I can get this reel at a discount. But again, I can get all their reels at a discount and reels from a few other companies the same way. And again, there are some techniques that require a little more horsepower than the LFS Series can provide so I move up to some higher priced reels for those techniques. But if I had $100 to spend on a reel that I could do the most with, that’s the reel I would and do choose quite often.
I think the $100 mark on a baitcasting reel is the breaking point.
Venture very far below it and the quality really starts to drop off. Around $200 is where a lot of the ‘better’ reels land. These are the ones I would use for some of my power fishing like the Lew’s Super Duty or Shimano Curado, both coming in at $179.99. But if you move very far beyond that, you’re usually getting into ‘my brand is better than your brand’ land.

Bass Fishing on a Budget: Lures

When you start talking about terminal tackle, hard baits, and soft plastics, you get into more of an even playing field price wise with the exception of tungsten weights, imported hard baits like Lucky Craft and Jackall and a few other things. In regards to some of these higher priced items, I have had times where baits like the Megabass 110 caught fish that I couldn’t catch on other jerkbaits. So the price is justifiable to some degree.

But you can also easily spend anywhere from $5 to $25 on a squarebill and I’d put a few of my $5 ones up against the highest priced one you can find any day of the week. Another example, think about how many fish you’ve either caught yourself or seen caught by the pros on Strike King’s XD Series at $6 or $7 a pop versus all the $20 and $30 deep diving crankbaits there are out there.

Bass Fishing on a Budget: Line

You have to be really careful when it comes to fishing line. Some of it is definitely overpriced, but you definitely can’t skimp here and use the cheapest stuff you can find, especially with fluorocarbon. Even if you find some a little cheaper that is okay in the beginning, the quality can quickly deteriorate leaving you re-spooling cheaper line more often thus defeating your efforts. I’ve had really good luck with Seaguar InvizX in the fluoro realm and Sufix 832 and Vursa Braid in the braided line demographic.

Chapter 5 - Bass Fishing on a Budget: Takeaways

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Bass Fishing on a Budget: Takeaways

So what’s the real secret here?
You can travel to fish without a six-figure salary. You just have to plan ahead and be prepared. And you have to educate yourself as a consumer. Weigh your options and take into consideration that all the fancy toys money can buy won’t magically make you a better angler.

There are some really innovative and great products out there that are worth their high price tags, but don’t get sold on hype alone. And even if some products do genuinely have one or two more bells and whistles, you have to ask yourself if the value of those bells and whistles is proportionate to their corresponding price jumps. The conscientious consumer will be far less dissatisfied with his or her purchase in the long run.