Burgin and Puelz compete in National Fishing Tournament

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Tony Puelz, left, of Garnavillo, has been fishing competitively in tournaments for approximately 30 years. Taylor Burgin of Palo, right, became involved in competitive fishing within the past three years. (Photos submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

There are few things more exciting to an angler than catching a trophy bass. That excitement has led bass to become one of the most sought-after game fish in the United States. 

Competitive bass fishing has drastically changed since its inception in the late 1900s. Sport fishing has now evolved into a multibillion-dollar industry, and has sparked the development of all kinds of high-tech fishing equipment and boats specifically outfitted for the serious bass fisherman. 

Tony Puelz of Garnavillo and his nephew, Taylor Burgin, of Palo, have always enjoyed fishing together. The two men became involved in competitive fishing a few years ago. Puelz began, "I have been tournament fishing for about 30 years."  

Burgin commented, "I have always fished for fun, but got involved in competitive fishing in the last three years." 

Burgin, who fishes as a co-angler, explained, "There are divisions for anglers and co-anglers in each tournament. A co-angler is when two anglers are fishing from the same boat, but not as a team. The co-angler is fishing in the back of the boat. Co-anglers draw a different angler from an unknown club, state, or even country to fish with each day of competition." 

They explained, "You start at a club level and then move on to state tournaments. If you qualify in the top ten at the state tournament you move on to the divisional level. The top angler and co-angler from each state then move on to nationals. After competition at nationals, the top three get a chance to fish in Bassmaster Classic and a chance to fish professionally with expenses paid for the top finisher for the following year."

Burgin said, "It's a long and difficult road to get to Bassmaster Classic, but that is the ultimate goal for most bass anglers."

Puelz said, "State, divisional, and national tournaments are three days of competition each. The goal each day is to catch and weigh-in your five biggest, keeper-sized bass caught throughout the competition day. The total weight for the three-day tournament is what gets you the top prize."

State and Divisional Tournament

Puelz shared, "The state tournament was held in Clinton, on the Mississippi River. That was step one." 

Fishing in tournaments can be very unpredictable. Burgin noted, "At the state tournament I fished the first two days and had a large lead in the tournament. On the third day I didn't catch a keeper, but still finished in first place."

Puelz added, "I was the last guy in on the angler side to go to divisionals." Burgin said, "With our top 10 finishes at the state tournament we qualified for the divisional tournament, which was held in Guntersville, Ala., on Lake Guntersville, in April." 

Puelz commented, "We haul our own boat and pre-fish and practice together. Once the tournament begins we no longer fish together." He remembered, "When we were pre-fishing at the divisional tournament in Guntersville we ended up getting hit by a big storm. We should have got off the lake. We almost sunk the boat. The oil pressure sensor went out, and I ended up having to borrow a boat for the tournament. Fortunately, I was able to secure another boat from a guy who owned a local tackle shop through some fishing friends." 

Both men agree, "When you run into trouble, and you have to change boats, it really messes with your head. You get unorganized and it throws you off your game plan." 

Even after the mechanical issues at the divisional tournament, Puelz qualified in the top twenty and Burgin took fifth place out of 190 competitors to move on to the Bass Nation National Championship." 

Bass Nation National Tournament

The National Tournament was held in Anderson, S.C., on Lake Hartwell. Burgin finished an impressive third at nationals on the co-angler side, just eight ounces shy of the top spot, and was awarded a $5000 cash prize for his catch. Puelz ended up placing in the top 50. 

Burgin noted, "The entire experience was really cool, getting to fish with guys from other states and meeting fishermen from all over the world. Fishing is something that can really bring people of all different backgrounds together." He listed, "I fished with anglers from Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Jersey, and Georgia." He encouraged, "Each day is different, and you can learn a lot as a co-angler from each angler you fish with. You don't need to have a lot of money or a fancy boat to get started learning as a co-angler. Reach out to a local bass club and learn the ropes there – if you have the interest."

Techniques and fish tales

Puelz noted, "The fish determine the type of lure I use – like a golfer choosing the correct club for the shot. Each lure has a specific job. We always catch and release the fish after tournaments, to be caught again another day." 

Puelz's largest bass weighed nine pounds and was caught in Guntersville. Burgin caught a five-pound, nine-ounce bass at the divisional tournament, his biggest bass to date. 

They commented, "You never know what you are going to catch when you cast out a lure." 

Puelz caught a 60-pound flathead catfish on a bass lure while fishing on the Mississippi River, and Burgin caught a 40-pound buffalo on a crankbait at the tournament in Clinton. 

Puelz concluded, "What made our experience so unique was that we were able to go together. Fishing with my nephew has been a great experience."

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