Camping is a great way to reduce expenses and help anglers acheive a greater awareness of current lake conditions for a tournament. With today's gasoline prices it is often cheaper to stay the night near the lake than it is to trailer the boat back home. Cutting lodging costs allows me to budget more money for boat gas and fishing tackle. Here are ways that I make campgrounds feel more like home:
Campgrounds with Showers and Electricity
My style of tournament camping is not rustic; I pick State or private campgrounds that offer warm showers and campsite electricity. Power is needed to charge my boat batteries, for campsite lights, to run heaters or fans, and even power a portable microwave. Sites with power and water range from $16-$30 per night and most can be booked over the internet while viewing site-layout maps. If I find the campground does not offer a good interactive webpage then I use GoogleEarth to show the location of nearby boat ramps, food, and gas stations. Now there is an iPhone app for boat ramp locations from TakeMeFishing.org Basic EquipmentSome basic gear is required if you plan to make your camping functional and enjoyable:
1) Canopy Cover: A 12ft by 12ft pop-up canopy and a few extra waterproof tarps (10'x14' or bigger) will provide you relief from sun and rain. Canopies of this size cost about $100 on-sale and are big enough to back your boat under and provide shelter. The extra tarps are useful in providing additional protection from side-driving rain or glare. With a $5 hanging work-light and extension cord you can even sit in your boat and work on your tackle at night or in the rain.
2) Truck or Tent Sleeping: Normally while tournament fishing I use every minute that I am not fishing on either tackle preparation or sleeping. For this reason I find it easier to sleep in the back of my Toyota 4Runner SUV. The back seats fold down and by using an air mattress (Walmart$30) and sleeping bag (BassProShop ($30) I have all the comforts of home. I roll the rear windows down and slip mosquito netting (netting $10) over each open window to provide fresh air. If it is raining, I secure one of my spare tarps over the truck to protect rain from entering the windows. By using a small electric fan (Wal-Mart/Kmart $30) in the truck I create a nice cross breeze through the windows even on the hottest Florida nights. I purchased a fan ($30/Kmart) with three modes: a fan-only mode and two levels of heat-mode for winter camping. It is equipped with an automatic shut off sensor in case it tips over in the night.
3) Extreme 5-Day Cooler: The new, long-lasting, extreme ice chests ($50/Walmart) are far superior to the standard coolers. I recommended buying the biggest cooler you can fit into your truck because the internal cooler capacity is smaller than a normal cooler due to the double insulation. My 5-day extreme cooler paid for itself in savings in one tournament season when ice prices hit $2.50 per bag.
4) Camping Conveniences: Other items I recommend are a ThermaCell mosquito unit (BassProShop $20), plug-in electrical ground fault detector ($10), extension cords ($20) three-way electrical connector ($3), closable storage bins ($10), Bungie cords ($8), and extra tent stakes ($2).
My Camping Tips
1. When booking campground reservations BE SURE the campground provides a gate code for late night and early morning entry. Some campgrounds only open the gates from 7am-10pm and do not allow tournament anglers to leave early in the morning. Only stay at campgrounds that offer a combination gate lock and do not rely on park staff promises to leave the gate unlocked. Someone always forgets and locks you in.
2. Arrive at campgrounds between 10am-3pm to register and complete any paperwork. To achieve this I either plan my travel time to arrive a half-day early at the tournament lake or I fish in the morning and break at noon to visit the campground and local grocery store. Arriving mid-day is important for allowing the time needed to handle any reservation problems that might occur when traveling. Over bookings or lost reservations often require you to make other lodging arrangements. If you did your pre-travel planning correctly then booking a last-minute reservation should be as easy as looking down your list of nearby campgrounds and deciding which alternative place to call. Otherwise, you may have to book a hotel room while you work out the rest of the week's lodging.
3. Drive down to the campsite during daylight hours to become familiar with the road layout and to check the angle of your campsite parking. Determine if there are any trees directly across from the campsite that will prevent easy entry with a boat trailer. View the neighboring sites with extra vehicles and check to see if they are blocking a portion of your entryway. This happens a lot when sites are full during a busy camping season.
4. Check the power box. Verify that the power is on and wired correctly using your electrical ground fault detector ($10). Reversed or improperly grounded power outlets can easily burn out your $300 on-board boat battery charger. 5. Place your canopy cover at the campsite and anchor it down. This provides you a place to back your boat under when you come off the water and shows that your campsite is occupied, preventing other campers from mistakenly setting up on your empty campsite. 6. If you have a few hours of daylight left then get back on the water to fish. Your lodging is set and it is time to focus on learning the lake and finding productive fishing patterns. Another advantage of camping is that many campgrounds have a private boat ramp on the tournament lake that will save you travel time and allow you to fish longer.
Good luck and email me if you have any questions, jeff@jeffhollandfishing dot com
Recommended Florida Campgrounds
-St Johns River - Middle SectionPalatka, FL
-St John’s Campground, East Palatka, FL
-Salt Springs State Park, Ocala, FL
-Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, Lake Wales, FL Camp Mack RV Park, Lake Whales, FL
-Kissimmee State Park, Lake Whales, FL
-Lake SeminoleTallahassee, FL KOA Campgrounds, near Sneed, FL
State Parks and KOA Campgrounds offer great camping facilities. Here are my suggested sites near major tournametn lakes in the SouthEast..