The summer of 2022 is quickly approaching - and the fish are only getting bigger. For sports fishermen across the USA, fishing tournaments provide an opportunity to bask in warm waters, test their luck on big game fish, and head home with an even bigger cash prize. Whether you’re a beginner angler or a pro, the U.S. offers an array of fishing tournaments that best suit your skills, region, and fish of choice.
Top Billfish Tournaments
The “World’s Largest Billfishing Tournament” celebrates its 48th year this summer. The tournament owes its nickname to Franklin Roosevelt himself, who coined Ocean City in 1939 for its marlin supply after a stellar day of fishing. If you’re looking for a truly massive fishing tournament, the White Marlin is a top choice: the 2021 tournament drew 444 boats, 3,500+ anglers, and paid over $9.2 million in prize money. Even novice anglers have won big, and there’s always an air of excitement as hundreds of spectators gather to watch the weigh-in of the winning white marlin.
Prepare for six days of offshore action, record-setting blue marlin, and international prestige. In 2021, Big Rock reeled in 270 boats with a top prize of $1,678,250. Going on 63 years, the prestigious tournament attracts fishermen from around the world. The past 3 tournaments drew anglers from 22 states and three international teams.
Big Rock cares about making fishing a more inclusive and sustainable sport: both lady anglers and billfish conservation efforts have dominated recent Big Rock headlines.
Parties, nightly dinners, and a pig roast: what could be better? Taking home a portion of the $50,000 in guaranteed cash prizes, of course. This fun-filled sport fishing event is limited to the first 75 boats that register: last year’s tournament attracted around 220 anglers on 38 boats. For those who like to fish, party, and read, note that the tournament typically coincides with the Hemingway Days festival, which honors Ernest Hemingway’s tenure in Key West during the 1930s.
If you’re looking for a billfish tournament that gives back, head to Virginia Beach. This fishing tournament belongs to the Virginia Beach Billfish Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to community-building through youth and marine related charities. Despite its generous spirit, the VBBT is a highly competitive and invitation-only tournament, with cash prizes in the thousands and a guaranteed grand prize of $10,000.
5. Mid-Atlantic 500: Cape May, NJ or Ocean City, MD
This marlin and tuna fishing tournament in Ocean City is jam-packed with a range of categories and optional jackpots. Anglers compete for the heaviest white marlin, blue marlin, tuna, dolphin, or wahoo; the 2021 tournament’s cash purse totaled $5,939,050. Alongside big game fishing, the Mid-Atlantic also specializes in hospitality: the tourney offers distinct amenities - and reportedly, parties - for anglers to enjoy while dockside.
Giants lurk in the Gulf of Mexico, where the Billfish Classic reigns as one of the top billfish tournaments in the U.S. This premier fishing tournament is known for record-breaking fish, big prizes, and ample entertainment at the Golden Nugget Casino and Hotel. Last year’s winners enjoyed a healthy portion of the $1,818,520.20 payout: the heaviest blue marlin weighed in at 793 lbs., sending the winning anglers home with $101,000.00.
The Bayou State is known as a “Sportsman's Paradise” - and the Cajun Canyons fishing tournament lives up to this title. The 2021 winning blue marlin weighed 574.8 lbs., while the top tuna clocked in at a hefty 189.6 lbs. Sports fishermen at Cajun Canyons are continually motivated by the first “Grander” blue marlin, a 1018.5 lbs. giant caught in the Gulf of Mexico in 1977.
Every July, one of the greatest shows in sportfishing takes place in the Wharf Marina. This Alabama fishing tournament promises giant fish and a touch of southern glam, drawing record-breaking crowds from across the states. The heaviest eligible blue marlin becomes the Tournament Grand Champion, marking the finale of the acclaimed Gulf Coast Triple Crown Series. Skilled anglers can expect to win big and pay big to enter the tournament: tournament registration is $10,000, with all boat entry fees donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. If you rise to the top, you’ll take home 60% of the tournament payout as a first-place angler.
While it might sound mysterious, it’s no secret that Pirate’s Cove is home to huge fish. Last year, tournament participants released 252 billfish including 228 white marlin, 19 blues, four sailfish and one spearfish; although no records were made last year, a 1,229 lbs. blue marlin holds the current tournament record. This trolling tournament employs a points system to award anglers based on fish species and successful release. Pirate’s Cove takes charitable donations as seriously as its points system: as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, it donates to several causes including the Interfaith Community Organization and the Billfish Foundation.
With a purse of over $2 million, the ECBC is hailed as one of the top ten big-money fishing tournaments in the world by Marlin Magazine. Target species include blue and white marlin, sailfish, spearfish (release only), yellowfin and bigeye tuna, dolphin, and wahoo. If you need visual proof of this marlin tournament’s prestige, check out their Record Fish Gallery.
11. Quest for the Crest: Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, FL
Those who make the quest to South Florida are in for a serious sailfish bite. This 3-leg sailfish series stops in Palm Beach, Lauderdale, and Miami and is known for intense competition. Teams vie for a piece of the $2 million cash purse as well as the chance to wear the “crown jewel of billfishing”: a burgundy jacket awarded each year to the winning team. Quest for the Crest is sponsored by Bluewater Movements, an organization committed to creating offshore fishing tournaments in the U.S. and beyond. After you sign up, stock up on some offshore fishing apparel so you're equipped to compete!
Best Bass Tournaments
80 of the world’s best anglers compete in Bass Pro Tour, which represents the Major League Fishing’s top-level competitive circuit. The tournament includes seven stages and culminates with REDCREST, the Bass Pro Tour championship. For anglers who aspire to top-level fishing tournaments, Bass Pro Tour is the ultimate goal: currently, the tournament is invite-only and the roster is set for the next three seasons. In the future, MLF intends to create a feeder system so up-and-coming anglers can qualify for Bass Pro Tour. If you can’t participate in the action, get your annual dose of bass fishing with MLF Now!, which livestreams the championship each year.
The Bassmaster Opens give any angler an opportunity to compete for the biggest bass. Participants must belong to the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) to compete; from there, the top anglers from the Eastern, Central, and Southern divisions secure entry into the Bassmaster Elite series. For more detailed information on who wins a spot in the 2023 Elite Series from the 2022 Bassmaster Opens Series, check out the 2022 fact sheet.
The B.A.S.S. Nation Series maintains a global network of local clubs that support a range of tournaments, marine conservation, and youth programs. According to the national organizers, this series spans every level of fishing competition, from junior and high school events to the Elite Series, Academy Sports, and Bassmaster Classic. After qualifying through a series of B.A.S.S. Nation tournaments and the national championship, anglers get a fighting chance at the Bassmaster Classic. If you’re interested in joining B.A.S.S. Nation, contact your state or nation chapter leader.
The Elite Series is the highest tournament level of professional bass fishing. To enter, fishermen must qualify through the Bassmaster Opens or eligible B.A.S.S. Nation tournaments. Anglers who are already on the Elite Series must re-qualify each year by maintaining enough points throughout the season: these points determine the ultimate Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year award and also settle the final participants in the Bassmaster Classic.
Hailed as the Super Bowl of Fishing, this world-class bass fishing tournament hosts around 60 skilled bass anglers who compete for over $1,000,000 in prize money. For spectators, promises of big prizes and big bass linger in the air: each year, they’ll enjoy theatrical weigh-ins and hours of televised bass fishing. Since the first fishing tournament in 1976, the Classic has been held at a “mystery lake,” which is revealed to competitors only upon boarding the championship-bound plane.
2022 Outdoors Bassmaster Classic Winner Jason Christie. Image Source
While the U.S. is known for fishing tournaments in Alabama, Louisiana, and other southern states, this premier bass tournament circuit proves the abundance of west coast waters. In 2022, there are 3 qualifying fishing tournaments in Washington State and 3 qualifiers in Oregon. Qualifying teams will participate in the combined Circuit Championship in September 2022. Anglers may also consider the associated Big Bass Tournament, which occurs in May and guarantees over $50,000 in cash prizes - and a chance to win a 2022 Skeeter ZX200.
The Big Bass Bash strives to give even the “weekend angler” a chance to win huge cash prizes: to date, it's granted millions of dollars to novice anglers across the U.S. The Lake of the Ozarks tournament runs in April, followed by the Grand Lake rendition in late May. Both locations are known for supporting amateur fishermen and hosting an excitement-filled weekend for families and children.
This spring in Alabama, anglers will follow the bass - and a guaranteed first-place payout of $10,000. As Alabama’s biggest and best bass tournament, this trail offers two divisions and a no entry fee championship with a grand prize of $50,000. Check out the trail’s bonus programs for various perks, including a $5,000 Anglers of the Year bonus and $250 for the highest place finisher who wears Alabama Bass trail apparel.
The Elite Redfish Series includes qualifying events throughout the Gulf and Atlantic coastal regions, culminating in the Bassmaster Redfish Cup Championship. The Port Arthur Pass is anglers’ final chance to secure enough qualifying points for the Elite Redfish Series Team of the Year - and win a $60,000 grand championship prize. With no entry fee and 3 days of ESPN television coverage, this prestigious bass tournament is both a money-maker and crowd-pleaser.
Since October 2019, FLW has operated as a subsidiary to the Major League Fishing (MLF). Its fishing tournaments are similarly prestigious: around 150 anglers compete in the four-day pro circuit for the grand prize of $125,000, and even 75th place competitors enjoy a minimum payout of $5,000. It’s known as the strongest five-fish limit circuit in the U.S. and provides another avenue to qualify for the Bass Pro Tour.
A newcomer to the U.S. fishing tournament scene, HBOS is a national kayak fishing tournament series. The 10 open events and final Tournament of Champions (TOC) are staged at some of the best bass fisheries in the U.S. and invite all anglers and kayakers aged 16 or older. Kayakers compete for cash payouts, Angler of the Year points, raffles, and sponsored prizes while connecting with other members of the kayak fishing community.
As the biggest catch-and-release striped bass tournament in the northeast, the Striper Cup encourages participants to fish their own way: by boat, shore, or kayak. Anglers can use spinning gear, trolling tackle, or a fly rod to catch striped bass; each week throughout the 5-month celebration of striped bass, they’ll submit up to 3 photos of striped bass to enter the weekly raffle. Striper Cup organizers invite all participants to attend StriperFest for the chance to win a Tidewater 210 CC Adventure.
Fishing Tournaments for Everyone
Like Big Bass Bash, Anglers in Action belongs to the conglomerate Midwest Fish Tournaments. This action-packed event empowers beginning anglers to compete in a professional-style fishing tournament with a guaranteed $10,000 for 1st place winners. Choose from four divisions: Lake of the Ozarks and Table Rock Lake in Missouri, Grand Lake in Oklahoma, or the Open Division, where you make your own schedule.
Affordable, competitive, and staged nationwide, the King Kat tournament trail functions with the aspiring angler in mind. If catfish is your specialty, sign up for Cabela’s annual catfish tournament trail: the King Cat Classic is held in September or October, and angler teams need only a $300 entry fee to begin their journey. By keeping fees low and locations varied, King Kat strives to encourage more diverse competition and national lake preservation - and increase access to their hefty King Cat Classic purse.
ACA sponsors the infamous Catfish Mafia: a family-friend fishing series that hosts 8 tournaments per year. With locations ranging from Sunbury, PA to the Susquehanna River, anglers target channel cats in the beginning of the year and transition to flatheads in the late spring and fall. If you’re a diehard catfish angler, check out the ACA website for more tournaments and information on the sport of catfishing.
Nothing beats a day of old-fashioned ice fishing. Return to your roots with this midwestern tournament, which resumed in 2022 after a couple years off the ice due to COVID-19 and poor weather. Anglers chip through the ice in search of the heaviest crappie, bluegill, and other ice-braving species. According to the 2021 organizers, the top prize of $20,300 was the highest for any U.S. ice fishing tournament.
Music and mountains define this kid-friendly fishing tournament, which celebrates its 32nd year this July. The entry fee is only $30 per team - and no kid leaves empty-handed! Last year, the first-place winner received $500: a hefty sum for any young angler. All participating youth receive a prize and a photo with their catch, commemorating their participation in the nation’s largest kids’ fishing tournament.
Your adventure begins at the WNTC, a multi-state program hosted by the Western Native Trout Initiative. Anglers who participate in this west coast fishing tournament catch native trout and char in each of the 12 participating states at their own pace. Participation helps fund the Western Native Trout Initiative conservation efforts. See fish species by state and start mapping out your western journey.
This first-class tuna fishing tournament draws skilled anglers from across the northeastern U.S. First place winners receive $12,500 plus a trophy for their efforts, and all anglers are briefed on how to properly handle bluefin tuna at sea. The 2022 schedule outlines nearly a week of activities for adult and youth anglers alike - with the promise of bigger and better prizes. All tournament proceeds support scholarships for Maine community college students.
Whether you're a beginner or a pro, the U.S. fishing tournament scene offers something for everyone. This 2022 tournament season, we look forward to watching as anglers reel in their next big catch - and let the scales do the talking.