I’ve been tournament fishing for bass now over 35 years and let me say things have changed a lot in that time frame. I thought I’d go over some of those chang
es better or worse as well as giving my opinions on some of the hotter topic that I get asked about and seem to fill social media, so here goes.
I started out actively fishing bass tournament back in the early 80s. There had already been a lot of changes since bass tournaments were started in the 60s, but compared to today the 80s tournaments were still like the Stone Ages. Lots of Bass Fishermen as wells as tournaments had started Catch and Release programs, where bass had to be weighed in alive and then released back into the body of water after weigh-in. Though livewells had been incorporated as a standard feature in bass boats there were still a lot of older boats that didn’t have them. Most of those with older boats improvised by some means it keeping their bass alive, but let me tell you there were a lot of dead and distressed bass at the weigh-ins. Livewell improvements have continued over the years and if fishermen have, Recirculate Pumps, Oxygen Systems or Venation Systems like the V-T2 vents from New Pro Products, bass stand a better than 99% chance of being released healthy after the weigh-in. Of course there is always a chance of a bass being injured during the catch, which happened to me in my last tournament, and that is an issue hard to control or fix.
Keeping bass alive and healthy also leads us into a couple of hot topics I’ve seen on social media and have been asked personally. The first is about the use of Culling Systems or Cull Tabs. For those of you that don’t know these are, they are basically a colored and/or numbered float that attached to a line, cable or chain with a clip or hook that is attached to a bass’ mouth. They are used by tournament anglers to keep track of the bass they have caught and to be able to quickly remove them from the livewell when a larger fish has been caught. Just like with livewells these cull systems have improved over time. The first ones to come out really did damage the bass’ mouth and some to the point that even if the bass was released alive, it was very unlikely they would survive for very long. Today there are a few cull systems out there designed to not damage the bass’ mouth. I’ve tried a few of these newer systems and it is true they don’t damage the bass’ mouth but most of them also don’t stay attached to the bass very well. The one system that I’ve tried that works best is the Clip N Cull from Cal Coast. If you take an extra second to position the clip right in the bass’ mouth and lock it correctly they stay put and they do not damage the bass’ mouth at all.
The other new trend is the new Catch Picture and Release (CPR) tournaments. These were started mostly by Bank and Kayak fishermen as keeping fish in their tournaments just are practical as they have no good method of keeping their fish alive. It also opens up aspects of Online Internet tournaments even for boat fishermen. I even just finished competing in the Crème Lures “King of Staff” tournament this month that was one of these Online Tournaments. For these the fish’s length is measured and instead of pounds & ounces they use inches to determine the winner of the tournament. By the way I did win the King of Staff tournament which was open to only members of the Crème Lures Pro Staff. This type of tournament does have a lot of advantages for the bass and the fishermen. First off it almost guarantees the bass is returned to the water in a condition where its survival has to be very high. Not only is the survival rate a big plus but also the bass is returned to the water very close to where it was caught, this is another subject I’d like to discuss more in the next paragraph. From the fisherman’s standpoint this type of tournament opens up all types of possibilities. You don’t have to travel most of these Online tournaments, so you have folks from all over the country competing against each other. That is very cool but it opens up all kinds of cheating possibilities as well, another subject that deserves its own paragraph later.
Releasing a bass back very near to where it was caught in all tournaments would be awesome. This is especially true when tournaments are held during the spawning season. It is my opinion that there shouldn’t be any tournaments held during the spawning season. Why you might ask? All those big bass full of eggs that are just about ready to spawn are pulled away from their beds and released sometimes many miles away. Now I’m not sure exactly what happens after the bass is released, if it survives does it try and return to its original mate and bed or does it look for a new mate and build a new bed in a different location. In any event it has to be disruptive to their spawning process and potentially damaging to the body of water’s bass population to some extent. This would especially be true if these fish come from a river system where the fish would have to fight miles of current to get back to their spawning location. My other pet peeve in regards to this discussion is when the bass weighed in aren’t returned to body of water they were caught. You will see this happen when weigh in isn’t held at the body of water for some type of advertising or promotional event. There is also the rare cases where a tournament angler makes an extremely long run to fish. This happened a couple of years ago when the BASS Elite Series was on the Sabine River. Pro Mike McClelland ran down the Sabine River to the Intercostal Waterway. He took the Intercostal to Galveston Bay and then ran up into Clear Creek Bayou to fish. This took him a 2 hour boat ride in both directions, but the tactic served him well as he finished 2nd in the tournament. However all the bass he caught out of Clear Creek Bayou were released into the Sabine River. Why should I care, well Clear Creek Bayou is one of the systems we fish in the Bayou Bassin’ League. Now 15 prime bass, likely prime spawners have been removed and transplanted into another body of water. That just doesn’t set well with me, sorry!
One of the other subjects that I see talked about on social media and I’m also asked about is Competitive Etiquette. I don’t think it should just be considered Competitive Etiquette, it should be considered Fishing Etiquette or Common Courtesy and fishermen should display it on every trip to the water. However sadly you do not see it much these days when you go to the lake. People don’t give you your space and heaven forbid if you happen to be fishing in a spot one of the locals has decided they own. Also for some reason fishermen in a tournament seem to think they have a right to fish certain areas even if a not tournament boat is there. Sorry folks that is wrong. If there is a boat fishing a spot no matter how many or how big the bass are in that location I will not try to fish the spot. The same goes if I’m on a spot and someone tries to crowd me out of it. That is just plain wrong, I don’t care who you are or at what level of fishing you are on, it is wrong. There are also folks out there that will attack you if you give other folks help. They do not want you disclosing any fishing locations or methods as they think they own that spot. I have news for those type of folks, no one owns any public waters and if someone wants to disclose the location and method they used to catch fish, then more power to them. There was a time when fellow fishermen helped each other. Locals provided fishing reports to the newspapers and everyone was friendly on the water. It is really sad where we have come to in this aspect. No longer are Common Sense and Common Courtesy seen on the water with any regularity.
Along those same lines is a subject that is very prevalent these days with everyone so interconnected. There was always some “Smack Talk” that happened in groups of friends but in these days you see it happening in the wide open on social media for all the world to see. I think anyone that fishes tournaments is guilty of a little smack talk from time to time, I know I am but I’m not sure posted it on social media is a good thing. For the most part I know it really is no harm done most of the time but it has led to some heated encounters on the water. It may also give fans of some fishermen the wrong impressions of them as well. I don’t think it will ever stop, heck I don’t know that I can stop, but I am going to try and not do any smack talking on social media.
Well there you have it folks, some thoughts, opinions and plain ramblings from me and my many years of tournament fishing. I know if you would ask the same types of questions to 100 different tournament anglers it is very likely you would get 100 very different views or opinions. We are all individuals and we all have our own thinking. I do have to say that I am very pleased with the numbers of people now getting involved with tournament fishing. Heck the level of competition today is 10 times what is was back when I started. Even at the local Bass Club level there are some very good fishermen. Now with High Schools and Colleges having Bass Teams and competing the level of competition is getting higher with each day. There was a day when I knew I had a very good chance of winning certain tournaments, but these days I tell you no matter the tournament or location I don’t know that any longer as there are great fishermen everywhere you look and in every tournament you fish. So in closing I hope this gives each of you that reads it some food for thought.
Until next time, Tight Lines and hey take a Kid Fishing!!