I started out actively fishing tournament back in the early 80s. There had already been a lot of positive changes on the tournament scene since they started in the 60s. However compared to tournament scene of today the 80s tournaments still seem like the Stone Ages. Almost all the tournaments in the 80s and all that I fished had Catch and Release programs, where bass had to be weighed in alive and then released after weigh-in. Though livewells had been incorporated as a standard features in bass boats by the 80s there were still a lot of older boats that didn’t have them. Most of the folks with those older boats improvised some means to try keeping their bass alive. Even with the livewells and folks trying hard to keep bass alive you would still see a lot of dead and distressed bass at the weigh-ins. The biggest single change from the 80s to today is all the improvements made to livewell systems. Keeping bass alive and healthy became a priority that has continued over the years. Today the live well systems on boats have such improvements as Recirculate Pumps and Oxygen Systems. If you don’t want to pay for the expensive Oxygen Systems for your boat then there are also some great Venation Systems available. The V-T2 vents from New Pro Products that I installed in my boat do an awesome job at getting fresh oxygen in my livewells while at the same time releasing the potentially deadly gases that build up. With these livewell improvement today’s bass stand a better than 99% chance of being released healthy after the weigh-in than they did just a few years ago. 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. If you don’t have oxygen system or some form of livewell venation on your boat I high recommend you install some V-T2 vents. They are far less costly than installing an oxygen system and will keep your bass just as healthy.
Keeping bass alive and healthy also leads us into the next hot topic I’ve seen on social media and have been asked personally. That topic is the use of Culling Systems or Cull Tabs. For those of you that don’t know what these are, they are basically a colored and/or numbered float that is attached to a line, cable or chain with a clip or hook on the other end. The clip or hook is then attached to a bass’ mouth before you put them in the livewell. They are used by tournament anglers to keep track of the size/weight of each bass they have caught. Once the angler gets a limit of bass these tabs make it easy to cull their catch. When a bass is caught and determined to be bigger than one in the livewell, the angler can quickly find and remove the smaller bass. Just like with livewells these cull systems have improved over time. The first ones to come out really caused a lot of damage to the bass’ mouth. Some of this damage was to the point that the bass was unlikely to survive for very long once released. I’m happy to report that today there are some cull systems out there designed 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 larger bass very well. The one system I believe that works best and I’m currently using 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 even on big bass and they do not damage the bass’ mouth at all.
One of the new trends I’ve seen and been asked about 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 is not practical as they don’t have a good method of keeping their fish alive. It also opens up aspects of Online Internet tournaments even for boat fishermen. I just finished competing in my first CPR online tournament this past month. It was the Crème Lures “King of Staff” tournament that was open to all Crème Lures Pro Staff. It was a lot of fun and knowing I was competing against other Pro Staff members from all over the country made it very interesting. For these CPR tournaments the fish’s length is measured on a bump board and a picture is taken to be submitted to the tournament director. So for these CPR tournaments it is inches instead of pounds & ounces that are used to determine the winner of the tournament. By the way I did win the King of Staff tournament which is something I’m very proud of accomplishing. Now these CPR tournaments do have a lot of advantages for both the bass and the fishermen. First off they almost guarantee the bass is returned to the water in a condition where its survival rate 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 long distances to fish in these online CPR tournament. Most online tournaments allow you to fish any body of water of your choosing. Just like the King of Staff tournament I fished, you can be competing against folks from all over the country. That is very cool but it opens up all kinds of cheating possibilities as well, another subject that deserves its own paragraph later. I do know that when possible I’ll be fishing more of these online CPR tournaments in the future.
Releasing each bass back very near to where it was caught in all tournaments would be an awesome improvement. 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 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 to 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. Along these same lines is one of my personal pet peeve in regards to this discussion. It is when the bass weighed in aren’t returned to body of water they were caught. You will see this happen a lot when weigh-ins aren’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 that this happened? The reason I care is 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!
Another subject 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. 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 and non-tournament boats should leave and let them fish. Sorry folks that is wrong. If there is a boat fishing a spot no matter how hot I think this location is, I will not crowd the other boat even if I’m fishing a tournament. I may fall in behind them keeping my distances, but I will not try to cut them off or disrupt their fishing in any way. I also expect the same from other fishermen and from time to time I get it, but it is getting very rare. Crowding or cutting off another boats fishing is just plain wrong, I don’t care who you are or at what level of fishing you are on, it is wrong.
Along the same lines of Fishing Etiquette is posting fishing reports on social media. I do it a lot as I like to help other folks catch more and bigger fish. This doesn’t set well with some folks and I’ve recently been attacked on social media for trying to give other folks help. These people do not want you disclosing any fishing locations or methods as they think they own bodies of water or certain spots on a lake, river or stream. I have news for those type of people, 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.
Something else in the realm of etiquette is another trend that seems to be growing and that is cheating in tournaments. Maybe it isn’t a growing trend and it is more folks are being caught or more reporting of these incidents is more widely spread. Either way I just don’t understand what drives someone to cheat. I guess I don’t understand tournament cheaters just like I don’t understand thieves and liars. I compete in tournaments to see how I fair against other anglers. Sure it is great to win and get the trophies and prizes but what are they really worth if you have to cheat to get them? To me they would just be meaningless if I didn’t earn them myself. I just hope that karma in some way takes care of anyone that cheats and doesn’t get caught.
One more etiquette related subject that seems to be more prevalent or more widely noticed these days is “Smack Talking”. It might be more widely noticed because everyone so interconnected on social media. There was always some smack talk that happened in groups of friends, clubs and even bigger tournament series. However it happened in the background and was more in fun than anything else, but in these days you see it happening 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 posting it on social media is a good thing. For the most part I know it really is no harm meant, but it has led to some heated encounters on the water over the years. It may also give fans of some fishermen the wrong impressions of them as well, especially if that fisherman is doing it on social media. I don’t think it will ever stop, heck I don’t know that I can stop, but I will try very hard not to post any smack talk on social media.
One of the other things I am very pleased to see is the numbers of people now getting involved with tournament fishing. Heck the level of competition today is 10 times what it was back when I started out. Even at the local Bass Club level there are a lot of very good fishermen. Now with High Schools and Colleges have Bass Teams competing the level of competition is getting higher with each day. Heck I wish there were Bass Fishing Teams when I was growing up! I tell you no matter the tournament, location or level you are fishing you will be competing against some great fishermen.
Well there you have it folks, some of my thoughts, opinions and plain ramblings from my many years of tournament fishing. In closing I hope this has given each of you some food for thought. I also want to wish each of you much luck in your tournament fishing. Until next time, Tight Lines and hey take a Kid Fishing!!