I used to avoid entering fishing tournaments because of some false impressions I had about competitive fishing, mainly my concern that it had a negative impact on the fishery. But based on my limited experience as a competitive fisherman—I entered my first tournament last year—it seems that the opposite is true. Now, I believe more tournaments would mean more fishing and bigger fish for all anglers.
Many, if not most, tournaments now demand catch-and-release fishing. A lot of fish are caught, of course, but when the anglers go home, almost all of those fish are still swimming around in the lake, ready to be caught again by the non-competitive angler and there to make more little fish the following spring.
Tournament anglers go to great lengths to keep fish alive and healthy. They don’t just throw them in the livewells and forget them. They check regularly and put clip-on weights on anal and pelvic fins to keep fish upright. They take fish to the weigh boats to have them measured as soon as possible so they can be released as soon as possible.
This extra-special treatment is partly out of inbred concern for the fish common among serious anglers, but tournament directors also create a powerful incentive by requiring that all fish be “releasable,” which means they must be alive and well when weighed. “Non-releasable” fish don’t count in a tournament angler’s total weight for the day.
In addition to tournament anglers not killing fish as they did in the past, they’re constantly promoting management changes to improve fishing and fish populations, almost always in favor of more restrictive regulations such as lower limits or slot limits and supporting increases in fisheries budgets. They’re also among the first to volunteer to help fisheries' research projects, habitat improvement, and educational programs such as introducing our youth to the wonders of fishing.
And take a peek at the economics. There are, for example, 2,650 bass fishing tournaments in this country. That’s a lot of economic stimulus, so I’ll wager that nationally, bass populations are at near-record levels because it’s good business to have it so. Suffice to say that when good fishing becomes good business, there’ll be more and bigger fish around.
I used to believe that competition and fishing didn’t go together, but wrong again. I’d have to admit that tournaments are indeed stressful, but in a positive way. In most tournaments, the participants, sponsors, and officials make it a positive experience for everybody by not getting too serious and staying friendly and helpful, even to their competitors.
I suppose it might be different when anglers are competing for a million-dollar first-place prize. And I suspect most big tournaments primarily attract pro anglers, who have coveted sponsorship deals with fishing equipment and boat manufacturers and can afford the high entry fees. Plus, you have to believe that anybody making a living as a pro angler probably accepts, if not relishes, the stress. Pro anglers have made the conscious choice to spend most of the year virtually living in a boat and pickup truck and looking like a moving billboard with logos on every blank space. Week after week, they travel around the country depending on Mother Nature and Lady Luck to augment their skills and pay the bills.
They say you’re never too old to learn, and it’s true. Being in a fishing tournament taught me the positive side of competitive fishing and that tournaments can benefit all anglers.
Bill Schneider writes a weekly column called "Wild Bill" for newwest.net, an online magazine, where this commentary was originally published.