Pardon me (and forgive me) as I step up onto my soapbox.
Take a look at the picture at the bottom of this post. Recognize this guy? Over forty years ago he was the face of tournament bass fishing. And this was the way fish were brought to the scales.
But it didn't take long for the organizers of fishing tournaments, as well as the anglers that wanted to promote fishing, to realize that a stringer full of dead fish was not a viable way to promote the sport. The men that helped shape bass fishing into the "world class" sport that it is today recognized this and mandated change.
Did they do it willingly? Perhaps. But perhaps not. Let's face it, we are talking about fish. And forty years ago fish were caught to put on the table for dinner. Working hard to keep them alive and release the fish after catching them was not the norm. And from the standpoint of a tournament organizer, it costs a lot less for to let the fisherman take home their catch than it does to work to keep the fish healthy and re-release them. So why is it that we don't see pictures like those below anymore?
Three reasons. First, a change in the way society looks upon and treats animals. Second, resource managers began to see a correlation to the fish population and the occurrence of tournaments. Third, technological changes. And those technological changes pertains to gadgets that make it easier to catch fish as well as tools that make it easier to keep fish alive. So let's look at these one by one.
Sure, in my opinion, it is ridiculous that some people would care about an animal more than they would another person, but that's for a different discussion. However, I will admit I find a great sense of admiration for all God's creatures and I certainly respect and appreciate the spirit of a bass when we engage each other on the lake. Despite the difference in intellect, size, strength and so forth, I am outmatched by the bass far more often than he by me.
Regardless of your personal opinions, the viewpoint of society now mandates that we impact the resource as little as humanly possible. Catching fish to enjoy a day on the lake or even to take a couple fish home for the family cookout is one thing (even that is scorned by some people). But when you catch and kill a fish to earn a reward (prize), then a totally different attitude prevails, and I for one agree. As I have stated before, sometimes, and despite all efforts, a fish will perish. A fish may have been sick, previously injured or even foul hooked. This is a part of fishing. But if you are fishing and your fish are perishing because of the way you fish or the way you care for your fish, this is not excusable and cannot and will not be condoned by the public.
The second reason tournament fishing catch-and-release rules were developed was from pressure from resource managers. Once people began to see how much fun competitive bass fishing was, the number of anglers competing rose dramatically. Resource managers immediately saw a problem brewing. When a couple hundred to a thousand fish per tournament were being taken from the lakes the specialist knew that there was going to be a problem. Next, the local fisherman saw a decline in the fishery and they made their dissatisfaction known to the local authorities. Not long after that, more and more fishery departments began denying tournament organizers the right to hold their tournaments unless things changed.
The final piece of the puzzle is technology. As bass fishing became an industry, people started developing tools to aid the fisherman. From flashers to graphs, temperature gauges to oxygen sensors, cane poles to high modulus graphite rods, and from hand carved baits to Alabama rigs, the tools of the bass fisherman are making it easier to locate and catch fish. On the other hand, technology has also made it easier to care for the fish you catch. From recirculating pumps to livewell additives and from hook removers to "fizzing tools", there are countless gadgets to help take care of the fish.
So now, almost fifty years into competitive bass fishing why am I here writing this post? Well, I was really disappointed in myself yesterday. When I came up with the idea of the Weekday Warrior tournaments and I was given the opportunity to create the rules and regulations, I finally thought I could implement a penalty system for dead-fish that was strong enough to really make a difference. But I failed. I did not accurately write my intentions on the rules sheet and it was brought to my attention at that weigh-in. And since the only thing to do is follow the written rule, the rule was enforced as written. I am grateful to those that made me read my own rules and I apologize for not having read them better myself. But that is also now history.
However, my disappointment also extends to some of the competitors and their casual disregard for the care of their fish and their reasoning for that care. It is simply too easy and too inexpensive to equip any, and I repeat, ANY livewell with the proper equipment to give their fish the best possible chance for survival.
When two guys riding in a $12,000 reservoir rig, with fourteen rods and reels at over $200 each and fishing for a chance to win a few hundred dollars tell me they can't afford or don't have the time to outfit their livewell with multiple aeration systems to protect their fish, my blood boils! For a one-time cost of less than $300 you can install MULTIPLE aeration pumps AND an oxygenation system into ANY livewell to ensure your fish get what they need. And this equipment will last for YEARS!!!
Add to that a few dollars for some livewell additive and some ice to cool the livewell water a few degrees below the lakes water temperature and you can almost guarantee that your fish will be leaving thank you notes in your livewell instead of their last will and testament.
For those of you that left, what you missed after the end of the tournament was something really worthwhile. Kevin Hollash, one of the Shippensburg FLW anglers who just stopped by to see the weigh-in and thank us for our support was down at the water's edge tending to some of the stressed fish that were trying to survive. After almost all of the participants had left, with no one there to impress, this young man was taking care of someone else's problem. This is how a responsible and professional angler should act.
If anybody has a question as to how to set up their livewell, use livewell additives, use ice, or wants any other recommendations for tending to their fish, let me know and I will be glad to help. I'll even go so far as to offer to HELP people install a recirculating pump and oxygenation system in their livewell if they can't do it themselves.
I've written posts about this before and I will not stop until every angler in the MRA and any MRA sponsored event gets on board. In my opinion if you don't care about the fish you catch during the tournaments, you have no right fishing tournaments. And if you don't like what I have to say let me know that too. I'd rather hear it face to face than behind my back! That's what makes blogging so much fun.
By the way - the guy in the picture - it's Bill Dance.