Competitive Fishing Can Benefit All Anglers

By Beacon Staff

In early July, I wrote a series of articles for NewWest.Net about the experience of being in my first fishing tournament, the Governor’s Cup Walleye Tournament on Fort Peck Reservoir.

One reason I haven’t been in a tournament long ago is some false impressions I had about competitive fishing, mainly my concern that it had a negative impact on fisheries. Based on my limited experience, 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 live wells 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 peak at the economics. Travel agencies don’t really focus on fishing tournaments, but they probably should step in and do more to promote them. These tournaments bring a huge amount of money into small communities, much of it from out of state, so you know that the local business groups and politicians are first in line to support better fisheries management. Suffice to say that when good fishing becomes good business, there’ll be more and bigger fish around.

There are, for example, 2,650 bass fishing tournaments in this country. That’s a lot of economic stimulus, so I’ll wager a bet that nationally, bass populations are at near-record levels because it’s good business to have it so.

The point is: Improved fishing and better fish populations supported by tournament anglers and business groups benefits all anglers, even those who never plan to enter a fishing tournament.

Before last week, I also believed competition and fishing didn’t go together, but wrong again.

Fishing is supposed to all about fun and relaxation, right? And competition can be stressful and not exactly relaxing. Losing can never be fun, right?

Again, based on limited experience, I’d have to admit that tournaments are indeed stressful, but in a positive way. If the Governor’s Cup is any indication of how it is in tournaments, the participants, sponsors and officials make it a positive experience for everybody by not getting too serious, staying friendly and helpful, even to their competitors. I’d also say that it’s important to be a competitive person, as I am. If you’re a person who has never competed in sports or has no interest in competition, you probably won’t enjoy fishing tournaments. But I suspect most of us do indeed enjoy a little friendly competition.

I suppose it might be different when anglers are competing for a million-dollar first-place prize instead of $7,500, which the winners of the Governor’s Cup received. 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 my first tournament taught me the positive side of competitive fishing and that tournaments can benefit all anglers.