Hello One and All and Welcome to the New Year 2020 !!
I know I am dating myself, but I remember reading George Orwell’s “1984” in either jr high or high school and thinking “WOW – THAT’S really a long distance in the future!!!
SO – I have no idea where those 40 +/- years have disappeared to – but here we are!!
We had some really great happenings last year in regards to fish care – some really monumental events in respect to preserving and sustaining the awesome smallmouth bass population in the eastern Lake Ontario basin and the St Lawrence River. Most notably, the decision made within the B.A.S.S. management to REQUIRE each of the Elite anglers, at the Waddington event, to get “hands on” training (from yours truly – thank you Trip Weldon!!) The following are details from my experience providing that training. It is well worth the read!!
Each of the 70+ anglers were allowed to possess fish in their live wells (an exception to the normal tournament rules) during the practice days and bring them into the Waddington launch area, where I waited to give individual hands on lessons in fizzing. And, we kept ‘A LIST’!! If they did not bring fish in during the practice days, then they were required to show up on their ‘day off’ (Wed) and get hands on practice with fish we had caught and held overnight in the release boats for that specific purpose.
B.A.S.S. was ABSOLUTELY dead serious about the training. After it was over, Trip wanted a list of everyone that did NOT show up to get the hands on training. In his words – he was going to “go hunt them down!” They were required to show up and learn – and B.A.S.S. took that responsibility towards the health of the fishery very very seriously. I was very happy with the sincere interest shown on behalf of all the Elite anglers that participated. It was truly a lot fun taking a bunch of guys full of apprehension with regards to handling needles/piercing fish and turning them into technique confident anglers!
I was very happy to report to Trip that every last angler on the list had been present and accounted for in the training. I was very hopeful this required training would positively impact the mortality figures for this event. I had absolutely no idea the magnitude of impact it was going to have.
As the end of the first tournament day came to a close and the Elite anglers were idling one by one past the release boats, I was perched there giving ‘thumbs up/down’ signs to everyone driving by. My meaning to the thumbs up/down was to wonder if the anglers had caught good bags or not. But each and everyone that responded to me universally responded with pride and excitement something similar to the following; ” I DID IT BARB!! I FIZZED EVERY ONE OF THEM!! IT WORKED GREAT!!!” Over and over – they all had the same responses.
I was excited at first – giddy would have been a closer description of how I felt. But I told myself the proof would be in the condition of the fish at weigh in. I held my breath as the fish started coming across the scale.
As the fish were run back to the release boats, we started assessing the fish and sorting them into who needed resuscitation/fizzing and who didn’t. We had lined up about 5 or 6 extra ‘fizzers’ to have on hand due to the amount of fish that had required fizzing the previous year. When I tell you that we were into 30 or 40 fish into the weigh in before we needed anyone’s fizzing services – I felt like I had just witnessed a true MIRACLE. The hands on training the Elite anglers had participated in COMPLETELY REVERSED THE MORTALITY STATISTICS FOR THIS EVENT. Completely.
I felt like I was living a wonderful dream. The worry/nightmares I had experienced since the previous year’s events was lifted. This concern for the mortality rates was certainly NOT just limited to B.A.S.S. events. ALL of the major large tournament organizations that had events on the St Lawrence River/Eastern Basin water had had mortality statistics that have seen the need for substantial improvement. But to my knowledge, B.A.S.S. was the only large event organization that took a positive, pro-active step to provide required education to their anglers to help minimize immediate post tournament mortality rates. And I had reached out to two of the other large groups to offer educational services – at no direct cost to them – and was politely refused.
Moral of the story here – I am, and you should be, extremely proud of belonging to an organization that places a value on the fisheries you use, and does not come into town just to make money off YOUR resource/do damage to it/ and disappear until returning to do damage again the year.
The smallmouth bass fishery in the eastern basin and St Lawrence river are very special, sensitive fisheries. Through collaboration with Canadian researchers, we have learned a lot about these fish. There was a large amount of fish collected from tournament mortalities that were frozen and given to Canadian researchers. They were able to glean much knowledge from these subjects. Did you know some of the fish they aged were 20 years old? These beautiful, trophy smallmouth live far longer than most people realize. These big, 5+ pound fish have taken 20 years to get to that trophy size.
The concerning factors with tournaments is that if we continue on releasing fish that are alive – but non-viable – is that these tournaments are nothing but a culling tool that is removing THE best most successful genetics from the river/eastern basin ecosystems. Think about it. In every tournament, we keep culling UP. We keep catching bigger and bigger (and OLDER!!) fish. We have a HUGE responsibility to return these fish to the ecosystem in a VIABLE condition. A viable fish is so much more than a fish that is only ‘alive’ at weigh in. A fish that is just ‘alive’ (pink- not bright red – gills. flaccid muscle tone) may only be on fin-wave away from being dead. The fish’s body just does not know it is dead yet. If we stick to technicalities, that fish can be counted as alive at the scale. But we all know in minutes, that fish will cease to live.
As ethical, responsible anglers, we need to expand on Ray Scotts ‘catch and release’ ethics. Ray had the foresight back decades ago to realize that bass tournaments were going to grow in popularity. He had the ability to see into the future and know that catch and release ALIVE was required to ensure the continuation of the species and preserve the health of the population. Fast forward 40 + years and we are at another important juncture of preserving the sport we all know and love. We NEED to refine our definition of catch and release ‘alive’. As our technology/electronics advance and allow us to catch fish in previously unreachable areas (think deep deep fish), we ALSO need to learn how to better manage these fish with regards to the damage we do to them when hauling them out of their respective habitat.
We need to release a VIABLE fish. A fish that is going to go on, when returned to its habitat, to eat/grow/ and most importantly REPLACE ITSELF IN THE POPULATION. In these populations where these trophy fish can live 20 or more years – this is hugely important. The specific combination of genetics that allowed a particular fish to live for decades is very special. When you realize the recruitment from an average single spawning event for one fish is very low (eggs spawned range between 2-12,000 per nest and MAYBE only 5-10 of those thousands of eggs will reach 10″) the value of the individual smallmouth genetics that happen to reach 5 pounds and 20+ years old is incredible.
We NEED to preserve these fish!!!!
The NY B.A.S.S. Nation also took up the challenge and provided spectacular survivability statistics for the 2019 Henderson tournament. We had only ONE mortality for the entire tournament. The NY B.A.S.S. Nation should be THE epicenter of fish care and tournament management – especially for the smallmouth bass, as the NY Nation has been an active proponent of barotrauma relief for a long time now (8+ years). We were way ahead of trends back then, and continue to be with regards to invasive species education and prevention (think Clean/Drain/Dry, – CDD) which is law now.
Be very proud of your affiliation and membership within the NY B.A.S.S. Nation. You can hold you head high wherever you participate in tournament events. Realize you represent the NY Nation when/wherever you fish and be proud. Leave an excellent example in all aspects of your time on the water.
I look forward to another great year on the water with everyone of the NY B.A.S.S. Nation.