Loaner scale program opens discussion on tourney techniques

Published on Wednesday, 27 September 2017 22:42 - Written by  STEVE KNIGHT/steve@texasalloutdoors.com 

With a push from the old Toyota Texas Bass Classic, Major League Fishing and most recently the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Bass Fest, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Fisheries Division is renewing its effort to promote catch-weigh-release tournaments.

Using 60 Boga Grips the department received from B.A.S.S. after the Texas Bass Fest on Lake Sam Rayburn, the department has developed a loaner program in which local bass tournaments can use them for an event.

“We are trying to encourage catch-weigh-immediate-release tournament formats because of the obvious benefits associated with fish care and bass survival when using these types of formats,” said Dave Terre, chief of Inland Fisheries Management and Research.

While emphasizing that tournaments are not a strain on the fish population, studies have shown that even the best-run events in which fish are brought to shore to be weighed at the end do cause deaths. One study by TPWD saw delayed mortality rates as high as 40 percent. Depending on conditions, the rate could be much higher or somewhat lower, but they will not match the survival rate experienced by regular fishermen unhooking and dropping the bass immediately back into the water.

“Traditional tournaments with weigh-ins, live well holding and culling add to stress levels on bass and increase mortality. Most of it is delayed mortality, which occurs after the event is held. A good number of fish swim off but the larger portion of mortality occurs later. This kind of mortality is not visible to the angler. We know it exists because we have studied and measured it. Delayed mortality can be very high, particularly during warm water conditions,” Terre explained.

By switching to a format in which fishermen immediately weigh their catch and release it back into the lake, Terre said mortality could drop to less than 5 percent, similar to what happens in noncompetitive catch-and-release fishing.

“They remove the stress and associated fish mortality tied to doing weigh-ins, live well holding and fish culling,” he said.

The idea has been around for years but never caught on because scales in the past have not been that good and, more important, fishermen never trusted one another enough.

Adoption of it on the pro level, however, has helped the idea gain traction with club-level and regional tournaments in Texas and elsewhere. Some may still look at the pros, with their onboard observers, and say it still is not practical. Tournament organizers who have wanted to change to catch-weigh-release have found ways to make it work.

One of the simplest forms is a method commonly used in kayak tournaments in which the fishermen are given an ID card with a number identifying them at the beginning of the tournament. They are required to photograph their catch with the ID card visible to present to tournament officials either immediately by sending it on their phone or at the weigh-in.

For the idea to work in most tournaments officials are going to have to look elsewhere for scales. TPWD’s 60 are certainly not enough to go around statewide. Promoters will have to develop a policy in which the tournament owns the scales and issues them to competitors at the beginning of the day or, in the case of a club, everyone purchases the same brand. Instead of weighing fish at the end of the day the tournament coordinator can check scale weights for accuracy.

Boga Grips are excellent and can be used to certify even world-record catches. The problem is that, with prices beginning at about $100, they do not come cheap. There are other digital options that are easier on the pocketbook and just as accurate. To streamline the process someone will eventually come out with an app that can be used by tournaments similar to what MLF does, if they have not already.

“Let me be clear, TPWD does not believe traditional tournaments are harming Texas bass fisheries. We have studied this in several locations known to receive high fishing pressure from these types of tournaments,” Terre said. “However, we do think that quality of bass fisheries could be improved with additional care and handling of our larger bass, which are definitely more prone to stress and not as easily replaced. Texas is known for its big-bass fishing and we want to do what we can to keep it that way. We always promote best practices for fish care, and these new catch-weigh-immediate-release formats are the best methods for tournament fishing with regards to fish care.”

Clubs or tournaments that would like to borrow TPWD’s scales or to talk about methods to make tournaments catch-weigh-release can do so by emailing Terre at .

Have a comment or opinion on this story? Contact outdoor writer Steve Knight by email at outdoor@tylerpaper.com. Follow Steve on Facebook at TexasAllOutdoors.com.