- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 3, 2005

After covering 25 Bassmaster Classic championship fishing tournaments in 30 years for three different newspapers and carefully observing today’s tournament fishing scene, I’ve come to the conclusion that competition fishing in general excites few people. Not only that, when bass fishing tournaments are conducted in water that exceeds 90 degrees or even 80 degrees, they should be outlawed.

Why? Despite vows by large tournament organizations that their first concern is the welfare of the fish, we know their primary goal is money. Nothing else comes even close.

All competition bass anglers want to do is catch five legal bass, put them into an aerated livewell, try to catch bigger bass and cull smaller specimens, have the fish weighed and win a merchandise prize or perhaps a check that can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. That pretty much covers it.

My long-time friend Michael Hall, a local competition angler who recently won the Potomac River Everstart tournament, knows how I feel about this.

“The bass I caught last week in the Potomac were the healthiest, most beautiful bass I have seen in our river,” he wrote in an e-mail. “This is significant [consider] I have been fishing the Potomac River for a very long time. By the way, last Saturday I caught and released at least seven beautiful bass less than 12 inches. It looks [like] we have a strong population of young bass growing up fast.”

But Hall knows a problem exists on the river, and he’s not afraid to say so.

“There are increasingly more tournaments in the Potomac, and there should be a limit to how many,” he says. “We all want to do what is best for the bass fishery, and if that means fewer hot weather tournaments, then that is something we need to consider.”

Michael believes large three- and four-day river tournaments like those held by FLW, Everstart or the BASS organization are exciting and professionally handled. Tournament staffs know how to handle bass carefully, he says. He suggests we should encourage these types of tournaments to be held on the Potomac a few times a year.

“[But] it does make sense to avoid the warmer months,” he added.

My reply stated the issue is not whether his recent contest-winning bass were healthy and beautiful. The issue was whether — after having been weighed and then released — the bass would still be healthy and beautiful two days or a week later.

The majority of fisheries biologists I’ve talked to believe that stuffing four or five bass into a 30-inch-by-14-inch box and keeping them there throughout the day (even when aerated and ice is kept in the water) could have a detrimental effect hours or days later.

I seriously doubt well-heeled competition outfits are willing to risk a test with bass from tidal waters (a big difference over bass from deep freshwater lakes) that has been warmed by the sun to 80 and more degrees. Remember, we found 91-degree water in the Spoils Cove a few weeks ago.

After I criticized hot weather tournaments in my fishing report Aug.18, a well known Northern Virginia tournament angler who requested anonymity wrote, “Your comments regarding the tournaments on the Potomac during hot weather are right on. However, you and I both know there is too much money involved for these folks to worry about killing a few fish. It would seem the methods and schedules of tournaments are [determined] to do that. This is what happens when folks chasing the big bucks are left to their own devices with no type of regulation to prevent their destroying the resource.

“Speaking of resource, I would have to assume that the fish in the Potomac and all public waters belong to all of us, not just bass tournament fishermen. They can [fish] in the spring during the spawn, hold tournaments at the most stressful times for the fish, weigh, photograph and show their accomplishments, then haul them away from the weigh-in site in a catch-and-release boat so dead fish will not cause undue bad publicity — and all at the behest of the big tournament promoters. Our game and fish departments do not dare interfere.

“Tournament organizers come in, ruin the fishing for everyone else on that body of water during their event, while the local fisherman pays the bill with licenses and taxes.”

Fairfax angler David Garner agrees.

“I can’t stand these people,” he said. “All they’re interested in is money while I’m out there trying to relax and have a little fun.”

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com

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