I am not a tournament angler. Unless I discover the fountain of youth AND become a much more proficient angler, I likely never will be. What I am though, is a huge supporter of the overwhelming majority of tournaments and of the vast percentage of tournament anglers. Here's why.
Inevitably each year, we hear of a tournament or two where things don't go as well as they should have. Most times, the hot button issue is fish kill. I, like a lot of you I'm sure, have also heard complaints from cottagers and residents on water systems that host tournaments ranging "tournaments wreck the fishing in our lake" to "those big boats are too noisy". I've even heard non-tournament anglers bad-mouth tournament participants. In these cases, I've found that when I listen carefully to what they're saying, it's usually jealousy speaking, not logic or fact..
To balance the negativity we sometimes hear, consider these contributions that 99% of tournaments and their anglers make to not only the sport we love, but well beyond. The following examples are but a small sample.
Consider the incredible advancements in our equipment, from super-sensitive rods, lines that were unimaginable even ten years ago, reels that are superb and getting better every year, the endless array of lures that are pieces of art and incredibly effective simultaneously, our modern electronics, the advancements in boat and motor design and performance, the list is endless. Guess who was the driven force behind these innovations? Yep - tournament anglers aligned with major tackle, electronics and boat maunfacturers.
Go to virtually any weigh-in at a bass or walleye tournament anywhere and two strong messages about the future are repeated time and time again. Practice catch and release is one. The other is to introduce kids to fishing and to teach them to respect nature. And guess who introduced the now common pratice of catch and release? Yep - tournament anglers.
Consider how tournaments benefit local communities from purely an economic perspective. Do the math and figure out how much it would cost for you and your partner to rent a motel room for 2-3 days of pre-fishing plus the tournament itself, how much it would set you back to eat restaurant meals, fill the tank of your bass boat and your tow vehicle, pick up a dozen or more baits that are supposedly red-hot on the lake, plus all the incidentals that accompany living somewhere other than your home. Then multiple by 50 to 75 % of the field to factor in those teams who travel to the tournament location. For a small or medium sized town, revenues generated for the local economy by a tournament are not insignificant.
In my view, the most passionate stewards and conservationists of our fisheries are tournament and other avid, anglers. And no wonder!. A fully rigged bass boat retails at anywhere from 50-80K. You can't pull a 20 foot Ranger, LUND or Stratos with a Ford Focus, so tag on another 50k (minimum!) for the tow vehicle. And, if you want to calculate the cost of two dozen high end rods and reels, a few hundred bags of plastics, tray after tray after tray of crankbaits, jigs, top-waters, jerkbaits, frogs and terminal tackle, you'd better have fresh batteries in your calculator. Tournament anglers invest heavily in their passion. They are the last people who would intentionally harm a fishery. That would be equally insane as someone who lays out 30K to join a private golf club, drops another $3000-4,000 on custom fit top-of- the- line clubs, another chunk of change on fancy golf attire, then drives across the greens in a bulldozer.
I once heard a comment at a weigh-in when someone in the crowd turned to their friend and said "these guys (tournament anglers) are only in it for the money!" Oh really? Know how many Canadian tournament anglers end up in the black at the end of a tournament season? I don't have the stats at hand but I'll bet every rod and reel I own that it's w-a-y under 20 percent, and probably closer to 10 percent if that. And consider this. Annually across Ontario, there are countless tournaments for various charities from generating funds for cancer, MS and other disease research, treatment, and support services to recognizing members of the Canadian military. The common practice at these events is for those anglers good and/or lucky enough to cash a cheque to throw their winnings back into the pot of money raised for the charity itself, hardly the behaviour of individuals who are "only in it for the money".
Are there tournaments that aren't well run where unacceptable fish kill occurs? Yes. Where no-wake and low speed zones are ignored? Yes. Are they're some tournament anglers who are jerks? Yes, as there are in any occupation or group of people participating in any activity. We hear about these situations and may have even encountered the tournament "pro" who has an ego the size of Simcoe and a personality like a pike with a faceful of trebles. What we don't hear enough about are the tournaments where fish kill is less than 1 percent, if at all, and the 99% of tournament anglers who contribute to the sustainability of the sport in the future, to future generations of anglers, and to society at large. Bad news gets press, good news is boring.
The Big Jims, the Rocky Crawfords, the Gord Pyzers and their peers and colleagues from the initial days of tournament angling in Canada, were the trend setters for the fishing we enjoy today at both the tournament and "fun" fishing levels. We owe them big-time for their contributions. The tournament anglers of today are following in their footsteps and doing them proud. We owe them too. So, the next time someone makes a broad, negative statement about tournament angling, be a true "pro" and politley inform them of the facts. Maybe it will alter their opinion. Maybe it won't. But you'll feel better knowing you've stood up for key contributors to the sport you love.
Tight lines everyone.