Some of you may stop reading this after the third sentence. I know because I get the same reaction when talking to anglers in person. Their eyes glaze over as they tune out when I start talking about the importance of reducing tournament-related bass morality. But please read this through and think about where you fit in into the equation.
Since the 2002 publication of Keeping Bass Alive, A Guidebook for Anglers and Tournament Organizers, there have been many innovations in fish care. But for this column, let's talk attitude, not equipment.
I categorize tournament anglers into three distinct groups. First are those that understand the issue. They understand that it's their responsibility to keep their fish healthy and to do everything possible to make that happen. They understand delayed mortality. They realize that the count of dead fish at weigh-in is not the final tally. They understand the need to maximize survival of released fish — not only for the good of the resource but for the good of the sport's image. These anglers "get it."
The second group doesn't want to kill bass. But they don't know what to do — or they are not willing to commit to doing it all. They don't study or ask questions but they will listen. Sometimes it's hard to get them to try new things and they're not sure they believe that a fish can look and act perfectly fine when released but can be dead several days later. These anglers want to get it, they just aren't there yet.
Then there's the third group. These people put the responsibility for fish care on the tournament director. Indifference and outright laziness are common among these competitors. They see bass as a commodity to trade in for cash and nothing more. If their bass arrive at the scales and no dead fish penalties are assessed, they've done their job. They are in constant denial: "I've never brought in a dead bass;" or, worse, "I buy a fishing license and could kill every one of these fish if I wanted to." And then there's the often repeated statement: "Meat fishermen kill more bass than all the tournaments."
They just don't get it. Worse, they don't seem to care.
From a population perspective, the numbers of bass that perish as a result of tournaments are usually not significant. They will be replaced through subsequent spawns, recruitment and growth. The impacts of tournaments are not as much a biological issue as they are a social issue. The image of dead bass will remain in the minds of local anglers, business owners and homeowners forever. Moreover, it supplies ammunition to anti-tournament forces and agencies that seem determined to regulate your favorite outdoor sport out of existence.
To keep the social tide from turning against tournament fishing, you need to get it. And you need to help those in the second group get over the hump so that they get it, too.
Will we ever reach those anglers that don't get it? I don't know. But every year, at every tournament, we have to try because the consequences of their attitude and behavior could eventually sink us all.
BASS Times Contributor
Gene Gilliland is a senior fisheries biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and a member of the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation.
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