Care of our resources and etiquette

Mark Menendez

I don’t think this is going to be a popular topic, but I think it’s time we discuss a few things that are important to the wellbeing of our sport. Those topics are angler etiquette and a little about fish care.

More and more people are entering our sport these days. With the growing popularity of high school and college bass fishing programs across the country, I’m seeing some things that probably need to be addressed, especially with the influx of new anglers to the tournament world.

Let’s discuss fish care first. Without the bass, we don’t have a sport; I think that goes without saying. I think there needs to be a better job done of educating young anglers coming into the sport on how to care for fish they’ve caught and those they are culling.

I grew up at a time when Ray Scott – the founder of B.A.S.S. – was starting the “Don’t Kill Your Catch” program. In that time and since, fish care became a large part of our education. Catch and release became a hot topic, and the ways we care for them became things we learned to do.

The simplest things to do is to handle the fish with kid gloves. Release the fish gently over the side of the boat and try to care for them in the handling process. One of the things I started doing years ago was installing a VT-2 Vent in the lids of my livewells on each Skeeter Boat I rig. The VT-2 allows for fresh oxygen to push in, and as the breezes blow, or I am running down the lake, it blows C02 and Ammonia out of the livewells making for a healthier environment for the fish.

The other fish care topic that’s important is to discard of trash properly, and that includes soft plastic baits. If you see a big bass that is really skinny in the body, with a concave stomach, that is a sign of a fish that has ingested a discarded soft bait and it has blocked the fish’s ability to digest food. The soft bait has put the fish on a starvation diet. Plastic baits in the water swell up, and they wiggle, so fish eat them and that’s what happens. 

Keep torn up soft baits and all trash in the boat and discard of them later. I fact, it’s a good idea for all of us to keep a garbage bag in our truck or boat and every once in a while, collect trash around the ramp for 10 to 15 minutes before leaving. It will be good for the fisheries.

Okay, here’s the uncomfortable part – be decent to other anglers!

We saw some things happening at the first Bassmaster Elite Series event at Toledo Bend that we haven’t seen to this extent in many years. We saw our competitors getting crowded and fished against by locals, and in many cases, it was a couple of high school anglers with their guide or captain sitting in the driver’s seat of the boat watching.

I know that we compete on public waterways, and that everyone has the right to fish on these lakes, but when another angler – whether it’s in an event you’re competing in or when you’re a spectator at one of ours – crowds the boat of another competitor, nobody wins. 

We saw multiple boats with their sonar on casting towards other anglers and interfering with schools of fish, and in many instances casting to the same fish our guys were fishing for. You have every right to be out there, and we want to share the information with you that we’ve learned over the years, but getting too close with your sonar on and trying to catch the same fish we are trying to catch to earn paychecks to feed our families is not going to make us feel all warm and fuzzy about sharing that info with you. We’re only on your lake for four days, please feel free to watch, and there are times we’ll talk to you, but please be respectful of what we’re doing.

I’m not even speaking about myself, because I wasn’t in those areas. But I know several other anglers talked about having other anglers, and in many cases a pair of young anglers with a dad or Boat Captain sitting in the driver’s seat, fishing very close to them intentionally.

Believe it or not, bass fishing is supposed to have some decency and some etiquette surrounding it. I know it has a reputation for being a “redneck” sport, but we are supposed to treat each other with some courtesy on the water.

I played tennis on my high school team, and I learned what it meant to have sportsmanship and courtesy in that sport. My favorite player was Bjorn Borg, and he was the type of player who never had a cross word to say to judges, his opposition or anyone. His influence spawned the likes of Roger Federer, who is one of the classiest competitors out there. I’ve always tried to model things after that mold.

When we were at Toledo Bend in our first event of the season, I found a fish that bit on a particular cypress tree in a cut. In the event, I went back to that tree to try and catch that fish, and there were some young boys fishing off a dock in the area. There was no way for them to make a cast at the tree from their position, but they were in the area.

I told them I was fishing a tournament and asked if they didn’t mind me slipping past them to fish past where they were. They said it was okay, so I did. I slid over to that tree, cast my Rage Craw and caught a 2 1/2-pounder to fill my limit. They were amazed I went by them and caught a fish on one cast. I said thank you, slid out of there and went on my way.

Those were just a bunch of kids fishing, but I still felt that it was important to give a fellow angler some respect. If we all start thinking this way and treating each other better, then we can all learn, share and in some cases make a living.

Let’s respect each other enough to communicate and give room out there.