Reflecting on Texas Fest

As it turned out, much like the Preakness Stakes, the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest (TBTF) event turned into a two-man race between Brandon Palaniuk and Brent Ehrler. Congrats to Brandon on his victory, earning a 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic berth, and Brent for his strong finish plus the 9-pound, 1-ounce Toyota Big Bass, which earned  him a new Toyota Tundra. Great job guys!

When B.A.S.S., Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Toyota partnered to combine the Toyota Texas Bass Classic (TTBC) and Bassmaster BASSFest — including implementing the catch/weigh/immediate release concept — I don’t mind telling you there was trepidation among our staff, the anglers and others.

At the time of the schedule announcement, B.A.S.S. had not conducted an event under this format, but we would soon do so at the Bassmaster Classic Bracket tournament in New York. That event went off successfully and gave us confidence we could do this on a larger scale. Of course the TTBC events introduced this concept some 11 years ago.

Senior Tournament Manager Chuck Harbin and I got it in gear securing the necessary equipment to make this happen. That included purchasing 120 sets of the Brecknell ElectroSamson scales, Accu-Cull Mini Grips, waterproof paper and storage bins and many other items needed to score TBTF.

Along with all of this, we partnered with Texas Bass Nation Conservation Director Tim Cook to head up our judge program. Tim was the acclaimed judge coordinator for all 10 of the TTBC events. He sprang into action right after the first of the year, inviting former TTBC judges, B.A.S.S. Nation leaders and select Bassmaster Elite Series marshals. After many phone calls, emails, etc., Tim recruited approximately 120 of the most dedicated men and women to judge the event on Sam Rayburn. B.A.S.S. cannot say thanks enough to Tim and all of these folks for making the Texas Fest a success.

We also want to thank the Elite anglers for embracing this concept and working hand-in-hand with the judges while on the water. Judges went through a five-hour training session the Tuesday before competition began. This session enabled all judges to practice measuring bass that were both over and under the legal limit of 14 inches. Then live fish were weighed by all judges until all were in a comfort zone and prepared to do the same way for each fish. I’m giving a big shout-out to Texas Parks and Wildlife for supplying the live bass for these sessions.

It’s important to note that B.A.S.S. has conducted catch-and-release events since Ray Scott and the late Harold Sharp introduced this concept in 1972. Since that time, I think it is safe to say hundreds of thousands if not more catch and release tournaments have been successfully conducted. And I can honestly say after 26 years of doing this our lakes are as good or better than they have ever been. This credit goes to the angling public practicing catch and release and to the many agencies like TPWD who take great pride in their fisheries.

The catch, weigh, and immediate release process certainly has its place in certain situations. Bass clubs, for instance, seem to me to be a perfect fit. And I do think moving forward we will see more of these type events on the Bassmaster circuits under certain situations.

Do I think it will replace our successful model of 45 plus years? Absolutely not. Our traditional live, onstage weigh-ins are the way to go for larger, higher-stakes competitions like our Elite Series — especially when you consider the tremendous survival rate of tournament caught bass. Our B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland literally wrote the book on tournament fish care. As he points out, a catch/weigh/release format obviously eliminates problems that might be caused by containing bass in a livewell, research in Texas and other states proves that traditional weigh-ins do not harm the bass populations.

I applaud our friends from other circuits, who like us, go to great lengths to do all they can to ensure the survival of tournament caught bass. And I get a little upset when I see ads that degrade this proven process.

Thanks again to Texas Parks and Wildlife, judges, volunteers, staff and Elite pros for a great week. Now it is on to the second half of the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series.

That’s a wrap!!!!