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On 75th Anniversary, IGFA Works to Ensure Bright Future for Fishing


Photos provided by IGFA

The International Game Fish Association (IGFA) is best known as the international authority on sport fishing, maintaining records for more than 200 fresh and saltwater species. But as it celebrates its 75th anniversary during 2014, the organization also should be congratulated for its work in marine fisheries conservation and education.

“The work we do is for future generations,” said Gail Morchower, manager of IGFA’s Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum in Dania Beach, Fla. “If we don’t conserve, we’ll have nothing to promote.”

 Originally a part of the American Museum of Natural History, IGFA began in 1939, with the first set of ethical fishing rules. It existed as a private education and scientific organization until the 1970s, when members were solicited. It was one of the first to encourage and facilitate information exchange between anglers and scientists, and early contributions to conservation included construction of a state-of-the-art marine laboratory by IGFA founder Michael Lerner.

Today, the organization’s 25,000 members are particularly worried about depletion of the world’s big game species, including billfish and bluefin tuna, by commercial fishing. That concern was highlighted by the discovery in 2006 that the United States was the single biggest importer of billfish products from longliners working out of countries such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Vietnam.

As a result, IGFA joined with Wild Oceans to gain Congressional approval for the Billfish Conservation Act, passed in 2012. Now the focus is on making certain that the bill is properly implemented, explained Jason Schratwieser, Conservation Director.

“It’s in the rulemaking process now with the National Marine Fisheries Service and we’re hoping for the proposed final rule soon,” said Schratwieser, who added that supporters are optimistic that it will be implemented as intended --- an all out ban on possession and import of billfish in the continental U.S.

That’s good news for the recreational fishing economy, “which generates billions of dollars of marine-related jobs and sales, from a fishery where virtually all billfish are released alive,” IGFA proclaimed. “Restoring billfish populations will improve recreational fishing opportunities both in the U.S. and abroad, which in turn will create more jobs and sales for boat and gear manufacturers, marinas, and sportfishing industries.”

Additionally, IGFA leads a public awareness campaign to end the waste of bluefin tuna in the U.S. and ensure that surface longliners--- not recreational fishermen--- are held accountable for incidental bycatch. Through its online petition, anglers can urge NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries to reduce longline bycatch and protect bluefin spawning grounds.

On a third front, the organization is possibly the nation’s most vocal proponent for circle hooks to reduce fish mortality. “We’ve been doing this for awhile now,” the conservation director said.

“We’ve published a number of papers on this, we’ve partnered in research, and anything else we can do to get the word out.”

This past spring, IGFA President Rob Kramer, Schratwieser, and others helped educate captains and anglers regarding use of the hooks and additional fish-friendly strategies at the Ernest Hemingway International Billfish Tournament in Cuba.

Educating Anglers

Of course, the organization also educates anglers in this country via its “schools” in sport fishing. In small, classroom settings, angling experts cover everything from inshore and offshore species to geographic areas and styles of fishing.

IGFA education, research, conservation efforts, museum, and its one-of-a-kind fishing library (16,300 books and 2,600 films) are supported by donations and memberships, starting at $15 annually. Built 15 years ago, the 60,000-square-foot museum attracts about 100,000 visitors annually.

“Probably the most popular exhibit remains virtual fishing in The Catch Gallery,” Morchower said. “Young, old, they all love it. They can fish for five different species with five different types of tackle.”

Nearby, some of the world’s best anglers offer video instruction on a variety of fishing techniques. Bass Pro Shaw Grigsby details the basics of spinning, while Joan Wulff talks about fly casting and Rip Cunningham about surf casting. Nick Smith expounds on kite fishing, while Orlando Wilson explains baitcasting and Skip Smith trolling.

The Catch Gallery is one of six rooms flanking The Great Hall, which opens out into restored wetlands with walkway. All make abundant use of touch screens and interactive exhibits.

In The Tackle Gallery, visitors can learn how to strike, play, and land fish, as well as find out more about catch-and-release, knots, and fish finders. They can see displays of baits, lines, tackle boxes, rods, and reels. Next door, the Fish Gallery provides underwater visuals--- without the water--- of fish habitats, ranging from streams and lakes to estuaries and blue water.

The Places, World Records, and Legacy galleries reveal the world’s best fishing hotspots, as well as provide details on world-record catches and the history of angling. One of the more interesting revelations from the latter:

“The Puritans considered fishing somewhat frivolous (and sinful on Sunday). Besides, fish were so plentiful they were easily scooped up in baskets, nets, and pitchforks. But wealthy Europeans engaged in the sport, and merchants in the 1730s advertised fishing tackle. Sport fishing didn’t become popular in America until after the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783.”

The Fishing Hall of Fame holds center stage in the spectacular Great Hall. Eight displays along the sides, enlivened with memorabilia, honor the world’s best and/or most famous anglers, while more than 170 life-size mounts of world-record fish float above.

“You can look at the floor under the mount to see information about the fish, including who caught it and where,” said the museum manager.

Floating fish range from a 4-pound, 3-ounce bluegill caught in Kentucky to a 2,664-pound white shark, the all-tackle world record from Australia. The shark is so large that it had to be brought into the museum during construction, since it wouldn’t fit through the doors.

All 100 members of the Hall of Fame could fit through the doors, but some are larger than life, including Ernest Hemingway and Zane Grey, both writers as well as world-class anglers.

Members also include Dame Juliana Berners, Izaak Walton, Laurie Rapala, Curt Gowdy, Homer Circle, Lee Wulff, Lefty Kreh, Johnny Morris, Al McClane, Bill Dance, Billy Pate, and Alfred Glassell. Those inducted in 2013 were Stewart Campbell, Marcel Prot, Ernest Schwiebert, Joan Vernon, and Frank Woolner.

“These people are recognized for significant contributions to recreational angling,” explains Morchower. “They might be known for angling accomplishments or for something in industry, research, or education.

“We maintain a huge list and we are always taking nominations.”

 (This appeared originally in Fishing Tackle Retailer magazine. Activist Angler served on the advisory committee for construction of the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum, as well as contributed photos and wrote copy for the exhibits.)


Tuna Possible Casualties from Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

More bad news has surfaced about the long-term consequences from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists say the pollutant can cause severe defects in the developing hearts of bluefin and yellowfin tuna.

The 2010 spawning season coincided directly with the spill, meaning floating embryos were exposed to large surface slicks as oil gushed from the damaged wellhead.

“We know from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound that recently spawned fish are especially vulnerable to crude oil toxicity,” says Nat Scholz, head of the ecotoxicology program for NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. “That spill taught us to pay close attention to the formation and function of the heart.”

Scientists add that affected fish likely would have died soon after hatching. Additionally, scientists know from previous research that survivors of exposure to crude oil can suffer subtle and transient changes in heart rhythm during development. These changes can permanently impair heart function and swimming ability at later life stages.

“This creates a potential for delayed mortality,” says one scientist. “Swimming is everything for these species.

And evidence that the threat is still out there appeared last June, when a 40,000-pound (20 tons) tar mat was discovered in the surf off Grand Terre Island. Considered hazardous to marine life, the mat reportedly was made of up 15 percent oil and 85 percent sand, shells, and water.

Also, a report last spring revealed the damage done to dolphins, sea turtles, and killifish, a common forage fish at the base of the food web.

“Three years after the initial explosion, the impacts of the disaster continue to unfold,” said Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). “Dolphins are still dying in high numbers in the areas affected by oil. These ongoing deaths—particularly in an apex predator like the dolphin—are a strong indication that there is something amiss with the Gulf ecosystem.”

All this is not to say that the fishing is not good along the coast and in the Gulf or that it will deteriorate in the next few years. The truth is that we just don’t know what the long-term consequences will be.

But evidence certainly suggests that fish and other wildlife immediately exposed to the crude oil were harmed and some species continue to be.  

That means we haven’t seen the end of this disaster. No one can legitimately declare that damages have been mitigated, or that our wildlife, marshes, barrier islands, and offshore habitat are “cleaned up.”

“It is crucial that impacted regions of the Gulf implement restoration projects that are based upon the best available science, and to spend every single dime of the penalty money from the spill wisely,” says NWF. “That is our priority. The Vanishing Paradise campaign is focused on these goals as we continue our work in all five of the Gulf states. In Louisiana, that means two things:

  • Supporting the implementation of the Louisiana State Master Plan
  • Ensuring the integrity of the financial mechanisms that fill the gaps between Plan-Funding- and Restoration

“The moral of the story is that the Gulf is still hurting, four years after the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Recovery and restoration are far from complete.”


Going Fishing Always Better Than Staying Home

Click on the photo to learn about Why We Fish. Photo by Robert Montgomery

“There will be days when the fishing is better than one’s most optimistic forecast, others when it is far worse. Either is a gain over just staying home.” Roderick Haig-Brown

“If I fished only to capture fish, my fishing trips would have ended long ago.” Zane Grey

“Angling may be said to be so like the mathematics that it can never be fully learned.” Izaak Walton

Why We Fish --- Reel Wisdom from Real Fishermen

“If all politicians fished instead of spoke publicly, we would be at peace with the world.” Will Rogers

“The solution to any problem — work, love, money, whatever — is to go fishing, and the worse the problem, the longer the trip should be.” John Gierach


Fish Back Tournament Set for June 7


Activist Angler note: Teaming with Fishiding, PotashCorp introduced a conservation component to its benefit tournament last year and plans to include it again on Saturday, June 7. I hope that other tournament organizers will take note and follow the leader because these kinds of projects actually could improve fisheries.

A few have had competitors release fry during one of the competition days, but all that really does is provide an opportunity for promotion of the event. It does little or nothing to help the fishery. If bass have sufficient habitat, they will reproduce just fine on their own. If they don't, adding more fish to compete for already limited forage and cover is pointless.

The following is a variation of an article about the event that ran in the April issue of B.A.S.S. Times:

In regard to bass tournaments, Joey Bruyninckx had a better idea.

“I wanted to do something that benefits charity, kids, and the environment,” said the environmental specialist for PotashCorp, who added that he likes to fish and has ties to fishing. “From there, it just all came together.”

Thus was born the PotashCorp Fish Back Tournament, set for Saturday, June 7, at Clarks Hill (also known as J. Strom Thurmond Reservoir) on the Georgia-South Carolina border.

Last year’s two-day tournament, with a $12,000 payout for first place, was a “huge success,” said the employee of the world’s largest fertilizer company. With 135 teams competing, $6,000 was raised for the Georgia Ovarian Cancer Alliance and $4,000 for the North Augusta Fishing Team, a youth organization. Volunteers from the latter performed much of the labor, including returning bass to the lake.

What made this event different from most others, meanwhile, was the conservation component. On Day One, each team placed habitat in the reservoir on its first or second stop.

“I was worried that there would be a lot of fussing and grumbling,” the environmental specialist said. “But afterward, a number of them told me how much they appreciated what we were doing. There were way more positive comments than negative.”

Had competitors been asked to load a brushpile with cinder blocks onto the deck of their bass boats, the reaction might not have been so positive. But instead PotashCorp provided them with self-contained habitats made from reclaimed vinyl siding by Fishiding (a supporter of Activist Angler). All anglers had to do was unfold and drop the “Safehouse,” which boasts a 7-foot diameter when opened.

Fishiding owner Dave Ewald said the units “sink to the bottom and land upright to resemble a bush. The wide limbs create maximum shade, often preferred by bass and forage fish. Nutrients then stick to the vinyl and start the food chain.”

Bruyninckx sought and received approval from Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) before implementing the habitat-improvement component of the tournament. Orginally, he had considered having each team release bass fry, but DNR biologists convinced him that adding habitat would be more beneficial.

The same is planned for this year’s event, which its creator hopes will have more sponsors. PotashCorp donated $25,000 last year and is expected to increase that to $30,000 this year.



The Straight Bull About Big Spots

Guide Mike Bucca is at it again, catching huge spots down in Georgia. A few years ago, I wrote the following about him for B.A.S.S. Times. I can't guarantee that you'll enjoy the same success if you employ his techniques. But, hey, if Mike can do it . . . 

When Mike Bucca goes fishing, he sees spots.

But it’s an addiction, not an affliction.

While spotted bass are an incidental catch for many anglers, the guide specifically targets them in north Georgia lakes such as Lanier, Carters, and Allatoona, where they predominate.

What he has learned about them and the success that he enjoys pursuing them might convince you to target them as well.

And in ways that you’ve never considered.

“What most people fail to realize is that the aggressiveness of a spotted bass is twice that of a largemouth and it’s the same with curiosity,” said Bucca, who has learned about spots from assisting with electrofishing surveys as well as catching them.

“Those are the No. 1 aspects that any angler can capitalize on and turn to his advantage.”

Thus, the Georgia guide employs a run-and-gun, power offense most of the time, whether he is throwing a tube with a trailer treble for short bites, a suspending jerkbait, or, preferably, an 8-inch Bull Shad swimbait that Bucca makes himself.

That’s right, his go-to bait for spotted bass, a fish that rarely exceeds 6 pounds, is a huge lure usually reserved for targeting double-digit largemouths in Mexico, California, and Texas.

“What I noticed from electrofishing is that we caught a lot of 4- and 5-pound spots that had big, forked gizzard shad tails sticking out of their gullet,” he said. “Another thing was that there was a lack of smaller shad. My theory is that the meal-sized shad get eaten up before they get too big.”

After seeing this behavior repeatedly, Bucca realized that the smaller swimbaits that he was buying and using weren’t necessarily the best choice for catching smaller, but more curious and aggressive spotted bass. Generally, these baits were trout imitators designed for throwing to West Coast bass, which often feed on stocked rainbow trout.

“Until recently, there were no big gizzard-shad-type baits or big threadfin- or blueback-herring-profile baits,” the guide said. “And that’s what spotted bass feed on.”

So he created the Bull Shad. And spots, from 2 pounds to more than 6, have proven most appreciative, with late winter through the spawn being prime time and fall a close second. Bucca even has caught crappie on the huge lures.

“I like the big swimbait because it is an absolute rush to watch a giant spot attack it,” explains the Georgia angler, who keeps the jointed lure on top or near the surface with a speedy retrieve. “Topwater can’t even come close to the rush you get on a big swimbait bite.”

Bucca asserts swimbait fishing to be “the least understood technique in all of bass fishing, especially in the South.” Also, the larger ones, he insists, are not too big for spotted bass and mid-size largemouths, contrary to what many believe.

One of the main reasons that they work, he believes, is that so few use them, especially on heavily pressured fisheries where anglers tend to downsize baits instead of upgrade.

Another is that a swimbait mimics a large, easy meal. “Bass, especially big bass, are efficient feeders,” he said. “They would rather eat one big meal instead of exerting a lot of energy eating a bunch of small meals.”

Georgia fisheries biologist Jim Hakala added, “If a large prey is acting normally, the trigger to strike may not be there. I think that a lot of times they (bass) select for a certain size prey that is usually much smaller than what they can handle. But if something large isn’t acting right, they make take the opportunity to hammer it.” 

Where are they?

In lakes that they share, spotted bass often can be found in the same places as largemouths. But they are decidedly different fish.

“The biggest difference between the two species is habitat,” said guide Mike Bucca. “Largemouths are basically shallow-water fish that love wood. Spots are much more adaptive, as they can be just as happy in shallow woody environment as they are in deep, clear environment with absolutely no cover or structure.”

Look for spots, he advises, around points --- especially main lake points --- bluff walls and rocky shorelines. And don’t forget that they often suspend.

In general, spotted bass will be deeper than largemouths, added Norm Klayman, a former tournament angler and guide who has been catching both species on Bull Shoals for nearly 40 years. “Once they get past the spawn, they will move deeper faster than largemouths,” he said.

“Sometimes, they will run open water over channels and you can catch them on top.”

While largemouths like flats, Klayman said, spots tend to prefer larger rocks and hang out more along channels, especially at the ends of bluffs and chunk-rock banks.