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Entries in catch-and-release (48)


Ray Scott's 'Old Man' Tournament

Here's a holiday treat for you. For awhile, I was the ghost writer for Ray Scott, founder of B.A.S.S. He would tell me a story and I'd turn it column for B.A.S.S. Times. I always enjoyed my talks with Ray, whether on the phone or at B.A.S.S. events. And, at 84, he remains a gifted story-teller--- and salesman.

He also was kind enough to contribute a "story" to my book Better Bass Fishing.

*     *     *     *     *

You’d better hang onto your hats for this one, boys and girls. As the father of catch-and-release for bass, I, Ray Scott, once killed 1,350 bass.

Actually, I didn’t do it by myself. I had 99 old men and one lady helping me. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I should start at the beginning for this story about how it’s the exceptions that sometimes prove the rules and how keeping --- and eating --- bass sometimes is a good thing.

Back in the spring of 2001, I told my wife, Susan, that I was going to hold a tournament for old men and I saw her eyebrows go up. That’s because she knew there would be lots of activities involved. And because she remembered those Eagles of Angling tournaments we had back in the early 1990s. We had all kinds of celebrities to the house for those events, including President George Herbert Walker Bush. It was a lot of work, but, as Susan would agree, worth every minute of it.

We held those four tournaments on my 50-acre lake to raise money for the nearby country crossroads Pintlala Baptist Church, and when all was said and done, we had donated $1,060,000 toward the construction of a new sanctuary.  Not bad for a bunch of fishermen.

This time around, I was going to have a tournament for anglers aged 62 and older. I’d charge $500 a head. They’d fish from the bank. And they’d have to use 4-pound line because I didn’t want them hurting my big fish.

And they’d be required to keep the ones 12 inches or smaller. We’d kill those and give them to charity.

How could the man who had extolled the virtues of catch-and-release for 30 years sponsor such an event? Well, as I said earlier, sometimes it’s the exceptions that prove the rules.

Catch-and-release has changed the face of fishing for the better, no doubt about it.  But it’s not just because it’s a wise conservation practice that helps us sustain heavily pressured fisheries.

Putting a fish back gives a man a proprietary interest in that fish and in that lake. When he has that, he gets mad when he sees someone polluting “his” water and hurting “his” fish. Catch-and-release is a philosophical exercise that’s critically important for the future of fishing.

But, dang it, sometimes in small waters --- particularly private waters that are fertilized and nourished --- you get too many little bass. In the spring of 2001, that was what had happened to my lake. I was catching too many small bass, and I knew that they were a hindrance for a quality fishery.

So, I put out the press release for the tournament, and, before I could turn about, I had my 100 entries, individuals who were willing to pay to come and help me solve my problem. I guess it was a bit like Tom Sawyer convincing his friends to pay him so that they could help paint the picket fence.

One of entries was a man who called me and said, “What are you doing with my lake?”

He then asked if he could enter and I asked him if he had $500. He said that he did, and so former President George Herbert Walker Bush came back to fish “his” lake.

And having my old friend at the tournament gave me another idea. I announced that other “sponsors” could come and mingle with President Bush and have their photos taken for $5,000. I already had decided that the money we raised in this tournament would go to help the teachers at our little county Pintlala Elementary School, established in 1922.  

Because of tight budgets, the teachers had to use personal funds for school supplies. We raised $132,000 with that tournament to ease their burden. The special account is still providing needed monies to this day.

After we removed all those little bass, I saw improvement in the quality of the fish the next year. Now we put back only bass that are 3 pounds and larger and the lake is better than ever. Especially in small, private waters, you just have to harvest sometimes.

Of course, if I ever do have problems again with too many small bass, I’ll have another tournament.

(Stan Sloan was the winner of the "old man" tournament." He also won Scott's first event, the All-American Bass Tournament at Beaver Lake in 1967).


Plastics Problem Re-Energizes Conservation Spirit in Anglers


Back in 2011, Joe Ford told me about a bass that he caught in Texas' Lake Amistad and what he found inside it. The articles that I wrote about his discovery for B.A.S.S. Times and Activist Angler awakened anglers to an environmental problem that had largely been ignored.

Through good stewardship and angler awareness programs such Pitch It, we are minimizing this problem, but the effort must be ongoing. Here's a reminder from one of early articles:

Angler Joe Ford’s chance discovery has re-energized the conservation spirit in bass anglers across the country.

B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott first tapped into that extraordinary force 40 years ago, when he introduced catch-and-release to bass tournaments. Conservation-minded anglers quickly incorporated the practice into recreational fishing, and, with a few years, it was standard procedure for fishermen worldwide, pursuing a multitude of species.

Will what Ford found in the stomach of a 10-pound largemouth spawn the second great stewardship campaign for which bass anglers become the standard bearers? That remains to be seen.

For the moment, though, it has motivated many to deal with a problem that has been too long ignored:

The bottoms of our lakes are smothered with discarded plastic baits, and fish are eating them.

Ford hadn’t intended to keep the big bass that he caught while fishing Texas’ Lake Amistad. But because it was deep hooked, he put it in the livewell to see if it would survive. It did not.

As he was dressing it out, he noted a large plastic mass in its stomach. Closer examination revealed the blob to be a dozen plastic baits.

“It was amazing to see all of those worms in there,” he told me. “I don’t know how it was going to pass them.”

Possibly it wouldn’t have. A long bait, like a worm or lizard, can work its way into the intestine and stay there.

And, because it is unable to feed, it then could starve to death.

In my September Conservation column, I revealed Ford’s experience and explained the tragic scenario likely occurring below the surface of our fisheries.  Response was instant.

Carl Wengenroth, owner of The Angler’s Lodge on  Amistad, said that he has seen plenty of skinny, sickly fish as he assists Texas Parks and Wildlife with fizzing and delayed mortality studies.

“We would see fish that look like a street roller ran over them,” he said. “Often, they’d die at the weigh-in. When we’d clean them, we’d find plastics in their stomachs.

“Then we started looking around and saw worms at fish cleaning stations.”

But there was good news too, as anglers immediately stepped up to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

In Arkansas, Randy Joe Heavin took his boater partner in a Central Open tournament to task for throwing baits overboard.

“I told him about the article in B.A.S.S. Times,” said Heavin, owner of Patriot Records. “And he said that he’d never really thought about it.”

The Oklahoma angler also recalled pulling up a mass of plastic worms from the bottom of DeGray Lake while jigging. “Other guys said that they were catching them too,” he recalled. “That’s when I realized that there must be a ton of them down there.”

Heavin added that he’s never thrown his used baits into the water. “But some guys get in the zone and don’t think about it.”

Not thinking about it is going to be tougher and tougher, thanks to B.A.S.S. Nation state conservation directors.

Before a  tournament on Lake Toho, Florida’s Eamon Bolten talked to 128 participants about problems caused by discarded soft plastics and asked them to deposit their used baits in a collection box.

“Many anglers mentioned how they will now start putting their used baits in the collection box at the tournaments and stop throwing them away in trash cans or in the water,” the Florida conservation director said.

“At least five told me they used to throw their baits in the water and thought nothing of it until hearing me speak about the problems it can create for our bass.”

Up in South Dakota, Jeff Brown heard about Bolten’s program and decided to do the same in his state. “Our guys are extremely receptive to the idea,” he said.

At Amistad, Wengenroth not only collects used baits but remolds them into new ones. “We call the color ‘trash,’ and it seems to catch more fish,” he said.

“Doing something like that could be a great money maker for clubs,” he added. “And the big companies could get onboard and put a message on their packages to not discard baits.”

Now that the issue has been raised at a national level, lots more ideas are being floated around in the angling community on how to deal with it. But whether enough fishermen will participate to effect fundamental change, as they did with catch-and-release, remains to be seen.


Volunteer Anglers Needed for FWC Barotrauma Tool Study

Do you fish for reef fish like snapper or grouper?

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is seeking volunteer anglers and charter/headboat captains to take part in a descending-device citizen science study. Descending devices are tools used to recompress the swim bladder and increase a fish’s chance of survival when it cannot be kept and is experiencing barotrauma (swim bladder expansion when a fish is brought up from depths greater than 50 feet). Signs of barotrauma include the stomach coming out of the mouth, bulging eyes, bloated belly and distended intestines.

As a citizen science partner, you will test a descending device and help identify the benefits and drawbacks of using this tool when fishing in deeper waters. The information from all participants will be pooled to identify why some anglers might not use these tools. Your valuable feedback will be used to inform and improve efforts to increase the survival of caught and released reef fish.

To participate, prospective participants must first answer general screening questions. Randomly-selected participants will then watch a tutorial on descending devices, complete an initial evaluation, and test a descending device during the trial period from July 1 through Sept. 30. When the trial period ends, participants must complete a detailed post-evaluation about their experience by Oct. 15. Preliminary results of the evaluation will be available in late 2017.

To apply for an opportunity to participate in this study, visit  To learn more about barotrauma, visit YouTube channel at  For additional information, call 850-487-0554 or email


B.A.S.S. Celebrates 50th Anniversary of First Tournament

A half-century ago, when Ray Scott of Montgomery, Ala., wanted to entice outdoor media to cover his upcoming press conference, he didn’t soft-sell the event.

He invited the journalists to meet him in Springdale, Ark., and learn about “The Biggest, Most Important Happening In Bass Fishing History.”

The “happening” was the All-American Bass Tournament on Beaver Lake, Arkansas, an event many mark as the beginning of the modern era of bass fishing. The tournament was held June 5-7, 1967 — 50 years ago next week. The tournament was successful enough to launch the professional fishing careers of Bill Dance, Stan Sloan, Don Butler and others, and it inspired Scott, an insurance salesman turned promoter, to conduct a “tournament trail” of events across the country.

And it spawned the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society — B.A.S.S. for short — which would grow into the world’s largest fishing organization with more than 500,000 members and a magazine, Bassmaster, currently read by 4.5 million people each month.

Bassmaster’s June issue marks the milestone of tournament fishing with a cover story written by Bob Cobb, who contributed greatly to the All-American’s success.

In Why We Fish, I documented the  impact that B.A.S.S. has had on every aspect of sport fishing, from tackle, boats, and equipment to conservation and catch-and-release. Here's an excerpt from "The B.A.S.S. Factor":

“I remember a B.A.S. tournament on (Oklahoma’s) Lake Eufaula in the early 1970, when I was in high school,” said B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland. “Roland Martin won it.

“Afterward, he and Forrest Wood (founder of Ranger Boats) sat out on the dock and talked about how to make livewells better to keep fish alive. The tournament environment, I think, spawned a lot of innovations, especially in boat design and safety features for both the occupants and the fish.

“Maybe they would have shown up anyway eventually,” he continued. “But their development was sped up by tournaments and they became available to the public sooner.”

Kill switches, boat hulls, electronics, trolling motors, trailers, and tow vehicles are but a few additional items that owe their current state of development to B.A.S.S. and its professional anglers. Others include specialized rods, reels, baits, lines, tackleboxes, sunglasses, and clothing.

“If my granddaddy could see the equipment today, he wouldn’t believe it,” Bill Dance said. “He just wouldn’t believe what fishing has become.”

Roland Martin added, “So many of us now are on design staffs. The tackle and marine industry use us for a lot of different things, but especially research and development.”


Stocking Bass Can Do More Harm Than Good

Biologists and knowledgeable anglers understand that most supplemental stockings of bass do nothing to improve fisheries, and, in fact, can do more harm than good. But many who manage private lakes do not know that, and, as a consequence, annually waste thousands of dollars of other people's money, accomplishing just the opposite of what they intended.

For example, the board of the homeowners' association in my community spends nearly $4,000 annually to stock 6- to 8-inch bass in lakes already filled with stunted fish.

"That's pretty common," said Gene Gilliland, who was a fisheries biologist in Oklahoma before he became National Conservation Director for B.A.S.S. "A lot of homeowners' associations have that mentality. One of the biggest challenges that we had was getting people to buy into the idea of doing something different than what they'd always done if they wanted different results."

In these lakes, as well as many farm ponds, the problem is an overabundance of predators, and adding more just makes it worse. How does this happen? Well, first of all, bass spawn. In general, after their initial stocking in a pond or manmade lake, they don't need additional help, barring a catastrophic die-off. On their own, they sufficiently will populate a fishery, based on available habitat and forage.

Then there's catch-and-release. "A lack of harvest is something we see all the time," Gilliland said. "Twenty or 30 years ago, ponds and small lakes could be overharvested. Today, it's just the opposite. Back then, harvest could be 40 percent. Now it's about 5 percent.    

"Catch-and-release almost seems to have gotten out of hand in some places. And the problem is magnified in smaller waters."

In fact, catch-and-release alone over time can lead to a stunted bass population in such fisheries, unless they receive regular and abundant stockings of forage, such as threadfin shad or shiners.

Now throw in more mouths to feed instead of more food and you get what we have in my community's lakes, packs of 8- to 10-inch bass prowling the shorelines in search of food--- and almost nothing else. Occasionally, larger bass are caught, usually on offshore structure or shallow during the pre-spawn. But fish in the 2- to 4-pound range are nearly nonexistent.        

Bass typically stunt at about 11 inches, and one that size could be 5 or 6 years old. Depending on geographic region, a bass that age in a healthy fishery should be from 3 to 8 pounds. But to grow to a larger size, bass require progressively larger forage. If that's in scarce supply, so are plump and healthy bass. "You can't have just big bluegill and little bluegill," Gilliland said. "You have to have a variety of sizes (available) as the bass grow up."

So what's happening to those bass dumped into an already overpopulated fishery? "A lot of studies show that supplemental stocking is of little value," the B.A.S.S. conservation director said. "Survival of those fish is probably pretty poor. They could be starving to death or maybe they're getting eaten by bigger bass."

And how does a fishery with a stunted bass population get turned around? Managers should stock forage, not bass. Anglers should catch and keep those small bass, something that probably isn't going to happen because of the catch-and-release ethic.

"We used to  recommend removing 10 pounds of bass per acre per year (from a small fishery)," Gilliland said. "An 11-inch bass weighs just 1/3 of a pound so that would be 150 fish from a 5-acre pond. If you get enough out of there, then those remaining fish eventually will start to fatten up."

All this is not to suggest that bass never should be stocked. But they shouldn't be dumped into a fishery as a matter of habit. Rather, managers should have clear intent. For example, Florida recently added one million bass fingerlings to Lake Apopka as part of a decades-long project to rehabilitate that once great fishery. Habitat and water quality were enhanced before the stocking to ensure better survival.

Texas, meanwhile, long has stocked Florida strain largemouths to enhance the trophy potential of bass in Lake Fork and other fisheries. Without booster shots of Florida genes from time to time, the fish wouldn't grow as quickly or as large.

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)