A couple years ago I was fishing with Ray and Josh, two friends from my neighborhood. It was an overcast morning and as they say the fishing was great, but the catching was fair. We had a late morning high tide and as we approached slack the bites faded away as they often do when the water stops moving. I decided to try working down a long bank that I usually fly by on plane going from one high producing (and likely overfished) spot to another. If I’m honest, I was just trying to burn time waiting for the flow to pick up again.
We fan-casted down the shoreline aiming at any details likely to hold a fish and picked off a few not worth bragging about. I was casting my favorite confidence lure, a Pearl Z-Man MinnowZ rigged on a gold-eyed TroutEye jig when I suddenly got a hard thump. I was sure this was a nice mid-slot redfish the way it hit and pulled drag on this submerged flat where reds like to cruise along the grassline. When it rose and shook its head violently, I let out a few choice words and prayed for the hook to stay put while Ray grabbed the net. After a few tense moments Ray expertly netted the giant trout and there were shouts of joy and high-fives all around.
And then it occurred to me…What am I gonna do?
You see, this day happened to be a Summerville Saltwater Anglers fishing club tournament. On one hand I really want to release this fish, and on the other hand this 25” speckled trout is a sure win and even better it would be good for bragging rights at the weigh in. Releasing it at weigh in was not possible since my 13 ft classic Boston Whaler is too small for a live well. Should I do the right thing, or pump up my ego? Can you picture the little angel and devil over my shoulders? Today I’m not proud to say the devil won. I killed that fish to take the “W” in the tournament.
This dilemma really affected me and motivated me to become Tournament Director for the club at the next opportunity. My first priority was to change the tournament rules to a CPR (Catch, Photo, Release) format following the lead of kayak anglers. You see, there’s no reason to be faced with this dilemma in the present day.
Here are a few ways to have a tournament and practice conservation, a win-win!
Low Tech CPR – Everyone has a mobile phone with camera these days. The Tournament Director announces a unique identifier to tournament participants the night before the event. This could be a physical token, a keyword to be written on something or even a unique hand gesture. A fish is measured on a ruler, ideally a metal ruler with a bump-stop on the end. The decal rulers issued by SCDNR are a poor choice because they tend to shrink up to a quarter-inch in the sun. A photo is taken of the fish with closed mouth and pinched tail and the token clearly visible. It takes a little practice but it is not too difficult to master. This pic can be emailed to the Tournament Director who tallies the results after the tournament is over.
High Tech CPR – In the last few years several competing online web based services have emerged, making running CPR tournaments easier than ever. The generally idea is the same but puts everything in the cloud. Two of the leading services are TourneyX and iAngler. These services handle registration and payment and even allow you to view your ranking up to the minute. You can thank the kayak angling community for bringing these services to the mainstream as several high-profile tournaments are run using them. They work, and work well.
Live Weigh-In – Bass fisherman are way ahead of saltwater fishermen when it comes to conservation. They have been doing live weigh in tournaments for years, but the Redfish tours such as the Southern Redfish Cup also do live weigh ins. Significant penalties are issued for dead fish and anglers spend a lot of effort making sure their fish remain alive and frisky in their live wells. Adding air bubblers to your wells goes a long way to ensuring your fish survive as well as not overcrowding them.
Many people would counter that you can’t do a live release tournament for speckled trout because they are not as hearty as a redfish. My friend Dan Connolly from Murrells Inlet would beg to differ. He runs a successful and growing live release speckled trout tournament called the Speckled Studs every December. I proudly participated in this tournament last year and was impressed with how Dan runs it. Fish are brought live to the scale which is located directly adjacent to the docks. Anglers are encouraged to weigh fish throughout the day rather than keeping them in the live well unnecessarily long. A team can upgrade their fish throughout the day with the best two counting. The fish is very quickly measured and weighed (horizontally, not by hanging from the lip) and returned to the water in under a minute.
The days of fish kill tournaments are over, that ship has sailed. If you are thinking of participating in or planning a fishing tournament, I ask that you keep conservation in mind and protect our resource by releasing these trophies back to the water. That way you can do the right thing, pump your ego and have your bragging rights!
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing