Competition among friends has long been a part of the angling experience.
When I lived in Northern Idaho a couple decades ago, each spring meant it was time for the annual crappie tournament with a group of friends. The winner was determined by the cumulative length of the three longest fish and received a traveling trophy — a crappie I had personally stuffed attached to fish cleaning board. The winner also determined the lake where next year’s event would occur and hosted the fish fry after that contest. While this kind of collegiality is standard for events among friends, large fishing tournaments have much more at stake.
The first high payout bass fishing tournament likely occurred in 1967 and by 1971 this event had evolved into the Bassmaster Classic. The winner of the first event, held at Lake Mead, Nevada, received $10,000. Nearly 50 years later, last year’s winner of the Bassmaster Classic received $300,000. The increase in prize winnings came about because of the broad appeal of competitive fishing and the ability to promote these events on TV. It is difficult to know exactly how many organized tournaments there are in the United States, but I can tell you there were almost 175 fishing tournaments in Idaho alone. Most events were targeted at bass, but contests ranged from catching perch through the ice to trolling for landlocked Chinook salmon. There is even a league that caters to kayak anglers.
Some argue fishing should not be a competitive activity. Certainly there are times and places where fishing is an experience, not a sport, but the value of competition in fishing are these events can point out your personal strengths and weaknesses so you can improve your angling skills over time. Watching competitive fishing on TV brings with it an opportunity to learn (even if my kids tell me the two most boring sports on TV are golf and fishing). It is interesting that on some days, a number of competitors will succeed using a variety of techniques.
On other days, only one technique works. Watching these divergent outcomes suggests that if you are not catching fish, it is imperative to change what you’re doing. These shows demonstrate a need to master the use of different rods, reels, lures and techniques if you want to maximize your chances of success.
Competition has also improved fishing equipment. The event organizers of the 1972 Bassmaster Classic wanted to release captured fish so tournaments didn’t harm the fishery. To meet this requirement, contestants were forced to jury-rig aerators. Now live wells can be found on most fishing boats. Another piece of tackle that gained quick acceptance due to success in tournaments was braided line. This line does not stretch like monofilament so there are many situations where using it will result in more hooked fish.
The acceptance of techniques used in competitive fly fishing has been slower to be adopted. Competitive fly fishing is unique in that contestants are assigned a random 200 to 400 yard stretch of river to fish. This is different than bass fishing tournaments where anglers often have thousands of acres of water where they can choose to fish. As a result, competitive fly fishing is concerned about how to catch every fish in the area assigned rather than letting the angler search out the type of water they are most likely to be successful in.
Furthermore, fly fishing competitions often limits the types of gear — no strike indicators, no weight attached to the line and specified distance between flies. This type of fly fishing has demonstrated the value of longer rods (12 feet), long leaders (20 feet) and more direct contact to simple flies tied with tungsten beads. These techniques may be overkill in many rivers, but they are hard to beat in heavily fished segments of the more famous western rivers.
Even if you aren’t into competitive fishing, you should spend a little time watching or reading about the sport. By doing so, it is possible to pick up angling wisdom that could take years, if not decades, to learn on your own. Armed with these tidbits of information, it might pay off to challenge a friend or two to a little competition. These days, it just takes is cell phone and pictures of fish with a tape behind them to track of the size and number of fish caught. Comparing notes on how fish were caught after these events will make everyone involved a better angler.