AUSTIN – The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Inland Fisheries division is launching a scale loaner program to give local tournament organizers the ability to use the catch, weigh and immediate release formats made popular by state and national-level tournaments like the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest (TBTF) and Major League Fishing.
“We are trying to promote new tournament formats that are very conservation minded that remove impacts of delayed mortality,” said Dave Terre, TPWD Chief of Inland Fisheries Management and Research. “They take the extra fish handling, weigh-in and livewell containment process completely out of the tournament.”
Typical bass tournaments involve holding up to five bass in livewells, removing them from their catch locations, and taking them through a weigh-in process onstage – a format that studies have shown results in 15-60 percent fish mortality depending on the water temperature. With the catch, weigh and immediate release formats, each angler has a trained judge onboard who uses the scale to weigh the fish and return it to the water immediately after being caught, which significantly lowers fish mortality to a negligible amount – similar to catch and release fishing.
Pro Am Bass Trails utilized TPWD’s new scale loaner program for the first time during their inaugural fielding event Aug. 19 at Stillhouse Hollow Lake. Of the 80 fish caught, organizers observed no immediate fish mortality on the boat or shortly after release.
Tournament director and competitive angler Linwood Cottner said he decided to organize a tournament of his own after growing concerned with the effects traditional bass tournaments could have on the sustainability of local bass populations. But the biggest barrier to implementing the catch, weigh and immediate release format was the initial cost of the scales, which exceeded $6,000 for a set of 60.
“When I saw that number I thought ‘There’s no way I can do this,” Cottner said. “So when I heard about the scale loaner program I jumped on it – it’s alleviated that upfront cost to help me build up the funds that we need to eventually purchase them.”
The 60 loaner scales were originally donated to TPWD for use during the Toyota Texas Bass Classic (TTBC), a tournament that pioneered the catch, weigh and immediate release format. After a 10 year run, the TTBC was replaced by the TBTF, which uses a different set of scales provided by tournament organizer B.A.S.S.
By using the loaner scales no longer needed for the TTBC, Cottner said Pro Am Bass Trails is one of the first local level organizations in Texas to successfully incorporate a catch, weigh and immediate release format into their tournament.
“This cracked the shell of fear as far as putting on a tournament of this format,” Cottner said. “A lot of people are looking at this and saying ‘This is something that can work in Texas.’ We are laying the foundation and setting the standard as far as how it can be done.”
Pro Am Bass Trails uses the same catch, weigh and immediate release format as Major League Fishing, which allows anglers to see how they rank among their competitors as soon as the judges enter the fish weight into a mobile application. Linwood said the portable, certified scales are a vital component to quickly getting the fish back into the water where it came from to reduce the chance of delayed mortality.
“Unless bass fishing takes a decline, this catch and release type of tournament format is going to help sustain the health of Texas waterways,” Cottner said. “And the loaner program is going to be a key factor in that.”
MLF co-founder and pro angler Gary Klein said that among the professionals, the catch, weigh and release process averages around 20 seconds. Aside for the concern for fish care, he said this speedy process has the added benefit of increasing the intensity of the competition for anglers who compete in this format.
“You take somebody like me that has benefited from public resources and the fisheries, and I’d like to give something back, I’d like to see our fisheries continue to get better,” Klein said. “This format is a win-win for everybody involved… I would like to see our format become the new norm, and become recognized as the way the game is played.”
Pro Am Bass Trails will use the loaner scales again at their Solo Cup Round One tournament Oct. 1 at Lake Belton, an event Cottner expects will draw between 30-60 anglers.
“We’ve already exceeded the people registered than we had at our first event,” Cottner said. “I’m very humbled and excited to be taking care of this fishing trail. I love it to death.”
Terre said if demand for the loaners scales grows, fisheries staff may look into having more scale kits available in regional or district offices for local tournament organizers throughout the state.
For more information about the scale loaner program, contact Dave Terre at firstname.lastname@example.org.