Saturday, June 30, 2012

What’s Wrong with Bass Tournaments?

No one is asking this question, but instead I have heard a lot of bragging about how much these tournament organizations “improve the fishing” and how they positively “impact the local economies.” I don’t disagree that some organizations work at improving fisheries and also probably have a positive impact on the economy, but I want to point out some serious issues that no one raises.

Bass Fishing Tournaments Negatively Impact the Fish and the Fishery
Bass fishing tournaments negatively impact a fishery in many ways—not any differently than heavy fishing pressure affects a fishery. I can list at least two dozen ways tournaments hurt the fish and fishing, but I will try to keep my list concise.

1)     Taking bass off the beds during a spawn. It’s extremely presumptuous and arrogant to believe what we are told by BASS that every released bass will go straight back to the bed and complete the spawn.  We shouldn’t be so brain numb to believe everything we are told by propagandists. Some bass are yanked off the bed while they are trying to lay eggs or protect fry. They are then taken as much as 30+ miles away for as long as 12 hours. They are then released to another location. In that time, the eggs and fry may be eaten. No one goes back and measures the results of that fish’s egg laying. Don’t be fooled.
2)      Improperly maintained live wells. I learned from personal experience that tournament bass fishermen do not know how to properly maintain their live wells. In some cases, the temperature and weather conditions make it impossible to use an aerated live well to keep a fish alive all day. I have seen bass fishermen kill a live well of big fish on several occasions. They acted surprised by the end result, not realizing that 80-90 degree water with low oxygen can kill fish fast.
3)      Extreme water temperature variation. Bass cannot handle extreme variations in temperature change. Tournament organizations are killing bass when they do not consider hot weather and big temp changes. Tournaments should be cancelled when the temps are above 90 degrees; otherwise, most of those bass are in jeopardy of being killed.
4)      Over-handling. Slime coat removal. BASS and other organizations mishandle the fish. Just watch an episode of Bassmaster. They flip the bass into the center of the boat onto the abrasive carpeting, where the slime coating of the fish is removed. They then handle the fish with dry hands then and again later at weigh in. Fish should never be touched with dry or abrasive items. That removes their slime coating and makes them vulnerable to disease and infection.
5)      Spreading disease. Bass transmit disease just like humans. They live in certain areas where they often stay in small groups or schools. Taking one group of fish away to weigh in and then bring them among others in a small tank, then take them back to new areas among other bass allows diseases like Largemouth Bass Virus to infect large areas and kill off the bigger fish.
6)      Putting money ahead of the fishery. BASS and other organizations seem to put the economics of their tournament ahead of the fishery in almost every case. Just take the recent case on Lake Michigan with BASS. The fisheries biologists set a boundary to protect the smallmouth from a couple of the factors I mentioned earlier, namely spreading disease and species preservation. Some species variations should not be mixed with others. Instead of thanking the biologists for protecting the fish, all the pros are complaining about how unfair this is, that they cannot drive 200 miles from spot to spot and take all the fish they want and move them wherever they want later when they cull. Kevin VanDam and others are complaining on the BASS site that this is an outrage and that it will affect the economy. What a load of crap. The fisheries biologists are just doing this to protect the fish. The tournament will go on just fine and you will still get your money in the end. Why are you complaining? Just because some spots are off limits? Who cares?
7)      Low oxygen levels. Bass will die on their own in naturally-caused low oxygen conditions.  This happens all the time. Big bass will die without enough oxygen in the water, and experts will wonder why. Now add to that a tournament situation. Those bass are pulled out, already stressed and struggling. Add to that the additional stress of being caught and hauled around all day. They will die later from the stress, post release. The combination of naturally-occurring low oxygen levels and the stress of being caught can kill fish.
8)      High temperatures. In nature, bass can handle water temperatures in the 90s just fine as long as they have good oxygen levels, vegetation, shade, and deep water. They can adjust as they need, just like humans in the woods. We can find a shady tree and find a cooler spot. In a live well in a boat with a dark-colored carpeting, a bass is fried like in an oven, unless you have some way to cool the fish, such as ice. Most fishermen do not come prepared for these conditions and kill their fish. I have seen it many times.
9)      Deep water conditions. If you catch fish in water deeper than 20 feet, you need to be prepared to fizz your fish with a hypodermic needle. (See an article on this: Bass need the air in their swim bladder to be released or they will not be able to swim back down and can be found later floating. One time I saw one team of anglers slaughter over 100 bass this way. They did not fizz any of the smaller fish under three pounds and were fishing a big school of bass on Bull Shoals. They fished these spots all day until they had the biggest fish, which were also dead on arrival. These anglers made two fatal errors. They fished jigging spoons in 40-50 feet of water without fizzing the fish they pulled in, killing everything they caught. They also did not think of the fact that on a hot day in April in Arkansas, the air temp is 90, the live well temp is 90+, and the water temp of the fish in the school at 40 feet is 57-58 degrees! A fish cannot tolerate a temperature change like that.
10)   Slow/Bad release conditions. In some of these tournaments, they do not release these fish right away. Some of these fish are held in a boat for 12 or more hours. Then they are released from huge holding tanks where disease is spread out in the middle of the lake, where the stressed fish will have to swim many miles back to their homes. The stress of this kills many fish. Instead of admitting this, they tag a few fish with transmitters in a study or two and say all swam home safely. This is not always the case. I have seen the floating fish later. I have seen the dead fish in the weigh in bags.
11)   Heavy fishing pressure, hook sets, break-offs, and gut hooks. Bass Tournaments and heavy fishing pressure kill fish. BASS and other tournament organizations claim a 99% successful catch and release rate, but these numbers are just pure fiction and marketing hype.  These phony numbers just make everyone feel good. The numbers are not true.  Bass are hearty, but some are killed on just hook sets and break-offs. Those fish are never seen. The truth is that there is no way to measure how these released, stressed fish do after they are released. After the many stressors I mentioned in this article, many of them die. If you release a stressed fish back into Lake Toho, for example, an alligator will have that fish for a meal. I have seen a big alligator grab a 6-pound bass and crunch it, bones and all, in one bite. (Read a sample chapter on Lake Toho.)
12)   100% Catch and release is actually poor fisheries management strategy. It’s absolutely asinine to take the biggest fish off beds and think this is good fisheries management. It’s also idiotic to think that releasing all the small fish is good for a lake. Some lakes need the smaller fish weeded out so that there is less competition so they can grow. Implementing slot limits is a great way to solve this problem. Also we should be throwing back the trophies—not skin mounting them. We need to weigh and certify records in the boat and release the trophies. Keep some of the smaller fish to eat when there is a population of stunted fish. Follow the creel limit laws and obey the recommendations of the local fisheries biologists.

Here's a good article that also highlights and admits to some of these problems.

1)      Go to a paper tournament or digital tournament format. We have no reason to take 5 fish back to weigh in. We have the technology to digitally weigh fish on the water and go back with the results. In fact, we have the technology now to use mobile devices to wirelessly send back the results live. We don’t need to hurt the fish! In a simpler system for small bass clubs, do a paper tournament by measuring the fish or weighing them and recording it on paper. Release the big bass back to their homes immediately. Only use wet hands when handling the fish.
2)      Outlaw bed fishing. Let’s be honest with ourselves. Pulling spawning fish off of beds to take them 100 miles away hurts the spawn. All the phony arguments saying otherwise are lies and deception. This is a critical time for bass and they are susceptible when they are on the bed. What kind of sport takes advantage of an animal when they are susceptible like this? Bed fishing is not any different than spot lighting deer at night and shooting them. Local lakes and even states should ban this practice to protect the species.
3)      Cancel tournaments when conditions are going to kill fish. Don’t allow tournaments to kill off the big bass in a lake. Cancel them when air temps are high or there is a high temperature variation between the fish’s water temp and the livewell and air temperature. Otherwise, the fish will die. Be sure to provide all anglers with a fizzing kit if they are going to be catching fish in deep water. Educate them on how to use the kit.

Read more true fisheries science and research at American BeheMouth.  
Buy the paperback.  
Purchase the EBook.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Build it (at any cost) and they will come"

American BeheMouth's "Lake of Dreams" parallels the Kevin Costner film "Field of Dreams" in a couple ways. The themes are still the same, except now, following the housing bubble and other economic turmoil, Americans need to look at wild expenditures a little more carefully. Do we really need a $1.3 BILLION dollar stadium to replace a perfectly good stadium? Do we really want to fire teachers in Santa Clara County, California? The county says "no" but some people still say "yes, we want our new stadium--that's OUR money." The city of Stockton, California is going bankrupt, the biggest city to go bankrupt in American history. Are we headed in the same direction in other cities and in the entire state?

In a couple of places, including the book American BeheMouth, I reference people who have taken the equity out of their houses at peak prices in order to do something like become a professional tournament fisherman, or to build an addition, or (even worse) to build a baseball field in the backyard. I don't need to say why a move like this is stupid and leads to American bankruptcies. In American BeheMouth, the protagonist, Jay, does the same thing in building his lake, going into credit card debt to finance the "dream."

We have to start living within our means. I am afraid we are going to discover more economic bubbles with some of these dumb moves in professional sports, as well as in our cities, states, and federal government.

Read the book, American BeheMouth, in paperback.

Read the EBook.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Economics of Bass Fishing

In retelling all my stories about bass fishing (See the new story about Lake Toho), it makes me want to quit the working life to retire to fishing. The economics of bass fishing keep me from making such a dumb move.

I know a central Florida fishing guide and pro who has won over 100 major fishing tournaments. Do you want to know the difference between him and all the other bass fishermen out there? He actually has his boat paid off, and he thinks he might be able to buy a nice home next year, now that real estate prices are down. He is what all bass fisherman can aspire to. He does not sleep in his truck, and his wife has not left him...yet--he still wins a few now and then. But he tells me the guiding business has been down as much as 50% over the past years compared to what it was before 2008. Tournaments are down in turnout numbers and payouts too. You're not going to make a million dollars bass fishing, especially not in one year--not even if you can catch the world-record bass. The world-record bass is not a million dollar fish, as has been previously claimed. Ask me. Ask Manabu Kurita. Ask George Perry. Let's be real, folks. (Read about the Greatest Bass Fishery Ever--no money is being made here...yet.)

The reality of bass fishing economics is that it costs a lot and does not have much return. For those who are considering making a run as a pro basser--don't kid yourself. In American BeheMouth, I mentioned the couple that Bassmaster featured who exuberantly admitted that they took all the equity out of their house so they could go on the tour. I also mentioned the fact that the follow-up interview never occured. The reason the interview never occured is because it would make Bassmaster look bad that they encouraged a young couple to sell off everything they owned at boom prices before the crash, and now, with no tournament wins, they are bankrupt.

There are only a few pros who make "decent" money in bass fishing and that is because they are good sales people. They can sell their sponsor's products, and they are both lucky and hard working on the water. Don't get me wrong--it takes a lot of skill and hard work. But bass fishing also takes a lot of luck. It's the right place and right time and the right angle of a hook set that win the tournament. No one can make all the right calls on a fishery. The best fishermen I know are not that lucky. There are too many variables.

My practical advice is to avoid bankruptcy and poverty and to keep your day jobs. Contribute to society where you can. Go fishing when you can and enjoy the sport, but don't think you are going to be the next Kevin Van Dam. The odds are about as good as being the next Michael Jordan.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

American BeheMouth and Doping in Sports

People have asked me what American BeheMouth, a novel full of fishing stories, has to do with American sports and baseball. First of all, the novel is not just about fishing—it’s about America and what Americans have become. It’s also about what American sports heroes have become with a particular emphasis on baseball. I don’t spend any time talking about the game, but I do talk about sports history and baseball’s fallen heroes, all buried in a fishing tale.

Why fishing?

Other writers have used fishing as a metaphor before me, including Mehlville and Hemingway. The metaphor works as a great story telling vehicle without writing a lecture on the evils of performance-enhancing drugs. I show the subtle way the protagonist makes ethical slips that many of us can relate to.

America has become lazy, trying to find the easy way to success and fame, not by hard work, but by short cuts, be it our bankers, Wall Street investors, politicians, or sports heroes.

The protagonist’s moral lapse is reminiscent of sports heroes and politicians we all know. He uses his credit card to finance the dream, hand feeding his behemouth thousands of bait fish. He also sprays chemicals on the lake to increase the baitfish size. Those who take chemical means in order to set records cause a problem in all sports categories. Having a series of asterisks or various codes to indicate overturned records has become too commonplace.

Lance Armstrong and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency

Recently, with the accusations against Lance Armstrong and others by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, some have realized this issue is not dead. There are many ways to cheat in sports. It’s not just about steroids anymore. In some cases, the doping allegations involve a small medical staff who are working at providing blood transfusions, EPO, testosterone, masking agents, and other subtle ways to cheat the system.

I hope that the allegations against Lance are false, but it is already proven that this has been a recurring problem in cycling and baseball, among other popular American sports. It also goes to show that this problem is not going away any time soon. Let’s look at the core of the problem instead of the symptoms.

In American BeheMouth, I examine the core of the problem in my protagonist Jay. The core is ego and a desire to achieve greatness at any cost. It’s the American way. The problem is that we learned these lessons from the Greatest Generation who often worked for 50 years to make a great achievement. They struggled through the lean years and saved. However, they did not finance or leverage their way to success. There are no shortcuts to true success. The get rich schemes have a price. We need to look to real American heroes and not to those who would bankrupt our economy or sport in order to look good for a season.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

“Certified world-record” bass versus a “world-record sized” bass

Largemouth bass can be world-record sized without being certified as world records by the I.G.F.A. I appreciate the huge bass caught by Mac Weakley, Paul Duclos, and others. I respect their catches and admire that they released the fish back unharmed. They are great sportsmen.

Are these anglers who released the fish without proper documentation and certification inferior to those who certified their fish with the IGFA? No, not really. There is so much luck and circumstance in bass fishing. A fisherman really has to go out there prepared and with the intent to catch a record in order to be ready to certify it properly. If you are serious about certifying a world-record bass, join IGFA, get an IGFA-certified scale, and always bring a witness and various cameras. That way, you can certify a world-record catch.

Was the behemouth bass discussed in American BeheMouth a certified world record bass? No. If someone else caught this fish again, could they certify it with the IGFA and calim it as a certified world-record bass? Based on what I know about IGFA, I think the answer is "yes." Will I catch another world-record-sized bass from the "Lake of Dreams" and try to certify it with IGFA? No, I don't think so. That would be like Mark McGwire leaving coaching to come back to playing professional baseball in order to break the career home run record, building off of his past homeruns count when he was using performance-enhancing drugs.