Seems like you never have to look far to find another article written about the latest and greatest baits. The newest and most improved techniques that are guaranteed to catch a tournament winning sack of fish. Or the newest discovery in plastics technology. All those articles may well have their place in the ever changing sport of tournament fishing. But let’s take a look at an often overlooked, but integral part, of tournament angling. One that can make or break your tournament. Let’s look at controlling your fish. Not during the fight from hook set to net, but after the fish is in the boat.
How many tournament fish have you caught that needed to be put on the board to see if they are legal or not? We’ve all had to measure fish, but how many of us have released legal sized fish because they were measured improperly? And more importantly are we taking care of those fish while they are being measured? Here’s a method I learned several years ago. First of all, get your measuring board and your hands wet. Many tournament boards are metal and a few minutes of lying in the sun, even when the air temp is comfortable for you, will turn them into frying pans for the fish. Get them wet before placing your fish on them, tie a float onto them or even screw them to a board so if you drop it overboard you can retrieve it. This will help keep the protective slime layer on your fish. When positioning the fish on the board, with the wall end of the board on your left, place your right hand over the head of the fish. Cover the eye with the palm of your hand, while placing your thumb under the fishes’ jaw. You will be able to feel many of your fish relax as you cover the eye. Put only enough pressure on the jaw to keep it closed, move the fish to the wall end so that the tip of the jaw touches the end of the board. Cross your left arm over the top of your right and place your left hand on the back half of the fish. You can now use your fingers to either fan or pinch the tail. Be sure that the tail measurement style you use is allowed in your tournament rules. If your fish does not measure legal do not hesitate to turn the fish over and measure it again. I don’t know how many times I have had fish measure legal the second time.
Once your fish has been measured it’s ready to go in the livewell. It is now time to attach a cull tag to the fish. A cull tag can be an invaluable piece of equipment and can win or lose you a tournament. I learned this the hard way a few years ago. My partner and I had struggled during an all night tournament to find a limit of small “squeaker” fish. With less than an hour left to fish I hooked, and my partner netted a 6 lb largemouth. Throughout the tournament we had been certain that we would be able to cull out the smaller fish, with time running out it was becoming quite evident that this was not going to happen. In the excitement of landing what turned out to be big bass of the tournament, we hastily chose what we thought was our smallest fish and culled it with the six pounder. Upon reaching the scales we were dealt an embarrassing blow, we had culled the wrong fish, and to make matters worse one of our “squeakers” had tensed up after being placed in the weigh bag and measured short. With the imposed penalty and loss of our fifth fish we fell from a possible win to a seventh place finish. How would a cull tag have helped? A couple different ways. First of all, when I measure a smaller legal sized fish I write the length of that fish and which cull tag its on on a dry erase board. It takes only a second to do and saves a ton of time when trying to find which fish to cull. Secondly, many of today’s bass rigs have large livewells and at times it seems nearly impossible to get hold of a small fish. Chasing fish in a livewell stresses them out, causes them to tense up, and as we found out, can cause them to measure short. With a cull tag on them you simply grab the float on the cull tag and the fish is caught.
When you place fish in your livewell, fill it with water. Fill it full, be sure your aeration system is working and is turned on. I recommend carrying an extra livewell pump and extra fuses in the boat. I’ve had pebbles catch in the impeller blades of a livewell pump and render them useless, it’s much quicker to unplug the pump and replace it than to tear the pump down to try to clear the obstruction. The same with the fuse. The hotter the weather the more attention you need to give to your fish. Don’t handle them any more than necessary but check to see that your aerators are working. There are several different types of oxygen infusers available, from chemical infusers to mechanical ones. Keep them in your boat and use them. Use them religiously, not just in hot weather. Periodically pump out some of the water and replace it with fresh water. I don’t recommend putting ice in your livewell. The fish are already acclimated to the water temp of the lake, putting ice in your livewell can shock them and put unnecessary stress on them. Also, containers of ice floating in a livewell could potentially injure fish during a rough run across the lake.
Once you’ve reached the weigh-in you need to remove your fish from the live well and get them into a weigh bag to be transported to the scales. Again, a cull tag can save your entire day. I have seen tournament anglers pull fish from a livewell only to lose their grip on them and find them loose on the deck of the boat. The fish will flop wildly, trying to escape its captor and also trying to get back into water. These out of control fish can easily injure themselves by thrashing around in the boat. I’ve also seen anglers impale their hands on crankbait hooks while trying to regain possession of these fish. And yes, I have seen more than one of these escape artists find their way over the side of the boat and back into the lake. With a cull tag you can grasp the float, lift the fish out of the livewell and get it inside the weigh bag. Once it’s placed in the bag the cull tag can then be removed.
When transporting your fish to the weigh-in line be sure to put a good amount of water in the weigh bag. I have been in tournaments where the scales were a good quarter of a mile from where my boat was parked. When you get in line get the bag in the tubs of water, most organized tournaments will have aerators running in these tubs, they have plastic tubing channeling air into the water in these tubs. Place one of the tubes in your weigh bag as you move through the line, get as much oxygen infused into the water as possible. When you reach the scales there will be a tournament official that will check in your fish. When you place your fish in the official’s tub don’t just pour the water and fish out of the bag. Lay the bag on its’ side in the bottom of the tub, grab the bottom corners of the bag and lift it up. This will spill the water and the fish out of the bag at the same time. If the tournament official puts your fish back in a weigh bag and hands them back to you to be weighed, wrap the bag around the fish. Wrap it around them like winding a towel around your hand, this will keep your fish from flopping in the bag. It will also allow the scales to settle on your weight quicker, which results in your fish being back in water sooner. The more we can minimize the amount of time the fish are out of water the more we lessen the chances of injury to the fish.
In the event that you have a winning weight you may be asked for pictures and an interview while at the scales. That’s awesome, that’s what your there for. Enjoy your moment, but enjoy it sensibly. Get the fish out, get them photographed quickly and get them back in the weigh bag. Get them to a tournament official so they can be placed back in the water, then do your interview. The tournament emcee will wait for you as this will only take a few seconds.
Winning a tournament is exciting, the bigger the tournament the more adrenaline you’ll burn. Your interview is your moment in the spotlight, it’s your opportunity to thank those who have supported you and to sing the praises of your sponsors. It’s also your chance to show your professionalism. Enjoy the win, soak it in, it’s okay to be happy; it’s not okay to gloat or to make jabs at the anglers you beat out. Remember, you’ll lose more than you will ever win. Learn to lose graciously, learn to win humbly.
Ron Mayer has been a tournament director for both BASS and FLW/TBF affiliated tournaments. He is currently sponsored by One Big Bite Lures, Pepper Custom Baits, Vivid Lures, and Bass Sponsorship Network.