In the span of eight hours Aug. 19, the course of local bass tournament fishing was changed for the better.
Leading the charge was Linwood Cottner, Tournament Director for Pro Am Bass Trails, who has largely modeled the Pro Am tournament format after the popular Major League Fishing television show.
Cottner, a 37-year-old sergeant first class in the Army, serves as an air traffic controller at Fort Hood. He has been fishing recreationally for 26 years and competitively for three years.
Cottner and his wife, Lelia, were prayerful about bringing this new format to the fishing community.
They intentionally anticipated many of the hurdles they would face and sought solutions to these issues before rolling this concept out.
Cottner organized the Stillhouse Hollow Lake-based tournament in which eight anglers, each accompanied by a referee on their boat, competed against one another in an effort to catch the greatest total weight of fish in three two-hour periods.
Tightlines Premium Fishing Tackle and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department assisted Cottner in launching this event and in ensuring there were enough referees to cover the number of boats entered.
Lelia Cottner Ministries provided food and drinks.
Once caught, fish were measured and, if long enough, scored by weight and immediately released.
All competitors and spectators were kept abreast of each angler’s progress in real time via Facebook postings and ScoreTracker Live, a web-based scoring tracker.
Stillhouse was broken down into three distinct segments, and all anglers were required to fish a given segment at the same time as his competitors.
Pro Am Bass Trails has wisely incorporated a number of procedures which improves on traditional tournament formats in several ways.
Reducing stress on caught fish
Whereas traditional bass tournaments require that anglers keep their heaviest three to five fish alive in a livewell from the time they are caught and up until the official weigh-in, the Pro Am format allows for fish to be quickly measured, then, if the fish exceed the tournament’s minimum length, weighed on a scale and released.
In this manner, fish never spend time in a livewell and never spend time in a weigh-in sack. Additionally, especially for those fish caught from deep water, fish are released while they are still fresh and strong enough to swim back to bottom and recompress their own swim bladders.
It becomes immediately obvious to those involved with bass tournaments that this format is definitely gentler on the fish resource, especially where delayed mortality is concerned.
Another drawback to traditional bass tournaments is the wait time to weigh in fish at the tournament’s end. Although large tournaments often organize weigh-ins into timed shifts, there is always some manner of wait time.
The Pro Am format eliminates the weigh-in altogether by tracking fish weight in real time as the fish are caught.
No ‘one-fish wonders’
The Pro Am format favors anglers who are able to catch high numbers of bass with consistency, whereas traditional bass tournaments, especially those with low fish limits, often favor anglers who catch larger bass.
In traditional tournaments, only the heaviest three or the heaviest five bass are counted, whereas in the Pro Am format, all fish above a minimum length are scored.
As the tournament came to a close, Kyle Kirkes bested the field, catching 26 fish weighing a combined 25 pounds, 8 ounces., followed by Craig Gilbert (20-11) and Charlie Gantenbein (11-8).
Five similar events are scheduled prior to the two-day championship event scheduled for April 28.
The next event is slated for Oct. 1. The water body for that next event will be revealed soon. The entry fee for each event is $125 per angler, and the organization pays out 80 percent of that to the top finishers.
Anglers interested in pursuing bass following this format may contact Cottner at 254.432.3060 or go to www.proambass.com.