In traditional bass tournaments, anglers strive to catch a limit of fish in a set period of time, then bring these fish back to a weigh-in site alive to be weighed and released. This process can stress fish, even to the point of mortality.
The Pro-Am Bass Trails is not your traditional bass tournament. In Pro-Am events, an on-board official quickly scores caught fish for the angler, thus facilitating an immediate release right at the place of capture. Tournaments utilizing this concept are referred to as ‘immediate release format’ events.
This format gained tremendous popularity through the Outdoor Channel television series Major League Fishing.
This year, Linwood Cottner, Greg Boik, John Zavala and their Pro Am staff once again bring this progressive, conservation-minded format home to Central Texas as they organize the 2018/2019 Pro Am Bass Trails.
One of the proponents of the immediate release format is Texas Parks and Wildlife Department employee David Terre.
Terre, the Management and Research Chief for the Inland Fisheries Division, said in a September 2017 TPWD news release, “We are trying to promote new tournament formats that are very conservation-minded that remove impacts of delayed mortality. They take the extra fish handling, weigh-in and livewell containment process completely out of the tournament.”
According to that same TPWD release, “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.”
Terre assisted Cottner, co-founder of Pro Am Bass Trails, in obtaining a set of “loaner” scales critical to the immediate release format.
Cottner was facing an expense of over $100 for each of the approximately 60 scales needed to accommodate a 60-boat tournament. This would have been an insurmountable financial obstacle were it not for TPWD’s assistance.
After a wildly successful inaugural season in 2017, the Pro Am Bass Trail has made some policy adjustments and recently released its tournament schedule for 2018/2019.
According to Greg Boik, Pro Am Bass Trails Officials Director and Assistant Tournament Director, the six regular season events will be held on Sept. 15, Nov. 10, Dec. 15, Feb. 16, March 30 and April 27. The two-day championship event will be held May 18-19.
In keeping with Pro Am rules, tournament locations for the Nov. 10 event and beyond will not be released until just prior to those events. The location for the September event will be Stillhouse Hollow Lake.
As for policy, the membership fee now stands at $50, the registration fee is $150 per event, and, in order to be eligible for the championship event, participants must register and pay for a minimum of four of the six regular season events.
Perhaps the most significant policy change is in regards to in-boat officials. This season each angler must provide an official over the age of 16. Those officials are then pooled and assigned out, lottery-style, to the participating anglers.
Prior to the tournament’s start, the body of water is broken down into three geographical segments.
Anglers all fish the same segment for 2 hours, take a 30-minute break, then proceed to fish the second segment for 2 hours, and so on.
Once an angler catches a fish, a determination is made, based on length, as to whether the fish is weighable or not. If it is not, it is released immediately. If the fish is long enough to be weighable, the in-boat official makes the scale available to the angler. The angler places the fish on the scale and the official determines and records the weight manually and electronically.
Experienced anglers and officials can typically measure and weigh a fish in right at 20 seconds, then release it.
The electronic recording of the weight is made via the official MLF Scoretracker Electronic Scoring System. This serves to make all other competitors, tournament officials and spectators aware of the overall tournament standings in real time.
There is no limit to the number of weighable fish an angler may capture during a tournament, so his or her score continues to increase as more and more scoreable fish are captured and released.
The Pro Am organizers are so serious about conserving the fish resource by minimizing handling that they actually assess penalties for fish that strike the floor or gunnel of the angler’s boat.
The Pro Am rules state, “While landing bass, the bass cannot touch the carpet or any other part of the boat inside the gunnel at any time during the process. If the bass comes unhooked from the bait and falls to the carpet or hits any other part of the inside of the boat it will be assessed as a violation.”
Further, the Pro Am regulations prohibit use of certain baits thought to reduce fish survivability. The rules state, “Only artificial lures with two or fewer hooks will be allowed to be used. Alabama/umbrella rigs are prohibited from use due to their propensity to create additional stress on multiple fish caught.”
The Pro Am’s cool-season schedule begins just as the local Tuesday 3X9 Series on Stillhouse Hollow and Texas Boat World Wednesday Night Open series on Belton Lake draw to a close, thus giving competitive anglers an option for keeping their skills honed through the winter.