While not all fishing contests are the tournament “style” Bass or Muskie events, many are. To these anglers, the concept of “Catch and Release” isn’t just a practice, for most it borders on being a religion. Keeping fish alive and releasable is almost as important as catching them.
In order to accomplish this, a cross section of bass, northern pike, and muskie anglers helped shape legislation that could be adopted by all fishing contest organizers. The goal is to develop a statewide gold standard for catch, hold, and release events. Passed with the help of Senator Satveer Chaudhary the best management practices (BMP) were required by the 2009 legislature. The bill states “the Commissioner shall develop a best management practices certification program for fishing contest organizers to ensure proper handling and release of fish.” The requirement is that BMP’s be developed by 3/1/2011 and address fish handling and release by both anglers and organizers.
The goal is to address specific and multi species events. Certification could be accomplished by passing an on-line test or participation in an annual hands workshop. The MN DNR is working on a web based contest application process which could be an important source for MN tournament information.This site could also list certified organizers, so new events could find someone to assist them in managing their contest. The guidelines will address fish handling under the best conditions down to the minimum conditions.
Fish survival during a contest can be greatly improved by learning the best hooking, handling, and livewell management practices. Minimizing shock, exposure to air, and avoiding holding fish for long periods of time in bags or containers with low dissolved oxygen is imperative. Temperature is the key issue in releasing contest fish. The warmer the water, the less oxygen it holds. Just because a fish seems able to swim away is not a complete indication of its ability to survive. Research shows that summer time catch, hold, and release events for Walleyes is problematic. Large fish like Muskies and Northern Pike are greatly stressed when catching them. Stress when combined with the factors listed above, all contribute to increased delayed mortality. Smallmouth and Black Bass are a hearty fish and can be “recycled” many times to be caught, weighed in, released and live to be caught again. But poor contest management changes the survival outlook for all species.
Fishing contests are an important part of Sportfishing in Minnesota. In these organized events boating safety and sportsmanship are learned and enforced. Catch and release fishing is required in many contests. Boat inspections for invasive species are part of every contest permit. At my last big fishing event we had a PowerPoint presentation on invasive species and each contestant was given a checklist of boat cleaning and inspection tips that there were required to follow.Fishing contest organizers strive to be part of the solution to keeping Minnesota’s fish and lakes healthy.The incorporation of BMP’s will further enhance the preservation and vibrancy of angling for future generations.
Vern Wagner, is a citizen stakeholder committee member with the Minnesota Water Sustainability Framework. Vice-President of Anglers for Habitat “a non-profit alliance of anglers dedicated to the preservation and improvement of aquatic habitat, clean water andfishing in Minnesota and tournament director for the MN/WI Bassmasters Weekend Series. For information on Anglers for Habitat, email: firstname.lastname@example.org