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Tournaments and Your Community

Fishing is the largest recreational sport in the Province of Ontario with participants out numbering golf, tennis, and baseball combined. One of the fastest growing segments of the sport is competitive tournament fishing, particularly bass fishing. There are approximately 5,000 tournament anglers in the province fishing events that are run by club based organizations, independent leagues, businesses and charities.

As the sport of tournament fishing grows the more noticeable it becomes to the general public, particularly cottagers and frequent visitors to the many lakes in our province. In the eyes of those unfamiliar with competitive fishing events, the optics of ‘all these tournaments,’ can be rather threatening. From where they sit, it will hurt ‘their lake’ to have 20 to 150 fishing boats all equipped with the latest technology suddenly descend upon them en-masse. “Why, these tournament anglers come here and launch their boats at our local ramp, race around the lake, fish, our docks only to return with the  biggest bass they can.  Someone said they’re all live released but how many actually live – because my neighbor says he saw a bunch of them floating dead after everyone packed up to went home.”

If you’re a tournament angler – then guaranteed you’ve heard that criticism before. How do you handle it? Do you counter by accusing locals of being even worse because they’re all meat hunters?  The key, in our books is education and understanding from both sides of the fence.  As recreational anglers whose passion often focuses on competitive fishing ... we have a responsibility to let others know what our sport is truly about.

We must accept that, the lack of knowledge about tournaments by local stakeholders, even those who fish is to be expected. It is simply human nature when you don’t understand something (especially when that something could possibly threaten what you love dear like the lake and all the joy it brings you) that you become protective and even negative’ towards it.  This can be the mind set of locals as we encroach upon ‘their’ waters.  Let’s just accept that and move on – then illustrate to them a picture of what our tournaments are really all about and that like them, the last thing we want to do is harm what we both love. 

Let’s begin by pointing out our common ground. The resource is something we both care about first and foremost. Tournament anglers can’t assume everyone knows that all events are catch and release and the extent they go to ensure survival.  In Ontario’s cool, well oxygenated lakes, tournaments are fortunate to have live release systems that help establish survival rates well over 95%. These fish continue to contribute to the aquatic ecosystem and tagging studies confirm these fish are caught and released over and over again. 

It is important to understand that lakes in our province are public waters open to everyone and the fish of those waters are owned by the people of Ontario. Our ¼ million lakes are managed by the Ministry of Natural Resources for all to enjoy - locals, visitors, tournament anglers, trophy fishermen, First Nations and new Canadians ... everyone  who is a licensed angler has the right to fish public waters.

Although some of us have the luxury of living on or close to a lake, we still don’t own the water – regardless of whether it’s the middle of the lake or at the end of our cottage dock. In fact, for the most part in Ontario and with only a few exceptions ownership ends at the shoreline.

The differences between tournament and recreational fishing, is often made. In essence however, we are all recreational anglers but some of us spend part of that fishing time competing with others in organized events. Collectively we need to stop separating one group from the other because neither one is strong enough on their own.

Of course there are a percentage of anglers who are not focused on the future of the resource. Their personal contribution to ensure that strong viable fisheries remain for future generations has not ‘yet’ been tapped. Tournament anglers and millions of dedicated recreational anglers have progressed to the point where this is indeed the case. High profile Catch and Release tournaments, the anglers who fish them and all conservation-minded anglers have a responsibility to promote catch and release and selective harvest as a fundamental principle for every single angler in the province to embrace.

Wil Wegman receives the Berkeley Conservation Award on behalf of the Aurora Bassmasters for their research on bass in Lake Simcoe

Wil Wegman excepting conservation awardFortunately, catch and release and selective has grown in popularity over the past 10-15 years and much of this can be attributed to education from organized fishing clubs, whose members are often tournament anglers. Education and development of “best practices” for catch and release are constantly being improved because of research done by tournament based organizations who strive to protect fish populations.  These groups are constantly working with the Ministry of Natural Resources , Conservation Authorities, Universities and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on various research projects, stocking programs, habitat rehabilitation, education, and tourism.

Tournament Preparation and Procedures – How It Works
On any given tournament day, organizers brief the field on local rules and sensitive areas of the lake including boundaries and slow speed zones. When the briefing is finished each boat is then checked to make sure they meet safety requirements that no live bait is on board* and that livewells are operating properly.

*Live bait is not permitted in tournaments because it is more difficult to successfully live release fish that tend to swallow ‘the real thing’. 
Anglers then ‘blast-off’, one at a time according to their team number. They then each travel towards their favorite morning spot, drop their quite electric ‘positioning motors’ and proceed to try and catch fish.

When fish are caught by a tournament angler they are kept in a livewell. These livewells are designed to exchange large amounts of fresh oxygenated water to maintain good fish health. Many anglers also add additional oxygen thru systems like the Oxygenator. These boats are also prepared for extreme weather conditions and may even carry ice to cool the livewell water on very hot days. On board, every precaution is taken by the anglers to ensure the fishes survival, in part because they are penalized for dead fish, but more so, they realize that those bass are too valuable to be caught only once.  Once a boat has its limit of five fish, smaller fish are released and replaced with larger fish. This is called culling.

When the field returns for weigh-in, each boat is given a heavy duty weigh-in bag that holds enough water for the fish to be transferred to the aerated holding tanks. Once at the holding tanks fish are transferred to perforated plastic containers and placed in the aerated tanks. From the aerated holding tanks, fish are carried in these containers to the weigh-scales. After weighing the fish they are brought either to a research station where they will be tagged and sampled for age, weight, and general health or they are put into a live-release boat with large aerated tanks and taken back to specified locations on the lake to be released. Smaller tournaments may release fish at the docks.

Tournaments have become an excellent venue for fisheries research because of the volume of fish that can be sampled in a few hours. The tournament-based research conducted over several years in Ontario has proved to be quite valuable for fisheries managers to better manage our water bodies. The data has helped them understand population dynamics, success of catch and release fishing, seasonal migration habits, and growth rates. The entire angling community benefits when this valuable data is shared with other research programs throughout North America.

The Economics of Tournaments
There is more to tournaments than a single day of fishing. When a large tournament comes to a community there is a positive impact on the local economy. The tournament itself may be held over a single weekend but anglers are in the community for several days and even weeks before the event practicing or pre-fishing the lake. Although oftentimes these individual anglers go unnoticed they use local accommodations, purchase gas for the boat and vehicle, eat in restaurants, and encounter numerous miscellaneous expenditures leading up to the event.
Economic impact statements are often done for larger tournaments. The Ontario BASS Federation nation has conducted economic impact surveys since 2002 for their large events.

In 2009, the B.A.S.S. Eastern Divisional's were held in Orillia ON, with the tournament waters being Lakes Couchiching and Simcoe. Seven 12 person teams from the US came to Canada to compete against Team Ontario. Some of the team members came as early as three weeks prior to the event. These anglers and their families used approximately 650 room nights in local accommodations alone. The results of the Economic Impact Statement were astounding, showing total expenditures in the local economy at almost one million dollars. Furthermore, many of the participants from the U.S. were planning a trip in the future with their families to fish our great fisheries for holidays. The tourism trail created by tournaments can have a substantial positive impact for years to come.

The benefits of tournament fishing are far reaching with a net positive impact on the fishery, environment, local community and economy. So when we see a large number of boats launching from a local wharf in our community, rest assured there is a group of anglers that are doing more than spending the day fishing for prizes.

Barrie Bassmasters Tree Drop Lake SimcoeBarrie Bassmasters dropping unused Christmas trees in Lake Simcoe to create artificial reef. To date over 700 trees have been dropped.

Mark Morrison

Mark Morrison is the Ontario B.A.S.S. Federation junior champ in the 11 to 14 year old age group. This marked the third year in a row he has won the title and gone on to compete in the U.S. for Team Ontario. Mark is also an avid recreational angler and commited conservationist.


Paul Spencley

Paul Spencley is one of many Junior Bassmasters helping with various conservation projects all over the Province of Ontario.


Youth education is a mandate for most competitive fishing organizations.


Bogart Creek Restoration project

In 2007 the York Bassmasters won the Berkley Conservation Award for the restoration of Bogart Creek.


In 2001 the Muskoka Bassmasters in concert with the MNR embarked on an ambitious reconstruction project in the Muskoka River to rehabilitate walleye spawning habitat. The results have been nothing shy of phenomenal as Lake Muskoka has become a first class walleye fishery once more.


Organizations such as the Ontario B.A.S.S. Federation Nation have become the stewarts of out water bodies, educators of our youth, and the rehabilitators of fishery habitats.


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