Every year thousands of anglers participate in fishing tournaments across the Great Lakes, with prizes ranging from a couple hundred bucks to tens of thousands of dollars. Some, like the Lake Erie Fall Brawl, offer new fishing boats valued at more than $100,000 as top prizes. Some events are targeted toward professional anglers, while others pair a professional angler and an amateur angler. Many are friends and family-oriented, often benefitting a conservation angle or a local charity.
No matter the stakes, it’s always fun to see the biggest fish people can hook and land.
Two new tournament trends that have been gaining traction in the past few years involve using much smaller boats to go after fish, and after catching the fish, being much nicer to them.
Goodbye frying pan, hello cell phone
That’s the gist of catch-and-release tournaments, such as those operated by apps and sites like FishDonkey and TourneyX. The traditional “weigh-in” doesn’t happen onshore in front of spectators and other anglers. Instead, it happens continuously in cyberspace, allowing anglers and spectators to stay up-to-date on the angling action in real time. And all the fish are released after being netted and documented.
“They’ll just snap a good quality picture of the fish with something that’s very precise. The fish is tucked up to the end, the mouth is closed and your hand’s not covering anything,” explained Chuck Earls, who is the first – and only – Lake Erie kayak fishing guide licensed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. “They’ve dialed it in pretty good.”
Some catch-and-release tournaments use a combination of weight and length to determine winners. And if you’re thinking how easy it might be to cheat, think again.
“If you can imagine it, it’s happened. People are going to cheat, you know?” Earls said. “There’s been guys that have photoshopped different tails on there, there’ve been people that cut tails off fish then covered the gap with their hand holding the fish down. A friend of mine owns the Ketch Board company, which is often the only legal measuring board you can use to measure fish.”
Earls said anglers have been known to flex cheaper plastic measuring boards to produce a “longer” fish.
Those things can happen, he said, when people are fishing for big money, like the Kayak Trail Bass Fishing Championship with a $100,000 grand prize. That’s why digital tournaments are thorough, often including requirements that officials can examine metadata of all images and videos.
In addition to large winnings, Earls said, the rise of catch-photo-release fishing tournaments opens up new outdoors opportunities for anglers. And those tournaments are especially amenable to kayak anglers, who don’t have live-wells to keep fish in, usually needed for traditional live-fish weigh-ins.
“I think the key thing to promote with kayak fishing is these guys are trying to make sure they’…….