Competitive Fishing and Responsibility

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This article, like many I’ve written, began with a conversation I had with my brother, Tom.

Tom and I are brothers separated by a mutual hobby. We both love to fish but in very different ways. Tom gets after bass on gear. A skill I respect but don’t especially prefer. I suck with a gear rod and it’s just not the experience I enjoy. It is, however, extremely technical and the guys who are good at it carry a wealth of knowledge on the species. I honestly think that being a good bass angler is harder than being a good trout angler. Tom is good.

He’s had a little trouble with his boat. By a little trouble, I mean it was totaled in an accident while he was towing it. This led to him fishing a tournament on the back of someone else’s boat. A guy he did not know. I’ve been plenty vocal on how I feel about competitive fishing. If you haven’t caught that, let’s say, I’m not a fan. I think competition usually brings out the worst in people. Not everyone, but enough folks to make it something I don’t care for.

You could feel any number of ways about that and I know from experience that my feelings on the subject make a lot of folks blow steam out their ears. That is, of course, exactly the kind of behavior I’m talking about and it has no place in fishing, as far as I’m concerned.

Back to Tom’s experience. This guy he was fishing with had forward facing sonar on his boat. Not how I like to fish but I don’t have a problem with it. It’s the way bass guys often do it and if it makes you happy, knock yourself out. I see no harm in it. This guy chose to turn off the screen on the back of the boat, leaving Tom to fish behind him blind. Tom wasn’t complaining about it but it sounds like a dick move to me. They were not competing against each outer, but as a team. Still, this guy felt like he needed to catch more fish, and brag about it, no matter how he had to do it. I can’t respect that in an angler.

The problem is, those are the guys competitive fishing attracts. I’m not saying that’s everyone who fishes competitively but it’s common enough to be a problem. At least in my mind. What’s worse is that the behavior is rewarded. Literally in cash. Personally, I don’t see how having more expensive electronics or a faster boat makes you a better angler. You don’t have to agree.

“That’s a lot of what I don’t like about bass fishing,” I told Tom.

The kind of fishing I do, If you’re a better angler, You’re obligated to help others.”

As soon as that came out of my mouth I realized it probably wasn’t true, but I thought it was. Maybe for my whole life I’ve thought it. I thought it for a good reason. Because before I was good at it, that’s how I was treated by the guys who were good. From very early on I was mentored by anglers who were way better than I was. Many of them were guys you’ve never heard of. Like Dan Flynn, who is still probably my favorite person to fish with. Later they were guys who’s names you will recognize, like Bruce Chard or Tim Rajeff. None of those guys would turn your monitor off so they could out fish you. They’d put their rod down and help put you on fish. I know that because they did it for me.

So what’s my responsibility to those guys who taught me? Well, it sure as shit isn’t to brag about what a great angler I am. It certainly isn’t to put my name in a record book somewhere. I think my responsibility is to pay it forward. To, you know, do unto others…and so forth. And for me, that feels a lot better than my name in a book, or even a cash prize. You don’t have to agree.

I made a promise, years ago, that when I met someone who wanted to learn to fly fish, I would teach them. I have done that many times and I continue to. I made the offer to a guy I met just yesterday. It’s why I’ve put so much work into G&G. I see it as my responsibility. Again, you don’t have to agree. What a cool world it would be though, if you did. If you all did. 

Justin Pickett

Gink & Gasoline 

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10 thoughts on “Competitive Fishing and Responsibility

  1. Across the years there have been a lot of bass jerks but there have also been some great guys willing to share their knowledge. That guy could have helped and in fact he did; I know what to be ready for the next time. On the other hand, let me mention a few guys I’ll call by name: Mark Menendez, Denny Brauer, David Fritz, Hank Parker and Aaron Martens have all taken time to explain to me the subtle differences that make success and you know what, I see them doing it for others that are competitors. I spent a day fishing with Mark and about a year later I stopped by an Elite Tournament just in time to find him repairing a guy’s boat so he could fish against him the next day. I have Buzz Bait that is beyond belief, Denny took time to show me how to take what came in the box and make it the real deal. The size of my catch increased 30% after a day with David Fritz. Hank was on his way to the truck when I stumbled across him but he took time to talk spinner baits. Aaron and I had long conversations on clear water and California Red wines. Do you know what, all of these guys are at the top of Bass Fishing. You see that’s the thing, somehow, it’s all ways the cream that comes to the top and that explains my brother, Louis Cahill, My Hero.

  2. Thanks Louis for these thoughtful words. I hope I will be able and willing to help others for a long time. Peace be with you, Paul

  3. Louis, I agree with you 100 percent. Competition bass fishing at the National and Local levels has not been good for the bass. Pulling bass off their beds and the mortality rate is very high. I have seen it starting in the late sixties as bass clubs were formed. Our fisheries are becoming depleted of bass due to competition in bass tournaments. Competition bass fishing brings out the worst in people. These people would not be fishing if they could not compete against each other. Fishing should be something you enjoy doing and maybe fry up a few fish once in a while to eat. The fishing industry has grown so big and made so many people rich that I don’t see it changing anytime soon. One thing is for sure, once the bass population is gone things will begin to change. It is hard to believe that after sixty years of tournament bass fishing, they still bring bags of bass up on the stage to be weighed, and released to die the next few days. Everyone wants to ignore that fact but it happens tournament after tournament. I have seen it time after time. It is the only competitive sport I know of where your quarry often dies. Some people in this country would like to see fly-fishing tournaments start up. I hope I never see it in my lifetime. We should be fishing for the fun and teaching for the fun not competing against one another. If you want to compete choose another sport.

    • Fishing means different things to different people and I generally respect folks doing whatever has meaning to them. I do part from that philosophy where anglers do harm to the resource. That’s a complicated topic.”Maybe fry up a few fish once in a while…” Not on a wild trout stream, please. Take a couple of stockers? Within reason, ok. Bass and trout hold very different places in the ecosystem. I’m admittedly not super educated on bass fisheries, but it seems to me that the raising and stocking of bass dwarfs the stocking of trout. A fact I am very glad of. I know very few places you might find sustaining populations of wild bass. At least here in the southeast. Here, bass are basically a giant public engineering project. I’m bothered far less about things like fishing redds or carrying fish to a weigh in, in those circumstances. That behavior in a fishery of wild fish, would be disturbing, regardless of the species. To their credit, bass anglers were early adopters of catch and release, when trout anglers were mostly killing fish. That said, when you attach a dollar amount to life, of any kind, life always looses. I think all of that is very reasonable, so I feel like I have to say something that will piss people off! I do think that, when it’s avoidable, it’s wrong to kill anything just for sport.Humans are generally short sighted and selfish. I don’t see that changing any time soon.

  4. What a great story Louis. I too have a similar attitude about bass fishing tournaments. Is it really sporting when you use electronics to find fish? And the one who catches the most fish wins? As an avid trout fisherman there are many days when I only catch one fish, or no fish, and truly satisfied. Didn’t use any electronics, just my experience of many hours on the water studying the stream conditions and the insects that were present, sharing information with other anglers, etc. And enjoying the beautiful scenery on the stream even if I don’t catch a fish and sharing a fly with a fellow angler. Now that is fly fishing!!

  5. I agree with your post wholeheartedly, I see things the same way. I’m sure many of your readers have had fishing trips like my most recent one, where the most memorable and exciting fish was the one that got away. I don’t think something like that would sit well with competition anglers. But whatever floats their boat.

    I doubt anyone here can answer this but something I’ve always found puzzling was how C&R focused competitive fishing is, yet there is still widespread use of treble, barbed hooks. How come? I don’t recall the last time I ever read some fly fishing material that said “add a stinger hook and whatever you do don’t flatten your barbs!”

    • Well, I can give you my opinion. I think its a matter of priorities. What matters more to the angler, the well bing of the fish or bringing it to hand. It’s not fair to lay that all on gear anglers. Fly anglers who fish for records kill plenty of fish, as do careless trout anglers. It’s something we all have to be diligent about. I believe it was B.A.S.S. who promoted C&R fishing for bass and changed the way bass anglers fished. I think there is still an opportunity there to educate anglers about treble hooks.I don’t know if anyone is trying. When anglers stop caring about how many fish they catch, ethics become easy. I don’t know how you teach that.

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