Old News Archive

Bass Tournaments in Maine

August 28, 2007 - TRC

Sleeping late on weekend mornings is not a way of life for Maine’s bass tournament anglers. Sporting some of the most colorful and shiny boats on the water, propelled with the most powerful of outboards, these anglers rise before daylight to fish early in quest of the heaviest catch of bass amongst competitors, then release them back into the lake at the end of the day.

According to Peter Bourque, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s (MDIFW) Director of Fisheries Program Development, the state of Maine probably has the most restrictive laws and regulations governing bass tournaments in the entire country. “Other states envy Maine’s framework for regulating bass tournaments”, Bourque remarked recently, “because some states have so few lakes and so many tournaments that they must stagger opening times every two hours for multiple tourneys being held on individual lakes on the same day. Maine

law permits only one tournament per day on individual lakes.”

Bass tournaments are different from fishing derbies because tournament anglers, by virtue of the conditions of their tournament permit, are allowed to keep bass alive. The bass are held in the boat’s live-well, equipped with aerators and water pumps that provide a continuous supply of fresh, well-oxygenated water from the lake to keep the fish in good condition. At the end of the tournament, the law requires that all bass must be released alive into the lake in which they were caught. Tournament participants are penalized a predetermined number of ounces at the weigh-in for any bass that have died.

Maine law requires that any bass tournament must have a permit from MDIFW. Permits cost $52 for a weigh-in tourney and $12 for a catch-measure-release tourney. Weigh-in bass tournaments may only be held on lakes and ponds larger than 500 acres in size, and the number of boats permitted is 1 boat per 35 acres of lake surface area. A maximum of 7 weigh-in tournaments may be held annually on any body of water.

Two categories of tournaments are held, based on who can fish and how many boats can participate. Club tournaments are for individual bass club members only, with a maximum of 15 boats allowed. Other tourneys, called “opens”, are open to anglers from other bass clubs. Because more people can fish the open tourneys, no more than four opens may be held annually on a lake.

Maine issues approximately 300 bass tournament permits annually. Because applications for bass tournaments on popular waters exceed the annual allowance of seven, MDIFW holds a lottery early each winter to fairly determine which club applications will get permits. Any lake that does not reach its limit of tournaments by the conclusion of the lottery may be selected later in the season until the limit is reached.

During the bass spawning season MDIFW does not permit weigh-in tournaments in order to prevent loss of eggs and fry that would occur if males were removed from the nest. During this protected spawning period of 5-6 weeks in May and June, only so-called catch-measure-and release tournaments may be held. In this type of tournament, each bass is measured as soon as it is landed. The other competing angler in the boat verifies the fish’s length and the fish is then released, permitting the male bass to return to the nest to continue its important function of guarding the eggs and fry.

How do anglers prepare for a bass tournament day? Many anglers practice and pre-fish a lake to learn the best spots to fish and to develop a plan for fishing on tourney day. While boat batteries are charging, many anglers spend the night before each tournament fully rigging as many as a dozen fishing rods with various artificial lures so each rod is ready to be grabbed whenever the angler chooses to use it during the tournament.

What is a bass tournament day like for the participants? The day may start as early as 3:30 a.m., depending on driving time to the lake being fished. Once anglers arrive at the boat launch, club representatives check boats, motors, trailers, and live-wells for any aquatic plants, while anglers register and talk amongst themselves. The pre-fishing briefing highlights a variety of important topics, including the club’s mandatory safety issues and procedures, such as wearing of life jackets when under power of the main engine, as well as discussions of etiquette, size and bag limits for the tournament, time of weigh-in, and live release of all bass at the end of the day with weight reduction penalties for any dead fish. The so-called “blast-off” of past years, when all boats started together, has been calmed down in the last 5 years, with boats now leaving sequentially, in order of either numbers drawn or by order of registration.

Many clubs invite the public to the morning ceremony and to the weigh-in as a public relations outreach. Also, sponsors and dealers often display their equipment for club members and the public to see. Because of the chance to see big bass, the weigh-in at the end of the day commonly draws a crowd of onlookers who are eager to talk bass fishing. Networking amongst anglers is very important in the sport of bass fishing.

In addition to regular bass tournaments, many clubs sponsor special event tourneys for charitable causes. Often, a portion of the income from regular tournaments is donated to charitable organizations. For example, at Sebasticook Lake, Maine’s Outcast Bass Club recently raised about $4500 in their tournament for the Maine Make-A-Wish Foundation. Each of the 28 boats paid a $100 entry fee, with a portion going to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Other individuals and organizations donated additional money and items. According to Mike Carroll of www.mainebass.com, a bass club typically holds about 5-8 club tourneys annually, open to their members, but most clubs also hold a large open tourney for members from other clubs, totaling 18-75 boats. Many tournaments commonly give a portion of their proceeds to charitable causes. For instance, Carroll said that his bass club, Bangor Bass, supports the Maine Youth Fish and Game as its charity to attract young anglers to the sport.

Many clubs hold special bass tournaments for kids and also sponsor family fishing tournaments to introduce newcomers to bass fishing. Young people who are introduced to bass fishing during a tournament day spent fishing with a club angler are hooked for a lifetime of fun. For instance, every summer, the Maine Blade Runners bass club holds an adult/youth bass tournament that is highly popular in introducing young people to bass fishing. This year's tourney included 34 kids on 30 teams and was held in mid-July at Meddybemps Lake. Adults paid a $35 registration fee, and Tri-Town Marine of Harrington paid all the youth registrations at #35 each to boost the prize money available at weigh-in time. The first place team or Ray Denbow and 8 year-old Ryan Denbow won $630 pus trophies! Every participating youth went home with an award, ranging from door prizes to certificates, along with a memory of a fun day fishing that will last a lifetime.

What appeals to bass tournament anglers to get them into competitive fishing? According to Mike Carroll, anglers soon learn that bass fishing is quite addictive because it is a blend of fish pursuit and technology. Once anglers reach a certain level of ability and experience, many are interested to see how they would fare in competitive fishing. Carroll stressed that many anglers join bass clubs to learn more about bass fishing, because the new anglers commonly get paired up with a more experienced angler who is the boat operator. The two anglers then fish together as a team. But for the larger tournaments, two experienced anglers often make up each boat’s team.

How much do bass anglers invest in their boat? Some rig up their own boats for $5,000 to $10,000. But boat dealers report that the average bass boat, motor, and trailer will cost about $30,000 while some of the best may cost as much as $60,000. Clearly, bass tournament anglers are highly devoted to their sport!

Bass fishing is an innovative sport with a wide variety of lures created over the years yielding a high success rate in catching bass. Popular lures range from spinner-baits, crank-baits, jigs and soft plastics, to jerk-baits, poppers, and other surface lures. Almost any lure in any fishing supply catalog will catch a bass at the right time, so the average tournament angler probably takes more boxes of fishing tackle aboard his boat on a day fishing than he would take suitcases for a week’s business trip!

Technology is a boon to this sport, ranging from sonar that shows fish below you and beside you, to global positioning systems (GPS) that permit repeat visits to previously located good fishing habitat as well as permit safe navigation across the lake if the angler has set up safe travel courses.

Bass tourneys are held from soon after ice-out through the fall. Because bass habits and habitat use change throughout the long fishing season, the most successful anglers have learned where and when to fish. Boats move around the lake all day long in search of big bass. The angler with the heaviest limit of bass wins the tournament, so the ability to catch large bass is crucial.

Tournament angler Mike Carroll summed up the mindset of Maine’s tournament bass anglers as:

# Passionate about competitive bass fishing
# Possessing a strong conservation attitude that fosters a high level of respect for the environment and the natural world
# Promoting growth of this sport amongst others who love to fish for bass.

Clearly, Maine’s bass fishing is recognized nationally as outstanding because of the strong conservation and release ethic practiced by all bass anglers in Maine. Voluntary release rates of at least 90% of all bass in Maine have sustained the state’s bass populations at a rate where bass are caught and re-caught many times during their lifetime, providing countless hours of enjoyment for bass anglers, regardless of their bass fishing preferences.

By Rick Jordan
Regional Fisheries Biologist, Downeast Regional Headquarters, Jonesboro
Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
Black Bass Species Author

Submitted by : Mark Latti, DIFW

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.