When you have been working in and around the fishing industry as long as I have you understand the "love-hate" dichotomy with fishing tournaments. On one hand, its a kick in the gut when you show up at your favorite lake early in the morning anticipating a peaceful day of fishing only to find a line of 20 or more boats waiting to take off in a frenzy of competitive vigor. On the other hand, virtually every major innovation in gear and equipment you use to find and catch more and bigger fish these days has come out of competitive fishing and the drive of anglers to get "one-up" on their fellow competitors.

One beef many have had with fishing tournaments over the years, and especially recently as the number of events on the local and regional level seem to increase every year, is the impact these competitions have on local fisheries. I have seen first hand some effects on bodies of water I fish on a regular basis - some good and some not so much so. But the one thing I must say is that the innovations coming from fishing tournaments hasn't just been in the pursuit of catching fish, but also in the conservation of fish populations. After all, without strong fish populations, fishing tournaments are not going to thrive, and so many in the tournament business are working hard to come up with better methods to conduct their events so as to put less negative impact on the fish.

This is nothing new, as some of the first innovations to come out of competitive fishing were in the design of livewells and aeration systems designed to keep fish alive so they could be released back into the water. There's little doubt that the modern "catch and release" mentality many anglers practice today came from watching their fishing heroes catch and release fish and express the importance of "selective harvest" and similar practices.

But as the competitive fishing bug spread and more and more events take place every year, it has become very obvious that a new wave of competitive angling organizations are beginning to get a foot-hold in the game. More and more we are seeing fishing tournaments where the anglers walk up on stage at the end of the day WITHOUT fish, because the fish they caught are still swimming, right where they caught them. It's a trend I believe we are going to see grow more and more in the years to come.

Now this really is not a new concept at all. Like so many conservation-minded fishing trends, the idea of catch-and-immediate-release tournaments can probably be traced back to our fly fishing brethren. Seems the trout angling community has long been at the spearhead of fishing conservation. It was among fly fishermen that I first heard of the practice of "paper tournaments", where an angler would catch a fish, measure it, record the length on a card, and release the fish. At the end of the day, the angler that had accumulated the most inches of fish caught was the winner. Now we are seeing this paper-tournament concept in fishing tournaments across the spectrum.

The AIM Weekend Walleye Series conducts tournaments in Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota in a very unique and innovative "paper-tournament" format. Theirs is called "Catch-Record-Release" where two-man teams work together to catch a fish, then measure it on an official AIM ruler, photograph that fish on the ruler using a digital camera, record the length on a scorecard, take a "hold photo" and release the fish back to the water. (Click Here for video of the procedure.) At the end of the day, teams turn in their scorecards, memory cards from the camera and rulers. The lengths of their top five fish are then converted to weight using a software AIM developed, and the winners are determined. In these events, the camera acts as the "impartial marshal" on board the boat as recorded lengths are checked against the images on the memory card. This practice has allowed AIM to conduct fishing tournaments on bodies of water where regulations such as slot limits and reduced bag limits have made conventional tournaments impracticable.

If you follow professional bass fishing at all you no doubt are familiar with Major League Fishing. This professional level tournament series basically started as a made-for-TV tournament series by anglers looking to create a new and compelling format for competitive fishing. I think they succeeded. The basic format puts a professional angler in the boat with an impartial "Boat Official", (who by the way wears black and white stripes much like a football referee which I find pretty cool personally). As fish are caught, they are weighed on an official scale witnessed by the Boat Official who then records the weight on a tablet which it wirelessly connected to a network so that all other Boat Officials and anglers can see the weight of other competitors. Fish are then immediately released. There is also the addition of various rules to this format such as penalties for fish hitting the floor of the boat that add another level of pressure to the competition making for very compelling TV viewing.

This Major League Fishing format has also been adapted by smaller tournament organizations such as the Indy League Fishing of Indiana and some youth fishing competitions. My own bass fishing club has experimented with paper-tournaments the past couple years and I see a shift in the club's mind-set to doing more and more of that in the future.The main point with this spread of catch-and-release tournament formats is that conservation of the fish populations is what ultimately drives their popularity. For this reason, Bass Unlimited Foundation and other conservation-minded fishing organizations applaud and support these types of fishing events. Its not difficult to recognize that if fishing is to be preserved for future generations, this type of innovative tournament format is imperative to the future of this sport. At least that's my Boyd's Eye View anyway. Carry on.