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One of the neat things about fishing is how it can be approached in so many different ways.Fishing can be as low-tech as a cane pole with a line tied to one end or as high-tech as the ever-advancing state-of-the-art electronics allow.Gear choices are endless; one may opt for fly gear, spinning gear or casting gear. As for platforms, they range from terra firma to rafts, kayaks, rowboats and motor boats of all sorts used in salt water or fresh ... and the list goes on.
Competitively fishing is yet another approach to the sport. Laying down an entry fee and pitting ones’ skills against others doing likewise to take home more money than was paid out is attractive to many. If the multiplication of competitive fishing television shows now on the air are any indicator, this approach is certainly quickly gaining favor with many.I write this, for those fairly new to the sport who may be thinking about fishing competitively, to help weigh a few of the pros and cons associated with fishing competitively, as well as to offer a few alternatives.PROS OF COMPETITIVE FISHINGPerhaps the greatest pro of competitive fishing is the competition itself. Some people thrive in a competitive environment. The competition helps them to stay more focused and more engaged than they would otherwise be.When not competing, many competitors invest time into preparation for the next competition. They will study the habits of the fish they pursue, study the water body they will be competing on, make sure that tackle and gear is in top condition,and otherwise seek to make the most of their next outing. By these means, they, over time, improve as anglers.Competitive fishing puts anglers in contact with more experienced anglers, thus providing sources for help and advice.Victory, or at least finishing in the money, is gratifying. Taking home a paycheck for rising to the top of the field and seeing all of one’s preparation pay off can be very satisfying.Those interested in dabbling in competitive fishing for the first time will do well to start locally and choose a pay-as-you-go format.A long-running, well-managed and reasonably priced local competitive fishing option will be starting soon — the 3X9 Series put on by Tightlines Premium Fishing Tackle in Killeen.This series runs from March 16 through Sept. 21 and takes place on Stillhouse Hollow Lake each Tuesday evening during that time. Participants may fish as individuals or as a team and may fish as many or as few events as they so choose.The series concludes with a one-day championship event. Those who participate in 14 of the 28 weekly events qualify for the championship. Those interested may contact Dean Thompson at 254-690-FISH (3474).CONS OF COMPETITIVE FISHINGThe time involved in competitive fishing needs to be weighed against other priorities in life. Many fishing clubs conduct their tournaments on weekends — the same time kids’ sports teams compete, church congregations gather, spouses have off-time, homes need maintenance and so on.Many join a club with expectations of gaining knowledge through association with other club members, only to find that when it comes down to fishing, some of those club members remain rather tight-lipped about where and how they fish.Cost is also a factor in competitive fishing. There is a minimum level of equipment one actually needs to be able to compete. Beyond that, some experience a pressure to “keep up with the Joneses” by purchasing the latest and greatest gadgets, gizmos and widgets that last week’s winning team employed.
Finally, fueled in part by social media, drama and politics can be an unfortunate, but real, part of competitive fishing when individuals choose to type and post something they would never say to others when face-to-face. Newbies come to a club or organization expecting camaraderie and can be disappointed to experience these sorts of things.ALTERNATIVES TO CONSIDERFor those who desire to do more than fish recreationally but for whom competition may not be a good fit, there are two other options fostered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.The first is the pursuit of record-book fish, and the other is the pursuit of Elite Angler status.RECORD-BOOK FISHTPWD maintains an extensive database on out-sized fish landed on every major body of water in the state, both in fresh water and salt.Many do not realize that every water body has the potential to generate dozens of record fish across a number of different categories and species.For example, records are kept for anglers of all ages, as well as a unique set of records just for junior anglers under the age of 17. A separate set of records are kept for fish taken on fly gear. Yet another set of records is kept for fish which are caught and released, and the list goes on.If you multiply all of these categories by the multitude of game- and non-game species of fish swimming in Texas waters, you realize there are, literally, hundreds of opportunities for landing a record-book entry, many of which are currently unclaimed.In this pursuit, one competes against other anglers in a sense, but the goal is more focused on being at the right place at the right time, and with the right presentation to tempt a single, extraordinary specimen of the species being pursued.Go to tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/programs/ to learn more.ELITE ANGLER STATUSTPWD developed the Elite Angler Program several years ago and divided it into two broad categories: saltwater and freshwater.In summary, the Elite Angler Program requires an angler to land five different species of fish, each above a threshold length, in order to obtain Elite Angler status.Although many additional species are on the list, a sampling of those threshold lengths for common freshwater species include: a 21-inch minimum for largemouth bass, a 15-inch minimum for white bass, a 36-inch minimum for blue catfish, a 15-inch minimum for crappie, a 10-inch minimum for sunfish and a 25-inch minimum for hybrid stripers.Like fishing for record-book fish, this pursuit also requires being at the right place at the right time, and with the right presentation to tempt extraordinary fish, but because the capture of five different species is required, anglers must excel at multiple disciplines.Go to tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/programs/ to learn more.Spring is fast approaching, and with it perhaps the best window of the year to catch heavy fish, laden with eggs and milt prior to spawning. If you are considering taking it to the next level in your fishing pursuits this year, perhaps one of these forms of competition is for you.
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