Taking The Scales To The Fish
By Ray Sasser
The Toyota Texas Bass Classic (TTBC) celebrated its tenth anniversary in May with a star-studded field of 38 pros casting for cash at Lake Ray Roberts. It included an outdoors expo and country music stars. The tournament benefits TPWD freshwater fishing programs, Neighborhood Fishin’ in particular.
The TTBC got its start at Lake Fork, a challenging lake to host a pro bass tournament because of its restrictive slot limit, which protects bass between 16 and 24 inches. Most of the fish caught in a Lake Fork tournament cannot be brought to the scales. So if the fish can’t go to the scales, the scales go to the fish. Each TTBC angler is paired with an on-board judge equipped with a hand-held certified scale. Fish are caught, weighed, recorded and then released.
The system worked well: it protected the integrity of of Lake Fork’s restrictive limit while showing what top bass pros can do on one of the nation’s best fishing lakes. And as it turned out, they did just fine. Matt Herren, an Elite Series pro from Alabama took top honors in the 2016 tournament. He had a three-day total of 51 pounds, 12 ounces, just eight ounces heavier than the second-place finisher Bryan Thrift.
In 2015, California’s Brett Ehrler won the tournament with 15 bass whose total weight was 89 pounds, 12 ounces. His best bass was the kind that makes Fork a worldwide fishing destination: it weighed 10 pounds, 11 ounces.
The on-board judge concept works so well that it was adapted for one of the more interesting television tournament shows, Jack Links’ Major League Fishing. Each legal-sized fish counts during those elimination tournaments. Moreover, each fish caught is radioed by the on-board judge to all competitors, along with any change in standings.
Neither the TTBC nor Major League Fishing pioneered the idea of conducting a weigh-in without fish. That concept has been used by Texas bass clubs since the early 1970s. They called them paper tournaments: fish weights are estimated based on their lengths using a paper chart. “It’s still used today,” said Ed Parten, the vice president of the Texas Association of Bass Clubs. “We went to paper tournaments out of concern for the resource.” Parten estimates as many as 25 percent of the TABC tournaments are paper tournaments. Kayak fishing is growing in popularity across the nation. Kayakers now employ catch-measure-photograph-and-release to enable competition. Photographs verify catches.
These methods make fishing better for all anglers. They reduce fish mortality from excessive handling and they give biologists more flexibility to manage with harvest regulations.
Ray Sasser has been outdoor editor of the Dallas Morning News for 29 years and an outdoor writer for 43 years. He is the author of 12 books on the outdoors and is a 2016 inductee into the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.