The Toyota Texas Bass Classic: A Conservation Success Story
April 19, 2016
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ATHENS—If there’s one thing bass anglers can all probably agree on, it’s the need to protect bass and the places they live so that these precious resources will continue to provide quality fishing opportunities in the future.
Catch-and-release fishing and conservation-oriented harvest regulations work hand-in-hand to ensure that the fish that thrills one angler today can survive to do the same for another angler later. The Toyota Texas Bass Classic (TTBC) was conceived to showcase how anglers and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) have worked together to make Texas one of the best bass-fishing destinations in the nation.
The TTBC was conceived by professional angler Kelly Jordon, TPWD Commissioner Donato Ramos and TPWD Commission Chairman T. Dan Friedkin as a way of showcasing Texas bass fishing and TPWD fisheries management while the three were fishing on Lake Fork. Lake Fork has produced more trophy largemouth bass than any other reservoir in Texas, largely because regulations require that all bass between 16 and 24 inches in length be released. It made sense to hold the first TTBC on Lake Fork in 2007. But holding a world championship of bass fishing on a lake with restrictive harvest regulations designed to help big fish survive required a novel new approach.
Typical bass tournaments involve holding up to five bass in livewells and taking them through a weigh-in process on stage, which is very stressful and can be fatal for some fish. The TTBC pioneered a new format for professional bass tournaments. Each angler in the TTBC has a trained judge with certified scales on board. Fish are weighed in the boat and returned to the water immediately after being caught. On Lake Fork, anglers are allowed to keep one bass 24 inches long or longer each day, so at the inaugural event on Lake Fork, anglers were allowed to bring one fish over 24 inches to be weighed on stage. Immediately after being weighed, these “overs” were turned over to TPWD fisheries biologists to be cared for until being returned to the lake following the weigh-in.
The new approach to weigh-ins was embraced enthusiastically by the professional anglers, many of whom expressed appreciation to TPWD and the TTBC on stage for their efforts to protect the fishery. Since that first tournament, the catch-weigh-immediate release concept has been adopted by the nationally televised Major League Fishing series and will be tested for the first time during the Bassmaster Elite tournament Series in July 2016. Bassmaster representatives will be in attendance at the 2016 TTBC to observe the TTBC catch-weigh-immediate release process.
The TTBC’s commitment to conservation extends beyond just keeping fish caught in tournaments alive. Recognizing that quality habitat contributes to fish growth and survival, the TTBC supported the first-ever Reservoir Fish Habitat Partnership (RFHP) meeting at the 2010 TTBC on Lake Conroe. This meeting brought together fisheries directors from many states looking for ways to partner with private industry and the public to improve fish habitat in our nation’s reservoirs. This meeting resulted in the establishment of the first Friends of Reservoirs (FOR) chapter in the country, a local group of anglers interested in improving fish habitats in Lake Conroe and operating under a non-profit status held by the RFHP. One FOR project on Lake Conroe supported by a contribution from the TTBC received an Environmental Excellence Award from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) in 2013.
In addition to improving the habitat that is already there, the TTBC is also supporting efforts to protect reservoirs from new threats such as invasive species. Zebra mussels are of special concern to residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) area, since these small mollusks can multiply to the point they damage water treatment facilities and limit municipal water supplies. Stopping the spread of zebra mussels is a top priority for TPWD, and precautions will be taken at this year’s TTBC to avoid any potential movement of zebra mussels from Lake Ray Roberts during the weigh-in process. The TTBC is also hosting a zebra mussel partner meeting at Toyota Stadium where professionals from municipalities, controlling authorities and universities as well as state and federal agencies will share and exchange information to advance the science on zebra mussels in Texas.
The most effective way to prevent the spread of zebra mussels and other invasive species is through education, and the TTBC is supporting efforts to inform the public about the threat and how they can help. One novel new approach to detecting zebra mussels is the use of dogs trained to sniff out zebra mussels on boats. Persons attending the TTBC can meet some of these dogs in the TPWD Outdoor Adventures area.
Over the past 9 years the TTBC has contributed $2.25 million to TPWD education and outreach programs. These programs include the Neighborhood Fishin’ Program, which stocks fish into small urban ponds to provide people the chance to catch fish close to home; provision of a Take Me Fishing trailer to educate the public about fishing at events across the state; production of how-to videos on fishing for the TPWD YouTube channel; and sponsorship of the Texas Division of the Wildlife Forever State-Fish Art Contest, which seeks to interest youth in grades K—12 in fishing. Artwork from that contest appears on TTBC tickets.
The 2016 TTBC will take place as part of the Toyota Texas Fest (TTF) presented by JBL at Toyota Stadium in Frisco May 20—22. Displays in the TPWD Outdoor Adventures Area will highlight TPWD fisheries management and offer a variety of activities such as archery, casting, and fish art. The TTF includes a full schedule of musical entertainment on all three event days. For more information including how to purchase tickets, visit www.toyotatexasfest.com.
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