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TPWD Expands Scale Loaner Program

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AUSTIN – The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is expanding its scale loaner program for the first time since it started in 2017. This program gives local tournament organizers the ability to incorporate the catch, weigh and immediate release formats made popular through professional-level fishing events, such as the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest (TBTF) and Major League Fishing (MLF) Bass Pro Tour.

TPWD has upgraded the scales to digital and increased the number available for public use by 40, for a total of 100. TPWD uses Brecknell – Samson digital scales, which are the same ones used at the TBTF and MLF. These scales have been proven to give consistent readings during tournament competition and have the trust of anglers. In addition, these scales will work properly to register a Toyota Sharelunker that might be caught in a tournament.

Funding from Bass Conservation License Plate sales were used to purchase the new scales.

Kelly Jordon, a professional angler in MLF, helped develop the new catch, weigh, and release format along with Dave Terre, TPWD’s fish management Chief, and other professional anglers.

“In the beginning, we were trying to figure out a way to have an event to showcase Lake Fork,” said Jordon. “We had to learn how to compete under a protective slot limit rule. It took a year or two of planning, but ultimately these scales allowed us to implement this groundbreaking format.”

The catch, weigh, and immediate release tournament format for the TBTF pairs each angler with a trained judge onboard. The judge uses the scale to weigh the fish and then places it back in the water immediately. This process significantly lowers fish mortality to a negligible amount which is similar to catch and release fishing.

“We were initially worried about detractors, but we were able to sell it, and everybody accepted it and rolled with it,” Jordon added. “After we got to use it in our inaugural event on Lake Fork, it changed the landscape of tournament fishing for conservation.  The format honored the special size limit and had no impacts on the fish whatsoever.”

“It is one of the many great things that’s happened in fisheries conservation,” Jordon continued. “Texas has always held the torch of conservation high and they continue to do so. I am very proud to have been involved in the development of the format and program.”

Traditional bass tournaments require anglers to hold up to five bass in livewells, removing them from their catch locations, and taking them through a weigh-in process on stage. According to studies, this format can lead to a fish mortality rate of 15-60 percent, or higher, depending on the water temperature.

“During the summer months, the use of these scales is especially important due to the hot summertime conditions that are particularly stressful for bass,” said Terre. “The added stress on the fish results in rates of high mortality, with a majority of deaths occurring after the fish are released (up through seven days post-release). This “delayed mortality” is often not seen by anglers and can be as high as 100 percent, particularly for large bass. This can have long term consequences on fishing quality, as large bass are older, more valuable, and difficult to replace in a fishery. The scales essentially create a catch and release fishing scenario, with close to zero percent mortality.”

Terre added that furthering the conservation message in bass tournament fishing was a major reason why TPWD started the scale-loaner program. “We wanted to give anglers the tools to eliminate the need to do a traditional weigh-in and help maximize survival of tournament-caught bass, free of charge”. It was also hoped that these scales would allow tournaments to occur in Texas lakes where special size restrictions, like slot limits, prohibited the placement of some fish in live wells for later weighing.”

“The conservation component of these scales is huge,” said Mark Lachenauer of Quality Bass Club in San Antonio. “Lowering fish mortality is a win-win for everyone and these scales enable us to conduct our tournaments in the catch, weigh, and release format.”

The first 60 loaner scales were originally donated to TPWD for use during the Toyota Texas Bass Classic (TTBC), the tournament that pioneered the catch, weigh and immediate release format. After a 10-year run, the TTBC was replaced by the TBTF.

“Our members are excited about these new digital scales that are available through the TPWD scale loaner program,” added Lachenauer. “These new scales will enhance readability and accuracy for tournament use. We’ve been using the scales in the loaner program since January 2019 and are excited to see it expanding.”

Garry Schnabel, President and Executive Director of the Patriot Sporting Challenge also utilizes the scale loaner program and joins Lachenauer in his excitement for the expansion and upgrade to digital scales.

“The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has played a significant part in the success of our Patriot Sporting Challenge,” said Schnabel. “Each year our trilogy of sporting events (fishing, golfing, shooting) raises scholarship funds for the families of killed or wounded veterans and first responders, and we receive enthusiastic support for the ‘catch-weigh-immediate release’ program we use for the preservation of our great bass fishing here at Lake Fork.”

“We sincerely appreciate what TPWD has provided us in their scale loaner program and appreciate having the increased accuracy of the new digital scales,” Schnabel added.

The greater number of scales now available gives tournament organizers like Lachenauer and Schnabel the opportunity to host larger tournaments while keeping conservation at the forefront. It’s a win-win scenario for anglers who enjoy competition, but also care about conserving the wonderful resources of Texas lakes.

For organizations interested in borrowing the scales, the dates should be reserved in advance and need to be picked up and returned by the borrower. TPWD loans these scales free of charge. For more information about the scale loaner program and to make reservations, contact Todd Driscoll at todd.driscoll@tpwd.texas.gov or at 409-698-9114 ext. 229.