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Catch and Release: A new wave
for the future of coastal tourneys?

By Chester Moore, Jr.

The age of saltwater tournament fishing is upon us.

With CCA's STAR tournament and Mickey Eastman and Don Farmer's highly successful Gulf Coast Troutmasters series leading the way, along with the Southern Kingfish Association trail and Bob Sealy's venture into the saltwater domain, times are changing on the coastal fishing scene. Now, for many coastal anglers there's more at stake than catching fish. There are boats to be won, checks to be cashed and reputations to be earned.

In terms of growth and changes in anglers' attitudes, saltwater tournament fishing at the dawn of the new millennium is about where bass fishing was in the early 1970s. The question: What will be the overall impact of this newfound enthusiasm for competitive angling on our marine resources?

Tournament bass fishing had a logical answer: Catch-and-release tournaments. Many early bass tournaments were catch-and-kill events that didn't take long to ruffle the feathers of non-tournament anglers.

The ramifications of hundreds of anglers putting intelligent fishing pressure on a particular body of water with the goal of bringing in dead fish to a weigh-in sparked plenty of controversy, even three decades ago. This helped to spawn the age of catch-and-release bass fishing.

Can the same thing be done with saltwater tournaments?

That depends on how catch-and-release is handled, and what species are involved.

Let's take speckled trout first. I'll go out on a limb by saying that even the best modern bass-style tournament with an all day weigh-in, held in the spring or fall when water temperatures are low, would result in the immediate death of least 80 percent of the trout. And most of the rest would probably die shortly after being released. Catch-and-release would be doable, but catch and live release would be virtually impossible.

Speckled trout are wimps. Veteran Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) biologists like Jerry Mambretti and Mike Ray have told me on numerous occasions that trout are difficult for even them to keep alive in the field. When stamina was being handed out to the animal kingdom, speckled trout were among the last in line. Maybe dead last.

One alternative is oxygenated livewells. They outperform standard aeration units by a wide margin as far as keeping fish alive for the short term, but there are other factors to consider. The trout would still have to be handled very, very gently.

"When we go out to catch speckled trout we use barbless Kahle-style hooks that hook the fish in the corner of the mouth. And we try our best not to touch the fish at all," says Robert Adami, TPWD Gulf Coast Roundup coordinator. 'The less touching that's involved, the better chance the trout has to live."

This doesn't go well with topwater plugs sporting multiple treble hooks or live bait that often deep-hooks fish. Also, ultralight tackle would be a no-no, because the longer a fish is played the less chance it has to survive-especially a trout.

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