For some people, fishing is an excuse to get outside, crack open a beer, and while away the afternoon in the company of good friends. For others, it’s a competitive lifestyle. Bass tournaments first began appearing in the 1960s, and have since become one of the most popular sports in the country. Here are 15 facts you might not have known about the beloved pastime.
1. IT WAS INSPIRED BY A BASKETBALL GAME.
The very first televised fishing competition, the Bassmaster Classic, was first dreamed up in a hotel room in 1967. Why, wondered one enterprising fisherman, couldn’t you watch fishing the way you watched basketball or football? He got to work drafting rules for a bass fishing competition that would promote the ideals of ethical angling, conservation, and safety, and held the first tournament on Beaver, Lake Arkansas a few months later.
2. IT’S THE FOURTH MOST POPULAR SPORT IN THE COUNTRY.
The amount of people who fish for sport in America—about 40 million—outnumbers all the country’s golf and tennis players combined. Out of that group, about one in three U.S. anglers target the largemouth bass specifically, making it the most popular game fish in the nation.
3. SEVERAL FACTORS DETERMINE THE OUTCOME.
The weight of one’s catch isn’t the only element that determines a final winner. Factors like the type of species and the number of fish caught also influence the scoring of many fishing tournaments. For some competitions, the base score is divided by the strength of the fishing line used, which means anglers working with thinner, weaker lines would be awarded additional points.
4. NOT ALL FISHING IS DONE FROM A BOAT.
While most fishing tournaments either take place on land or in a regular boat, some require competitors to fish from less conventional vantage points. There are competitions around the world modeled specifically for fishing from kayaks, paddle boards, and inflatable inner tubes.
5. IT’S RECOGNIZED AS A SPORT BY SOME HIGH SCHOOLS.
Illinois became the first state to recognize competitive bass fishing as a sanctioned high school sport in 2009. In just the program’s first year, more than 800 students competed to represent 217 high schools at a statewide competition.
6. ANGLERS CAN COMPETE ONLINE.
Normally you’d thinking of fishing as a time to unplug from the digital sphere, but for many competitive anglers all the tournaments they participate in take place online. Some sites give fishermen the opportunity to upload digital photos of their most impressive catches online for the chance to win real cash prizes. In order to prove the size of the fish, all photographs must include a ruler for scale. A high-tech algorithm is then used to evaluate each picture and ensure it hasn’t been tampered with. And while the tournament may conclude online, participants are still required to spend time in the great outdoors.
7. COMPETITORS HAVE SNAGGED RECORD-BREAKING CATCHES.
Some of the biggest fish ever caught have been reeled in during fishing tournaments. Last year, a 17-year-old participating in an Australian fishing competition hooked a swordfish that weighed a record-breaking 585 pounds. It took him and his team six hours of struggling before they finally hauled the specimen on board. After the official weigh-in, it was believed to have broken the previous swordfish record by 195 pounds.
8. FISHERMEN ARE A SUPERSTITIOUS BUNCH.
Fishing has long been rife with superstitions, many of which have been carried over to the competitive fishing world. The supposedly lucky practice of laying a kiss on your catch before releasing it into the water is thought to have originated with a TV personality. But not every superstition is quite as silly: other pros believe it’s bad luck to pump gas the morning of a tournament, a practice that might have some merit if you’re looking to keep gasoline odors from contaminating your lures.
9. THE FISH’S WELL-BEING IS A PRIORITY.
In most mainstream bass fishing competitions, sending the fish home relatively unharmed is a large part of the game. After the bass are caught, some competitors will transfer them to a “livewell” where they can flourish aboard the boat prior to being weighed by officials. Competitive anglers risk being heavily penalized for bringing back dead fish—in some cases these specimens won’t be considered at all.
10. A GOOD LURE CAN MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE.
Experience and skill level aren’t the only things that give winning anglers an advantage. When competing to reel in the biggest fish, most fishermen are betting on their choice of lure. Lures come in all different shapes, colors and sizes, and while most anglers have their favorites, a wide variety of baits have attracted prize-winning catches over the years. After an angler wins a famous competition using a particular model, that lure often experiences a spike in popularity among the fishing public.
11. AND NOT ALL LINES ARE CREATED EQUAL.
The “superline” revolution rocked the competitive bass fishing world after one pro scored a major victory at a 1993 invitational. He won with the help of a super-thin, super-strong line which was made from the same braided, high-tech synthetic material used in bulletproof vests. Several copycat brands flooded the market shortly afterwards.
12. SOME COMPETITIONS TAKE PLACE ON ICE.
Every January on Minnesota’s Gull Lake, fishermen gather to take place in the largest ice fishing competition on Earth. The frozen lake is drilled with approximately 30,000 holes in order to reach the fish beneath the surface.
13. ANGLERS PROMOTE WILDLIFE CONSERVATION.
Conservationist attitudes have been a core component of competitive fishing since the sport’s beginnings. In 1970, one sports fishing organization filed lawsuits naming 200 polluters ranging from laundromats to major industries. The following year, the organization established a nonprofit group to fight water pollution and protect habitats.
14. THERE’S AN ENTIRE LIBRARY DEDICATED TO SPORT FISHING.
The E.K. Harry Library of Fishes in Dania Beach, Florida, is dedicated to preserving the history of sport fishing, and includes over 15,000 books, 2100 fishing videos, and 150 outdoor and fishing magazines dating back to the 1930s. It boasts a reputation as the largest library of its kind in the world.
15. THE FISHERMEN AREN’T ALL MEN.
For decades, women were banned from competing in bass fishing tournaments alongside male anglers. In 2005, one organization sponsored the first women’s pro tour, featuring 88 female boaters. In 2008, the first female angler qualified for the Bassmaster Classic.