by Don Orth and Brandon Peoples
Decline in recreational angling is a major concern of resource managers in North America as agency revenues are tied to license sales and excise taxes on fishing and motorboat fuel. Anglers have many reasons to fish, and fisheries scientists foster this understanding by using angler typologies based on angler preferences, such as desire to catch fish, develop or demonstrate skills, eat fish, escape from a routine, or pursue specific species. Yet with all the concern and scholarly study of recreational fishing, there are not many solutions to the declining participation.
One way to promote fishing is with derbies—organized competitions among anglers. In the eyes of an agency, derbies are different from tournaments. For example, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission reserves the term Fishing Derby for children, seniors, disabled anglers, or other groups where the “principle purpose is education or entertainment, rather than competition among angler.”
But derbies aren’t just limited to stocked Channel Catfish or Rainbow Trout in a public pond (although those may arguable be the most important). In this post, we explore some of the more off-the-beaten-path fishing derbies. Some are charity events, others are designed to recruit young anglers, and some are meant to raise awareness for fisheries conservation issues…but they’re all a guaranteed good time.
Ice fishing for a good cause. Anglers up north know it’s never too cold for a fishing derby. Every winter, thousands of anglers gather on the ice for charity ice fishing derbies. But if you thought ice fishing was just a bunch of guys freezing while they sit around a hole…think again. To make things interesting, participants in southern Ontario’s Merland Park ice fishing derby go by the motto, “shirts off/fish on!” And if the fish aren’t biting at the Sebago Lake ice fishing derby in Raymond, Maine, you can just join the ice shack competition.
What’s a mudbass? Since 1983, thousands of kids have lined up at Virginia Tech’s Duck Pond in pursuit of the elusive mudbass. Known to less refined anglers as Cyprinus carpio, the Common Carp, this aquatic underdog has been the focal point of VT-AFS’s annual Mudbass Classic for a generation. The VT Duck Pond is basically an urban stormwater retention pond, and supports little more than Common Carp, Bluegill, and Brown Bullheads. But that doesn’t stop young and old alike from popping open a can of corn (…that’s the bait) and giving it the old college try.
Pointing out invasive species. Invasive species pose one of the most menacing threats to aquatic biodiversity. Sometimes abundances of invasives can be controlled using toxic chemicals or by stocking natural predators. If that doesn’t work, manual removal may be the only option. Fishing derbies are a fantastic way of removing lots of fish in short amounts of time.
Consider the lionfish—native to the Pacific, these poison-spined fish eating machines have done considerable damage to coral reef communities. To combat the lionfish invasion, angler-conservationists have organized several lionfish spearfishing derbies, at least some of which have drastically reduced lionfish numbers.
As another example, Northern Snakehead were introduced into the Potomac River of Maryland and Virginia in 2004. Since then, these vicious predators have spread throughout the system and are becoming more numerous each year. But locals have not taken the invasion lightly. Every year, hundreds of hook-and-line and bowfishing anglers square off with the invasive fish in the Potomac Snakehead Tournament. And although it may not dramatically reduce abundance, a percentage of proceeds go to help the Maryland DNR fight invasive species.
Carpe carpio! Stopping the invasion of Silver and Bighead carps in the Mississippi River basin may be a lost cause, but that doesn’t stop folks in Bath, Illinois from trying to dent the population size of these invasive acrobats by hosting the Redneck Fishing Tournament. In this derby, costumed participants use the noise of their boat motors to scare carp into jumping, then catch them out of the air with nets. There’s even a prize for best costume. Looks like I’ve got a new bullet on my bucket list.