As the sport of catfishing grows and larger tournaments become the norm more and more attention needs to be given to the details of taking care of the fish. The Catmasters Lake Texoma tournament was supported by SeaArk Boats and B’n’M Poles, two companies that strongly support the catfish industry. The January 24-25, 2020 event was the first of its kind in the Texoma area. The organizers approached it with one goal in mind—conservation.
The Catmasters organization has been producing big tournaments for several years and conservation efforts have always been at the forefront of their plans. Nevertheless, at Texoma, they wanted to go that extra mile.
“We wanted to ensure that our first time at Texoma left an educational footprint,” stated tournament co-director, Bryan St. Ama. “We wanted first-time spectators and anglers to be fully aware of this growing sport and our dedication to the catfish species.”
It is unlikely that those first-time spectators and anglers he mentions fully understand the importance of fish care when it comes to tournaments. So, from the first stages of planning the Catmasters were building fish care into their weigh-in strategy.
That strategy started with the rules. A maximum of three fish per boat was allowed at the weigh-in. Two fish over 30 inches and one under 30 inches. This immediately cut down on the number of fish to be handled and contributed to a faster weigh-in.
They also had a livewell requirement of a single 50-gallon tank or two 40-gallon tanks minimum. The tanks were required to have adequate aeration and be capable of freshwater recirculation. The tournament director had the final call on all livewells with the right to remove a team from the tournament if specifications were not met.
“Meticulous planning resulted in physical equipment to care for the fish at the weigh-in,” reported St. Ama. “CatMasters Texoma was equipped with three quick-release tank trailers and a custom-built 1000-gallon nursery tank inside the convention center.”
Additionally, Biologists were available to conduct on-site monitoring of a couple of catfish that displayed sluggish and stressed behavior. These fish were held for 24 hours in the nursery tank after which they were fully active and released.
“By tournament day two the amount of praise we were receiving from biologists, spectators, and anglers alike was encouraging,” continued St. Ama. “The level of catfish care our CatMasters team had displayed had achieved its intent; change catfish fishery views and bring a new and positive outlook to the future of catfishing.”
“During the two days of tournament fishing the anglers bought approximately 3,300 pounds of fish to the scales,” recalled St. Ama. “One hundred percent of those fish were successfully live released.”
“CatMasters would like to thank Oklahoma biologist, Matt Meur, for all the many phone calls these last 11 months,” concluded St. Ama. “And for sharing his education, helping with the care of these fish, and for allowing us the use of the State of Oklahoma fish release trailer.”
Catfishing tournaments have become a powerful tool to educate the public, anglers, and fisheries managers about the sport of catfishing and the need for excellent fish handling procedures. With unity and a common purpose in the catfish community, tournaments can contribute to future endeavors related to the sport including possible protections for trophy catfish fisheries.