Fishing competitions
- do we need them?

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The rules of the earliest fishing competitions were simple, catch food or die. But today...

The noise volume rose in direct proportion to the volume of booze consumed, and there was plenty of booze consumed. Bravado and banter shouted across the bar. Egos were massaged and squashed, reputations raised and lowered. All the usual prize-giving stuff at a fishing contest.

I cannot remember which clubhouse it was, all these tournament nights seem to meld together in the memory banks.

Some have a theory that our memory banks contain all the memories of all our ancestors, carried forward as each gene passes from generation to generation. Trouble is we have not yet been able to unlock the banks to get at these memories.

Others suggest that our brains do not hold memories of exact events, but thought patterns that will influence our behaviour in reacting to different sets of circumstances that confront us.

Retiring to a quieter corner of the bar where the noise level was marginally below that generated at a Metallica concert, I let my memory wander.

Whether it was suppressed memory or a reaction to the hubbub about me, I do not know, but my mind went back a long, long way.

There we were, long piece of straight stick roughly sharpened at one end in hand, peering intently into the water. Some of us were buck naked. Some partly covered with a piece of rough animal hide.

The conversation that moved between us, if the series of grunts and snorts could be called conversation, centred on the likelihood of catching fish.

Deadly serious conversation it was too. The difference between catching fish and not, literally life or death matters.

As we waited for the rising tide to bring the schools of fish close enough to our perches on the rocks overlooking the water, the conversation was not about who would catch the first fish, or the biggest fish, but whether we would catch fish at all.

There had been a competition amongst us that day, but that was earlier, and over the best positions on the rocks. That competition had been decided primarily by brawn, and sometimes by bluff. The competition to come was between each of us individually, with the fish.

The rules of the competition were simple, catch food or die.

The simple rules affected not only the spear fisherman, but his family as well. If he did not catch enough fish, his mate or mates would ally with another more successful fishermen, her life and her children’s lives depended on it.

It would take many more decades for the notion of banding together for the common good to take hold. Each of the fishermen then would band together in co-operation to ensure enough food was caught to ensure the survival of the band or clan.

By then positions on the rocks were decided not by brawn, but by skill. The clan needed the most skillful fishermen in the prime positions to maximise the catch for all.

But competition did not die.

The most skillful hunters and fishermen gained rank and prominence in the clan. They gained the choicest cuts of meat, the fattest fish. In very hard times it was their children who were fed when others were left to starve.

The competition to be the best guaranteed that the winner’s genes would pass on.

If the clan had a very successful hunt a celebration followed. Booze made from fermented fruit or corn added to the general festivities. The most successful fishermen were feted and honoured amidst much noise and frivolity.

Exaggerated tales of big fish caught and not caught were told, gaining in exaggeration at each re-telling. The not so successful fishers consoled themselves in liquor and their own tales of ’if only’.

Half a million years on and
nothing much changes.

It can start in small ways. Two or three fishermen on a boat on the way out.

"Five bucks for the first fish?"

"Ten bucks for the biggest fish?"

It is on. Competition rears its head again.

Increase the numbers; increase the competition.

Out we trundle in our mini flotilla, all aboard with one aim; catch the biggest fish. We seek out the best spots, the most productive water. We invest in the best gear, the best bait, best lures, all to catch just one fish, the biggest.

Then to stand on the stage, wrapped in the adulation of the crowd, each wishing secretly it was them up there, (and it would have been if that damned fish had not come off), the best fisherman of the tournament.

The prizes are nice and gleaming, the sponsor is beaming, the cash is better, but the biggest fish that is best.

It could go on, and has in the USA, where else?

Huge bass fishing contests, the entrants mostly professionals, that is fishermen who fish contests for a living, not commercial fishermen, attract thousands of spectators and TV coverage.

At the end of the contests the winners are towed on their boats, into indoor arenas filled with thousands of adoring fans, to receive their glittering prizes. These prizes paling by comparison to the size of the numbers on the cheque from the angler’s sponsor.

Competition fishing is professional business in the U.K. and in Europe.

Professional teams and individuals competing against each other in the coarse fishing scene. Big business it is becoming too. Wins can increase sales for a sponsoring tackle companies products dramatically.

Fishing competitions are big business.

Big television business. The reason is simple. Production time for any drama program or documentary runs at an average ratio of 100:1. That is it takes 100 minutes of filming to make 1 minute of on air film. So if all TV programmes were drama or documentaries there would be a huge shortfall of film available.

Live TV is 1:1. So live events fill in the space. Sport is a top live action source. But the space available for programmes is still growing, especially with the proliferation of TV station numbers. So more and more sports outside the big ones such as football, golf, and tennis are appearing on screen.

But for the participants in the sport, and the spectators whether they are watching it on-site or on TV, the game is being played under rules set down two and a half million years ago. The driving force to succeed embedded in our genes from way back then.

The participants are swimming together with their family, friends, and fans in same gene pool, willing a win. Not these days for survival, but for fame. Five minutes of fame on a podium with the victors crown. Five minutes of being the best.

Some would say that fishing contests are fun, and for them they are probably right, but deep down, admitted or not the genes are pumping up the hope cells in the brain. Hoping for the one big fish.

Others say that fishing contests in these days of necessary conservation are a relic from the past and should be stopped.

Killing animals, in this case fish, for competition, is in a word Neanderthal. Given where our genes came from they may be right.

Others, myself included, might say that catching a fish, any fish, is sometimes hard enough, without the added burden of trying to catch one bigger than the next bloke's, or blokess's.

My competition is with my own fishing goals, and most of them have taken far longer than one or two days to reach.

Still the next time I am out fishing with a mate or mates, bet you a couple of bucks our genes will push up the unspoken thought - mine’s go'na be bigger than yours!

Old engraving of deep sea fish

Article written by Tony Bishop


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