Drive-through weighing of fish. Rearranged stages. It all might take a little longer to run fishing tournaments (and even longer to get used it the changes), but events are returning to the water with a few alterations.
The good news: The fish don’t care. They’re still biting. But on the land and behind the scenes, event owners are working to keep participants and guests safe. Even better news: the fishing public is wildly enthusiastic; B.A.S.S. noted that millions of viewers tuned in to watch the organization's comeback event on Lake Eufaula in Alabama.
“As you might imagine, we’re trying to stay nimble and creative as each state we travel to may have very different guidelines in place,” notes Emily Harley, B.A.S.S. Communications Manager.
A range of precautions are being put in place; here are a few of them.
Making sure destinations are on board with all precautions: In fact, the first thing to do is know the state and municipal regulations in the area where tournaments are taking place and be ready to follow them.
“You never know where the virus is going to be,” says Darrell Van Vactor, who runs both the Crappie USA and the Cabela’s King Kat Tournament Trail, “so we’ve put a lot of thought into it.”
On its website, FLW has noted, “Only pre-tournament meetings that can comply with physical distancing guidelines will be conducted. All other rules and guidance will be communicated electronically to participants prior to each tournament.”
Is it ideal? Nope. But as Van Vactor points out, “Ideal is out the window. It went out in March. We’ve been sitting on the sidelines for ten weeks and of course, everyone wants to reopen but we have to do it responsibly.”
Ascertaining that no participants are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19: FLW has gone so far as to list in detail those symptoms, and to caution anglers not to participate if they’ve had any of those symptoms in the past 14 days.
Wearing PPE: Anglers are advised to wear a cloth mask and/or face covering at takeoff and weigh-in and while seated in the boat. Masks may be removed while fishing on the front and rear deck of the boat.
Be prepared to work in groups: FLW tournaments call for flights to be spaced with adequate time to allow for physical distancing at the weigh-in.
Weigh-ins are (very) different: At Crappie USA and King Kat, anglers drive up with the fish in containers in their vehicles. Staff members remove the containers and take the fish directly to weigh-in. A second crew then takes the fish back to the catch site and releases them.
B.A.S.S. is also conducting socially distanced weigh-ins and in some areas, such as tournaments in upstate New York, drive-up weighing is being considered.
At FLW, queues for weigh-in are clearly marked with cones to maintain a minimum six-foot spacing between anglers. A limited number of weigh-in bags will be distributed to provide for adequate physical distancing at the weigh-in tubs. Tubs will be spaced so that anglers waiting to weigh their catch will always be at least six feet apart. FLW staff working the weigh-in tubs wear cloth masks/face coverings and face shields. Gloves are provided to anglers and staff for handling weigh-in bags and weigh-in bag handles are disinfected after each use.
Anglers who take the stage for weigh-in are asked to place their fish on the scale, then step behind a six-foot line marked on the stage while the tournament director weighs their fish. After the weight is recorded, anglers will take their fish off the stage while the tournament director maintains a 6-foot distance. Anglers are advised to wear a cloth mask and/or face covering while crossing the stage.
Some events have been eliminated: FLW has cancelled three minicamps for high school students that were to be held in conjuntion with its Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Events.Traditionally a three-day summer camp held at Murray State University, FLW initially shifted the format to three single-day minicamps in response to the pandemic and to allow more anglers, coaches and boat captains the opportunity to attend. However, the uncertainty created by ongoing group-size restrictions and mask requirements has made execution of the camps impractical.
Even giving interviews has changed: In FLW, Crappie USA and King Kat, there is a dedicated microphone for contestants, sanitized between uses. The tournament directors use a separate microphone.
FLW notes that anglers who take the stage for weigh-in are asked to place their fish on the scale, then step behind a six-foot line marked on the stage while the tournament director weighs their fish. After the weight is recorded, anglers will take their fish off the stage while the tournament director maintains a six-foot distance. Anglers are advised to wear a cloth mask and/or face covering while crossing the stage.
B.A.S.S. has reconfigured the tournament stage to ensure proper distancing between the angler, tournament director and emcee. The organization has also limited backstage access and moving the angler interview area to allow for safety of anglers, tournament officials and members of the media.
…and so has sponsorship: A recent announcement from B.A.S.S. detailed a new partnership between the fishing organization and Mammoth as the “Official Sanitizer Product of Bassmaster.”
Moving forward, as case numbers rise or fall, other changes may be put in place but, says Van Vactor, the organizations will work with them.
“It’s a small price to pay and we really do need to be more careful. Probably, these are things we should have been doing all along.”