Today bass anglers practice catch-and-release at a national rate that probably exceeds 80 percent. In tournaments, that rate is well over 90 percent, and in BASS events it's roughly 99 percent.
But it wasn't always that way. Before 1972, instead of catch-and-release, most bass anglers practiced catch-batter-and-fry, and bass tournaments were essentially fish kills with the cleaned fish going to support area charities.
All that changed on March 9, 1972, at the BASS Florida National tournament on the Kissimmee Chain of lakes. That's where BASS founder Ray Scott introduced a new era in our sport.
The idea for catch-and-release came to Scott from the world of trout fishing. In 1971 he was invited to the annual conclave of the Federation of Fly Fishermen in Aspen, Colo. There he watched anglers fly fishing for trout and releasing a small fish to the cheers of their fellow anglers.
"I thought, if they had so much fun releasing this piddlin' little trout, what would it be like if a big, hairy-legged bass fisherman released a five-pound bass?" Scott asked in his biography, Bass Boss.
BASS made the effort known to its membership through Bassmaster Magazine, calling it the "Don't Kill Your Catch" program.
Scott's first efforts at catch-and-release were simple requests to the tournament anglers to find a way to keep their fish alive. This attempt became the driving force for the development of the livewell in bass boats. Later he gave anglers a bonus ounce of weight for every bass weighed in alive. Today BASS competitors are given a fish care penalty if bass die while in their possession.
Tom Mann, the Eufaula, Ala., lure maker and tournament legend, won the first catch-and-release event with a three-day total of 47 pounds, 15 ounces. A special tank was built to hold the fish after they had been weighed in. It was 12 feet long, five feet wide and five feet deep and was mounted on tandem axles so it was mobile. Best of all, it had glass windows through which the anglers and fans could see the bass swimming inside before they were returned to the tournament waters.