Fish, Fisheries and Queryomics
In October of 2011, Paul Elias kicked some major bass, landing 20 largemouth bass weighing 102.8 pounds in the aggregate, winning $100,000 in the FLW Tour Open tournament on Lake Guntersville, Alabama, USA. His secret? He used an Alabama rig- an umbrella fishing rig that had been modified (downsized) for casting. Since then, interest in the Alabama rig has increased. But by what amount?
Queries for the Carolina (red line) and Texas rigs (orange line) have been seasonal, but relatively constant in volume from year to year. However, after Elias’s big win and the ensuing discussions about the Alabama rig (blue line), queries for that gear increased exponentially in late 2011 and early 2012. Anglers are searching for information on where to buy an Alabama rig (there currently is a five-week backlog) and they are searching for information on its use, and on its potential fishery impacts.
The Alabama rig, above left, is controversial within the largemouth bass fishing community and illegal in some states, generally because it exceeds the allowable number of hooks or lures. It is quite effective and anglers can capture more than one fish at a time, above right. The manufacturer of the Alabama rig states (boasts?) that it may catch several fish on a single cast. This may be a problem.
Studies have shown that many species of fish, including largemouth bass, experience stress when exposed to air. Further, this stress increases the probability of death. Catching several fish at once is certain to lead to increased handling time and, hence, air exposure. Dave Terre, Chief of Management & Research, Inland Fisheries Division, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department expected some increase in mortality among fish captured with the Alabama rig due to extra handling. Thus, there appears to be sufficient reason to study the Alabama rig. Potential impacts of its use are likely to be manageable, as suggested by Terre, but Beel argues this should be resolved by study, not speculation, particularly given the ongoing controversy.
A grassroots organization of anglers has created an online petition, which currently has over 500 signatures, calling for a ban on the Alabama rig. The petition notes the Alabama rig is illegal in some areas and states that the rig compromises the integrity of professional bass fishing and may have other negative consequences for the sport in the future.
The FLW, which hosted the tournament won by Elias, has boldly punted on this issue. They have taken “… the additional step of contacting wildlife officials in each state hosting an event in every FLW circuit to urge them [emphasis mine] to study the effects of castable umbrella rigs on live release rates.” Beel says, sure, pass the responsibility and cost of doing the necessary studies on to someone else.
The FLW further stated that, “For now, we are leaving that [decision] in the capable hands of the experts within each state, and castable umbrella rigs will be permitted in our 2012 tournaments.”
The Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S) has taken a more moderate position, banning the Alabama rig in their Bassmaster Classic and Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments, but allowing its continued use in other B.A.S.S. events. B.A.S.S. has been criticized for this, but Beel applauds and supports their decision.