Tournament Fishing: When Is It Unsafe To Stay Out?
Editor's note: This blog installment comes from Fishhound pro staffer Capt. Lou Borrelli.
Every first weekend in June, Niagara County in New York holds a salmon and trout pro-am tournament. It's held out of two nearby ports: Wilson and Olcott on Lake Ontario. Professionals and amateurs fish for 2 days and compete to win thousands of dollars. The rules are simple: Catch up to 12 fish and earn 10 points for each fish, plus a point for each pound.
This year's tournament was held on June 2nd and 3rd. Typically the Friday before is a prefish day, when the competing teams try to locate the fish and put some program together for the upcoming days. This prefish day, however, was hit by bad weather.
A strong northeast wind at 20 to 30 mph created wave heights up to 8 feet. NOAA called for a small-craft advisory, which is issued when forecasts call for winds between 18 and 33 knots and conditions are unsuitable for any watercraft under 21 feet.
Only a few of the teams tried to prefish on the Friday prior, and none had much luck. The wind and waves made it nearly impossible to fish and the truth was, conditions were borderline unsafe.
The rules state that if there's a small-craft advisory, then the competition will be delayed until the advisory's lifted. The morning of the first day, the advisory was still posted. Even though the weather wasn't foul and the lake was flat, the tournament committee cancelled day 1 of the tournament.
All teams were upset: They invested a lot of time and money into preparing for the tourney. This left only Sunday to fish.
The competition was tough as the fish were scattered. With only 8 hours to fish, most teams didn't even weigh in.
All of which brings up the question: When is it to unsafe to fish?
From the committee's standpoint, if NOAA posts an advisory, then the fishing must be postponed. Since boats as small as 18 feet are included, they need to make it safe for all competitors. But what if the forecast's wrong?
In this year's tourney, the lake was very fishable day 1 and the forecast was inaccurate. All teams complained as they waited for hours for the weather report to change. In fact, the weather only took a turn for the worse late in the evening, well after the weigh-in deadline would have been over.
As a tournament competitor, I see both arguments. There have been times when the tourney was cancelled and rightfully so. Strong winds and an extremely rough lake made it dangerous for any boat to be out on the water. However, in this case, if the committee sees that the forecast is wrong and the weather's okay, they should continue with the competition.
If the weather ever changed, they'd have the right to call the boats in and complete the day's action at that time. At least everyone would have a chance to build up some points and have a chance to win some money.
The funny thing is, there have been times the lake was extremely rough but no advisory was posted. The tournament continues without a hitch. No consideration for the smaller boats or safety.
If we planned our lives on what the weather forecast says, we'd never get anything done. Everyone knows it's just a prediction, not a guarantee. In general, I feel tournament organizers should use the forecast as a guide, but make a wise decision based on actual data.
It would make the investment and efforts to prepare for a tournament seem justifiable.
Capt. Lou Borrelli learned to fish with his grandfather and now owns and operates Get The Net Charters out of Rochester, N.Y. Capt. Lou runs trips along the south shore of Lake Ontario from Wilson to Fair Haven, N.Y. Visit GTNFishing.com or send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.