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For anglers interested in setting foot on the competitive-fishing stage, Ontario has many platforms. From professional bass tournaments to children's rock bass derbies, Ontario is flush with angling contests. Keeping track of them all is a bit like counting the scales on a swimming bass, but the following list illustrates the broad scope of competitive angling events in the province. Human nature would dictate that angling competitions have existed since the first line was cast, but the first recorded competitive fishing event in North America is believed to be a bass tournament held in Texas in 1955. Other competitive bass tournaments were started in the southern United States through the 1960s.

The first survey of competitive fishing events, which included Canada, was led by Professor Harold Schramm of Texas Technical University in 1989. It recorded a total of 100 events in Ontario. Subsequent surveys by Ministry of Natural Resources Senior Fisheries Biologist Steve Kerr show a tremendous surge in the number of organized events over the last 15 years. Kerr's 1999 survey shows the number of events jumped to 518, and then to 680 when the survey was updated in 2004.

Kerr says there's no registration or permitting of fishing events in Ontario, so we have no way of knowing exactly how many we have. Based on the 680 identified in the 2004 survey, he says only seven U.S. states have more annual competitive fishing events than Ontario. "It's going to level off at some point, it can't go on increasing exponentially forever. There's only so much water and only so many anglers who do this," he said.

The survey shows a shift from multi-day fishing events to shorter events of one or two days. Although 25 fish species are targeted in the province, the proportion of events seeking bass is steadily on the rise, to the point that they represent more than 42 per cent of all events here. Kerr suggests the resiliency of bass to tournament handling is at the core of their popularity as a target fish. "Bass events particularly have grown, but there are tournament trails for just about every species now," he adds.

Tournaments can be defined as live-release events where participation is limited to a set number of individuals or teams. Derbies may or may not be live release and are often multi-day events with an unlimited number of participants. While tournament numbers continue to rise, derbies are holding their own, with an increasing number of fish and game clubs and municipalities sponsoring them as fundraisers.

Why do many Ontario anglers cast into the competitive angling ring? Northwestern-Ontario walleye fiend Richard Anderson saw his first tournament as a way to test his angling skill. "I was hoping to learn and to see what kind of skill level I was at," he said.

The 45-year-old Thunder Bay resident started his tournament fishing south of the border in the Masters Walleye Circuit in 1992, because there were no tournaments in northwestern Ontario at the time. With the introduction of walleye events there, Anderson stayed closer to home to continue to work toward his goals of doing well consistently and ultimately winning.

He explained, "I look at it as a big puzzle. I approach my fishing that way. I really expect to put the boat in on any body of water, any day, and figure it out. That's where I get my personal satisfaction."

Anderson and partner Andy Colla consistently finish in the top ten, with several top-three finishes to their credit, including a recent win at the Red Lake Fall Walleye Classic. "Ultimately for me, if I wasn't competitive I would stop tournament fishing. My expectations with my partner...we're shooting to win every time."

Southern-Ontario bass angler Dave Chong names curiosity as the catalyst for his foray into competitive angling back in 1992. "I always did well fishing, but wondered how I would do against the pros. It started more as curiosity than anything, and after that it almost becomes an addiction," he said, with a laugh. The 46-year-old photographer fishes Canadian Fishing Tour and Bassmania events. "I love it. No matter how I do in a tournament, I'm gung-ho for the next one. I love the competition, I love the pressure."

The Thornhill resident says the short open-water fishing season in Ontario makes it unrealistic to fish bass tournaments for a living. Even though Chong accumulated four tournament wins last year, he still calls it a hobby. "If you're able to pay for your hobby, most people would consider that a good year...the last few years I've been doing a little bit better than that," he said.

For Chong, success comes from on-the-water practice. "It's a Zen-like thing, where you become one with the lake, one with the fish. Decision making becomes a lot easier. All of a sudden you have those gut feelings and a lot of times they pay off, and it's all from spending time on the water."
The following is a sampling of what we hope will become a complete list of competitive angling organizations and events in Ontario.