The 2005 Lay Lake Tournament
by Robert "Dutch" Linthout
This tournament has grown from a "little" 200 boats tournament into a major event lasting several days, complete with food, drinks, doorprizes, helicopters, talking to 15 Professional Tournament Fishermen and a "First for the US" low stress, catch and release, weigh-in system.
Before the tournament...
During the past several years, the numbers of entries have been creeping up and Mark had to limit the number of entries to 500 boats. This many boats on a lake is very stressful to everyone including the fishermen. For this reason Mark decided several months ago to limit the number of boats to 500. That limit was reached in the beginning of March and a total of 175 boats were turned down. One third of these very disappointed fishermen signed up right away for the 2006 event, determined not to miss out on $87.000 worth of doorprizes, given away and thrown into the crowd.
Some of the Pros came to the store on Friday be there for their fans. They posed for photographs and answered hundreds of questions. I watched Denny Brauer and Larry Nixon sign autographs, non stop, just about all day long. The booming laugh of Jimmy Houston could be heard above the crowd and Skeet Reese, Tim Horton, Mike Iaconelli, Greg Hackney, Matt Herren, Randy Howell and Gerald Swindle were cutting up with the crowd, posed for photos, signing hats and t-shirts.
The popularity of these pros is simply amazing. The free lunch provided by Guthrie's was excellent and the only complaint would be that the weather did not cooperate. Overcast with a slight sprinkle every now and then.
The partners that had "won" their Pro started to arrive in the afternoon and at about 4 o'clock the Pro's, partners, half of Marks people and Mark himself drove to Paradise Point Marina, site of "The Lay Lake Tournament, and over half participated in the Skeeter/Yamaha Test Ride qualifier that was on the way. They were in the tournament just like everybody else. Almost everybody took that ride. Not just the boat owners, but also their buddies. If both partners had taken the testride, and win the Skeeter/Yamaha boat, they would receive an upgrade to a bigger and more expensive model. Three days of testdriving a thousand people around the lake must have severely taxed the boatdrivers, and all the other people working the tournament. These guys really worked very hard, always with a smile, always helpful and Skeeter/Yamaha can be proud of Ken Hollis, Airport Marine and all the people on his Pro Team.
The tournament group, the Pro's and their partners all went across the lake to a private residence, where they all had dinner, a good time and little sleep in preparation for the next day's event.
Hundreds of alarm clocks must have awakened as many eager fishermen very early Saturday morning. Preparation of breakfast, gallons of coffee, gear upload if not already taken care of, and on to the lake. Most of the fishermen arrived between 2 and 4, the speed of boat launches still is amazing to see. Virtually no wait. Having 4 ramps helps too.
It was actually a lot easier to launch the boat, then trying to find a parking place for the car & trailer, as well as the boat itself. Everyone is always in such a hurry. Prepping your boat, tying on lures, getting the fingerlings, all had to be done as quickly as possible in anticipation of the Blast Off.....Which did not come until 8:45 am. Heavy fog had moved in and layered the lake with a soft grey blanket in which you couldn't see doodely. Every responsible fisherman in that waiting crowd, was unhappy, but supported Mark in his decision to wait till it was safe. (Some took a nap as well)
Mark sent several boats to opposite ends of the lake trying to determine if there was enough visibility to turn 500 boats loose on the lake. Even though Mark asked the participants to take it easy and don't go over 50mph, I'm pretty sure that most went wide open, once out of sight.
Every once in a while a small group of boats all would take off at the same time - when that adrenaline is pumping, it puts pressure on the bodypart that controls the gas pedal/handle!!
Until the very last, people would come to the "Fingerling Pontoon", to pick up their bag of
Replenish the Resource
Late Friday night, the tankers with the fingerlings arrived, carefully prepared by Norman Latoona and South Eastern pond management. This program designed to replenish the fishing resources has been very popular since day one. The idea that anyone would actually restock a lake that is under very heavy fishing pressure is unique. It also explains why this lake is known for its phenomenal fishing population. More than a million have been carefully released by the tournament fishermen themselves into their favorite fishing hole.
This year brings a brand new twist. I'm sure y'all have heard about this new type of bass call the Tiger bass? Some mixing of bass species have resulted in this very fast growing and very aggressive strain of bass. It is fondly named "Tiger Bass", not due to stripes or something, but rather to its aggressiveness. We already have a very healthy Largemouth and Spotted bass population and a hard hitting, hard fighting bass that can give a good Spot a run for the money, would be welcome to most. In fact, hundreds were released and these "fingerling" were up to 8 inches in length too. This would give them a very, very good rate for survival. We should see and feel the result of this "Tigerbass" hopefully soon.
During the day of the tournament the final touches were made to set up the new weigh-in system, ready for the tournament. This was the very first time that this new system was actually used in the US. Another first for Mark Whitlock. For as long as I have fished these tournaments, there has always been something "new" or "never been done before". The previous year is always topped by the next years event.
Some folks up in Canada evidently have been thinking long and hard to come with this kind of weigh-in system. It is designed to keep the stress as low as possible by keeping the fish in the water longer, even to the extend that the fish is weighed INSIDE the water. Yes, you read this right. The scale consists of a tank full of water. The basket with the fish is lowered into the water and the entire thing is weighed. A computer keeps track by subtracting the weight of the basket and the water, then stamps the weigh-in slips with the correct weight of the bass. Then an empty basket is placed on top of the tank and the computer resets itself to zero.
Once the fisherman releases his catch into this "flop proof" basket, which is inspected for size, the basket is put into a long tank of water. From here on out the fisherman does not touch the fish again, the baskets only take seconds to go from tank to tank. The fish stays submerged with the exception of a few seconds and is released in a much better shape that the standard bag and basket weigh-in. Shimano always has been on the forefront of the "Catch & Release" programs. Remember the Shimano Pontoon release system? There were only a few fish that didn't make it and those were brought in by the fishermen - even though everyone knew that this tournament does not weigh dead fish.
Weigh masters have a hard job and when Mark needed a break the famous Jimmy Houston took over to everyone's delight. He is such a warm and funny person! Great guy!
To everyone's surprise, Ray Scott, founder of B.A.S.S. was also present to weigh in a few lucky contestants. When the final weight was determined, he would exclaim "Mark It", which kept Mark running....This weigh-in was faster, cleaner and smoother than any I've ever seen.
The second part of the weigh-in is the one everyone is most interested in. I happened to talk with one of the Pros and I tried to give him some idea of what was about to happen. Little did they know. Skeet Reese was on the stage helping with throwing stuff in the crowd, but could not believe his eyes when Mark threw a "heavy" battery into the crowd. Most of us know that it is only a replica weighing a few ounces, but you can't help but flinch. $87.000 worth of merchandise was given away, thrown into the crowd or otherwise distributed.
The gentleman that cast for the $100.000 Daiwa prize missed the intended target by over 10 feet, oh well.
The team of James McMon and Sean Dassau won the tournament handsomely with a stringer weighing 19.40 lbs. They found a small pattern, fishing a jig that was consistent throughout the day. Even though the win got them only a $1,000 check, Shimano, P-Line, Plano, Garmin and Lowrance each gave the team a $1,000 shopping spree at Marks Outdoors.
At the end of the weigh-in show, a boatnumber was drawn for the Grand prize, the Skeeter/Yamaha rig. When Mark called out the number a long silence confirmed that they had already left and as the rules state that you have to be there to win, they missed out on the rig.
The second drawing resulted in shouts and hollers from the team of Curtiss Vuittonet and Carl Cotton. They were so happy they couldn't keep from shaking for the next half hour.
A little over 10 pounds got you a check and most everybody walked away with tons of merchandise.
A word of advise: Sign up now for the next year's tournament - it will be filled before you know it! Actually you can also sign up for 2007 and 2008. One week after the tournament and already over sixty boats have signed up for the 2006 event!
P.S. All photographs that were taken during this event are now online. Small thumbnails facilitate browsing through 450 images, which are downloadable in a large high resolution format free of charge.