If you are relatively unfamiliar with the types of public buddy tournaments held in the southern New Jersey area, this is some information that may be helpful. If you have other questions about these types of tournaments, feel free to contact the SJBCA webmaster for assistance. We encourage everyone to participate in the tournaments hosted by SJBCA member clubs and will do everything we can to make your experience an enjoyable one.
Unless otherwise specified in the tournament information or entry form, all tournaments utilize the "buddy" format. That is, the entrants in the tournament are on two-person teams that fish out of the same boat. Most tournaments will allow a fisherman to fish solo; however, a person fishing solo is at a disadvantage when competing against two-person teams and may not be able to bring in the tournament's limit of fish, if the limit is over the NJ State legal limit of five (or three) bass per person.
All tournaments require that your boat have an aerated livewell or cooler to sustain the life and health of the fish you catch and keep. If your boat doesn't have a built-in livewell, one can easily be constructed using a large cooler and a livewell water pumping system that can be purchased online or at some tackle shops.
The length of bass weighed in must at least meet the minimum legal length set by the State. In NJ, the regular legal minimum length is 12 inches. At some lakes designated as trophy or lunker bass lakes, the minimum is 15 inches. The host club will usually state how the fish will be measured -- that is, what manipulation of the tail will be permitted in order to make the minimum length. Often the rule will state "fish will be measured with the mouth closed and the tail in a natural state (no bending or pinching)". The weighmaster at the tournament will measure any questionable fish on their official ruler. Some host clubs will allow you to measure your own questionable fish (or have them unofficially measure it) on their ruler prior to submitting your fish to the weighmaster for the official weighing in. All clubs penalize teams for submitting short fish for weighing in. The penalty will usually be the loss of the short fish and additional weight subtracted from the team's total weight. Some clubs use the length of the team's heaviest fish as a tie-breaker, in the event that two teams tie with the same total weight or lunker weight.
All tournaments will state the limit on the number of bass that each team may bring in to the weigh-in. That limit will never be higher than the legal limit of bass that two persons may keep in the state. In NJ, the regular legal limit of bass is five per person. At some lakes designated as trophy or lunker bass lakes, the limit is three per person. The tournament's limit on the number of bass will typically be higher in the spring and fall, and lower in the summer months. This is due to the higher stress that bass experience in a livewell filled with warmer water. Many experts suggest periodically adding ice and special livewell additives to your livewell water to reduce the stress on the fish. Because each team is attempting to bring in its heaviest bass (up to the specified limit on the number of bass), they will perform a process called "culling". Culling is done after the team has caught and kept its limit of keeper sized bass. It is done by releasing the lightest weight bass in the livewell and replacing it with a newly caught bass that is heavier. Teams will typically use colored tags on the fish in their livewell to track which are the lightest ones.
In all NJ bass tournaments, the only species permitted to be weighed in are largemouth and smallmouth black bass. Some tournaments are held where the target species is other than bass (e.g., catfish or chain pickerel).
All tournaments require that you follow all boating safety laws. This includes having an approved life vest on board for each person in the boat. NJ law requires that the operator of any motor (gas or electric) on a boat have a State-issued boat operators license. This can be an endorsement on the person's drivers license or be a separate document (for operators under legal driving age). While tournament host clubs don't typically check for such a license, it may be checked by State Fish & Wildlife, Marine Police or other law enforcement personnel at the tournament site.
The tournament host club will typically perform a boat inspection prior to allowing you to launch your boat. This inspection (or "boat check") will include, but not be limited to ensuring that your livewell is empty and that you have your required life vests on board. At many tournaments, the inspection will include a search of compartments in your boat to ensure that all entrants are competing fairly. At the completion of the inspection, the inspector may tie a piece of brightly colored plastic ribbon to your trolling motor shaft to indicate that your boat has passed the inspection and is a competitor in the tournament.
All tournaments have an entry fee. The entry fee is charged on a per-boat basis and is often described as having two components -- the basic entry fee and a lunker pool fee. In the past, participation in the lunker pool was usually optional. These days, the lunker pool often isn't optional and the host club will state an entry fee that is inclusive of the lunker pool. The payout of prize money at the conclusion of the weigh-in is usually done according to a formula or chart that the host club refers to. The host club will determine how much of the entry fee pool they will keep (usually 20 to 25%) for running the tournament. The remainder is paid out to the first three or five places. How many places that are paid is often determined by the number of boats entered in the tournament (the more boats entered, the more places paid). The lunker pool money is usually paid out at 100% (usually $10.00 per boat). Most host clubs will accept entry fee payment by check or money order for entries received prior to the tournament date (if there's enough time for your check to clear). For entries received on the day of the tournament, clubs almost always require cash payment.
Host clubs usually assign starting numbers according to the sequence in which entries are received -- the first entry gets starting number 1 and so on. The starting number determines when your boat will be permitted to leave the launch area to start fishing. The start is usually done by groups of five or ten boats.
In almost all cases there is a limit on the number of boats permitted to enter the tournament. Sometimes the owner of a lake will designate the limit (e.g., 30 boats at Parvin State Park Lake). Any advertised prize money amounts are based on there being a "full field" of boats. A field that is less than a full field will result in prize money less than the advertised amounts.
The host club will always state the starting and ending times of the tournament. Prior to the start of the tournament, the tournament director will typically announce the "official time". Entrants should note the time on their own watches to determine any differences that should be taken into consideration, to ensure they arrive back promptly at the end time. The exact start time of the tournament depends on "safe light" and "safe conditions". If the tournament director determines that the amount of daylight or other conditions (e.g., fog) would not allow a safe launch (especially at lakes where outboard motors are used), he will delay the start until conditions are safe. Speaking of tournament times, clubs have been known to change the times of their tournaments and not notify the SJBCA webmaster of the change. We strongly encourage entrants to confirm with the host club all of the tournament arrangements (date, lake, times) prior to the tournament date.Each host club has its own procedure for conducting the weigh-in at the conclusion of the tournament. Some clubs prefer that you leave your boat in the water at the conclusion of the tournament until after the weigh-in, while others ask that you trailer your boat and then bring your fish to the weigh-in. A new procedure being used at Union Lake is the drive-thru weigh-in, where entrants trailer their boats with fish still in the livewell and drive to the location of the weigh-in table. Some clubs require that bags of fish be brought to the weigh-in in boat number sequence. They will call a range of boat numbers and entrants with those boat numbers bring their fish up. The purpose of this procedure is to keep the weigh-in process orderly and ensure that not too many bass are bagged (and heavily stressed) at any one time. An additional method for limiting the number of bagged bass is for the host club to insist that only their own "official" bags (of which there is a limited number) be used for the weigh-in.
At every tournament, you will be provided with a list of the host club's specific tournament rules. They're often printed on the back of the entry form. Some of the more typical tournament rules are:
NJ Fish & Wildlife and Coast Guard regulations must be followed.
No live bait; only artificial lures may be used.
Only one rod in use at a time per person.
No trolling (trailing your line behind your moving boat).
No fishing within a certain distance of an anchored boat that has its trolling motor out of the water.
Entrants must wear life vests anytime the outboard motor is running.
No leaving the boat to land fish.
All boats must be within a certain distance of the boat ramp at the end time of the tournament or be penalized (or disqualified).
Dead fish cannot be culled.
A penalty will be assessed at the weigh-in for any dead fish weighed in (but the fish usually earns some weight).
All protests must be filed with the tournament director prior to the end of the weigh-in process. The tournament director's (or committee's) decisions are final.
In order to best serve our member clubs and the tournament fishing public, the SJBCA has a process for ensuring that no two clubs host public tournaments on the same day and that any two public tournaments on the same weekend are a reasonable distance apart. We hope you appreciate the care that is put into scheduling these tournaments and the hard work that goes into organizing & running them.
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