Several years ago, I went to see the movie “The Big Year” starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson. While it was enjoyable, I also found it somewhat educational.
I had no idea what a big year was, even though some of my birdwatching friends had mentioned it before. For birders, a big year is a challenge or informal competition to spot as many different species of birds in one year, within a specific geographical area.
Considering that several members of the New Orleans Fly Fishers and Alexandria-based Kisatchie Fly Fishers are active birdwatchers, it’s not surprising that the two clubs would independently come up with the idea of having a contest based on the birding challenge.
The NOFF Big Year and the KFF Mixed Bag are both members-only contests where the objective is to catch as many different species of fish on a fly rod and document those catches. Both contests run from March 1 to Dec. 1.
How it works
For both contests, the rules are fairly simple: All fish must be caught in public waters, within a certain geographic area and photographed with a contest token. While keeping the fish is optional, the photo must be of the live fish taken at the time of the catch. (In other words, no driveway or ice chest photos allowed.)
For the NOFF Big Year, submissions are emailed to the contest director. For the KFF Mixed Bag, data about the catch can be entered via an online form on the club’s website, but photographs are emailed to the tournament chair.
As for species allowed, the NOFF tournament is pretty wide open, while the KFF event restricts things to species listed on either the Louisiana, Texas or Arkansas record lists.
For both events, the highest number of different species wins. In the event of a tie, the earliest last entry wins. For the KFF Mixed Bag, the biggest prize will be selected in a grand drawing among all those who entered at least one fish.
Quantity over quality
Most passive CPR (catch-photo-release) tournaments award the longest fish of one or a few species. For example, the Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club and the Lafayette Kayak Fishing Club have year-long CPR tournaments for the longest bass, redfish and speckled trout.
NOFF Big Year director Sean Gilthorpe explained why their format was chosen.
“The goal was to get NOFFC members excited about flyfishing. We felt a species-oriented contest would encourage members to pursue a wide variety of fish and explore new angling opportunities,” he said. “We didn’t place any size requirements, as this makes it easier for participants, as well as tournament organizers.”
KFF Mixed Bag director Bill Morrison agreed with Gilthorpe.
“A common idea about pursuing big fish is that one must be an expert,” Morrison said. “Collecting species is something anglers of any age or experience can be successful at.”
Cocahoes on the fly?
Morrison pointed out an unexpected benefit of this type of contest.
“I had no idea how many fish could be caught on fly. So far, we’ve had 21 different species entered — including gou (freshwater drum), yellow bass and channel catfish. Our entry form gives us a database so members can know where certain fish were caught, and on what flies.”
Gilthorpe also pointed out that his biggest surprise was interest in non-traditional species.
“For example, one of our members entered a gulf killifish (cocahoe minnow). Since his entry, we have had five other participants make cocahoe minnow entries.”
Other unique entries in the NOFF Big Year contest include striped mullet, spotted gar and bullhead catfish.
There are no age divisions within either contest. This pits young members against those older, typically with more experience. But as Morrison pointed out, this type of contest benefits those with drive — and younger folks have no shortage of that.
As of this writing, 12-year-old David Karcher of the New Orleans club had a solid lead in that competition, with 13 species. In the Kisatchie club, 9-year-old Spencer Hackney was within striking distance of the club leaders, while 14-year-old Will Cameron had made a late surge to move into the top grouping.
A bigger year
Both Gilthorpe and Morrison are ecstatic with the interest and participation among their members, and plan to continue the contest next year. They’ve been in contact with each other, and hope to share ways to improve the tracking process of entries.
One change for the KFF Mixed Bag was implemented last month. Members no longer have to show the contest token in their photos. Instead, the photo metadata is used to validate an entry. According to Morrison, in cases where the fish will be released, this greatly reduces the amount of handling and time the fish is out the water.
The KFF club is also looking at a customized app that would allow a single source of entry. That way, you could take a photo with your smart phone, go to the app and enter the info, and upload directly to the database.