DULUTH - When Troy Skorich of Hermantown, Minn., and Tim MacDougall of Duluth won last weekend's 2018 Berg Construction Walleye Cup on the St. Louis River, they pulled up to the dock with no fish to weigh.
In fact, none of the 60 tournament boats kept any fish to weigh.
Instead, the winners of the tournament were determined not by weight of the fish measured at the dock, but on length, as measured by each two-person team in their own boat. The team with most total inches of fish - up to eight fish could be entered - were the winners.
The event, run by the Twin Ports Walleye Association, has been catch-photograph-release for the past nine years, said Dave Nelson, the group's president.
"It's just the way to go for walleye tournaments as far as protecting the fish,'' Nelson said.
The traditional fishing tournament had anglers holding fish in their boat's livewell, sometimes for hours, then boating up to a dock and plopping their catch in a bucket or bin. The bucket is spirited up to a scale, the fish are weighed - sometimes held up for photos - then placed back in the bucket and returned to the lake/river from which they came. If they are still alive.
The problem with all that is stress, and a certain percentage of fish handled in that process are believed to die.
But a growing number of tournaments have turned to the catch, measure, photograph and release format - also called "catch, record, release."
In Twin Ports Walleye Association events, each two-person team is given a blank SD memory card to put in a digital camera. They are required to show two photos of each fish to be part of their photo "limit." The first photo must show the fish properly measured on a certified ruler. The second photo shows the angler and the fish.
"Take as many photos of that fish as you want, but it better be touching (the end of the ruler) and it better be clear, or it's disqualified,'' Nelson noted. "The quality of the photos is so good now that you can pretty well distinguish between individual fish in each photo."
For St. Louis River events, each team can pick its longest four fish each day of the two-day tournament - in effect "culling'' through all their day's catch to submit only the biggest fish photos. (Skorich and MacDougall submitted eight fish over two days averaging a hefty 24.46 inches long.)
In a live weigh-in tournament, it's technically against Minnesota law to cull fish. Once they are in your livewell, they must be kept as part of your limit.
Each team then hands in their SD card at the end of the first day, only to get it back the next day. That prevents any extracurricular activities and bogus fish from showing up in the photos, Nelson said.
Chris Edquist of Superior, Wis., a local guide who also fishes in local tournaments like the Berg Cup, said there has ever been a major disagreement over the fish photo format.
"It's worked really well for us - no problems,'' he noted.
The Professional Musky Tournament Trail uses all catch-photo-release scoring for its tournaments. The Wisconsin-based Anglers Insight Marketing walleye circuit that will hold 16 tournaments across Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota also uses photos to determine winners.
"We started catch, record, release in 2008 when nobody else was doing it. Now it's really the standard for walleye tournaments that want to practice conservation,'' said Denny Fox, AIM director.
Nelson said that, instead of pulling fish out of a bucket at a weigh-in event the group uses a big screen projection of the biggest winning fish.
"We still get that anticipation, the excitement, '' Nelson said, "but not at the expense of the fish."