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Kayak fishing tournaments have proven to be extremely fun and are becoming increasingly more popular. Due to the importance of the safety of the fish, lack of livewells, and the prevention of cheating, most tournaments use the CPR method. CPR stands for Catch, Photo, and Release. After a fish is caught and photographed, the photos are then submitted to a system for the judges to look at based on the rules from that tournament, which dictates the requirements for the picture in order for the submission to count towards an angler’s total number of inches. There are many issues that can arise during this process that could turn a great catch into heartache. I am going to break down my process of CPR in the Coosa FD that has minimized my mistakes and has allowed me to get the best submission I can for every tournament within its specific rules.

An overlooked aspect CPR is the storage or care for the fish while you are preparing to take the photograph. I think this first step is critical to get a cooperative fish to lie still on the board to snap the picture you need. What else do you need for an important job: Tools. I use a combination of the Fish Grip and a Track mounted T-reign. I tether my Fish Grip to the T-reign and mount it to the tracking on the right side of my kayak as far back on the track as possible. I mount it here because it is close enough for me to reach easily and isn’t in the way while fishing. I also removed the tightening knob and replaced it with a RAM ball if I were to want to add a rod holder or mount something else. This creates an efficient use of space on your track if you decide to use it for other things. Now, after the fish as been landed, the first thing I do is take the lure off the fish and immediately put in on the grips. Once it is on the grips, I wrap the bungee around the handle once, then split the two bungees over the edge of the handle. The Fish Grip secures the fish tightly, but in some extreme situations, a handle can get caught on weeds or you can accidentally pop them open and the fish escapes. Wrapping the handle insures that the fish will not get away. Then I place the fish in the water.

Keeping the fish in the water for me is key. This allows the fish to breath and recover from the traumatic event of being caught and giving you a fight while it was reeled in. I believe this lets the fish re-oxygenate and calms it down. If you have ever been swimming, think of that panic moment where you needed to breathe and started to freak out a little. I think this is part of the reason some fish are flopping off kayaks before we can even get a picture. This also gives you time to prepare for taking the picture. While the fish is in the water, I clean up my net and rod/reel, put the kayak in a safe position (anchored, beached, etc.), get out my Hawg Trough, turn on the camera app on on my phone, and make sure I have my identifier ready.

For my identifier, I have found using a tourney tag has worked best. This is a little waterproof device that straps onto the Hawg Trough or other measuring devices. If you don’t have a tourney tag or are in a pinch, I suggest using a sandwich size ziploc bag. If it is a particularly windy day, put a little water on the kayak, and this will help secure the bag while taking your pictures. As for my Hawg Trough, I like to lay the left side angled down inside the deck of the kayak and prop the right side up. Now that everything is in place, I bring the fish up and lay it down on the board and take a quick picture. The angle helps you keep the mouth closed (if that rule is being utilized) with a flat tail. This usually is not the photo I finally turn in, but it is my insurance picture. This also increases the chances that, if the fish does flop, it will land inside the kayak where you can recover it. If anything were to happen from here on out, you would only lose a 0.25” to 1”, depending on deductions and tail placement, but you’d still have something to turn in instead of a zero.

After the picture is taken, I raise the left side of the Hawg Trough so it lays flat across the kayak. This is when I take the most time to get the most out of my fish. I position my hand on the right side of the fish to keep away from the eye and gill plate, and I keep the face visible so the judges can see the closed mouth is touching the fence. I apply gentle pressure to help keep the mouth pressed against the fence. I use my finger to grab the base of the tail, right behind the butt, to help lay the tail flat. Every trail/series is different, so when tail manipulation is allowed, I will extend this grip to pinch the tail or whatever I need to do to get the most out of my fish.

After I take 2-3 shots, I always take a selfie with the fish. Some people just take a random picture or a blank screenshot. This is to break up each fish in your photo roll or files and keep them separate. Some situations won’t allow you to upload a fish right away, and this is an easy technique to keep you from accidentally submitting the same fish twice or forgetting about a cull that you had. After the selfie stage, the fish immediately goes back on the the grips and in the water to breathe and relax.

The final step is to review the pictures. I look at the picture as if I were a tournament director in order to see if there is any reason my fish would get deducted or disqualified. I zoom in and make sure the mouth is touching the fence, the identifier is in the shot, the tail is touching the measurement I want to turn in, and the picture is clear/easy to see. Human error can be an issue, and this process has helped me reduce the mistakes I make. There have been occasions where I see that I forgot to slide my identifier down, and it was just out of the picture or the tail wasn’t touching a line on the Hawg Trough I knew it could, and I was easily able to retake the shots.

The last thing that needs to be covered is PRACTICE. If you plan to fish a tournament, practice your CPR technique while fun fishing. Create your own process and organization. This will save valuable time while a bite is on and lower your personal error rate. I have seen many anglers fall out of paying/prize finishes because of a lost fish, missing identifier, or preventable deductions.

I hope this helps–Good luck!

– Kenneth Morris