CUMMING – Sunrise was still over an hour away, yet the parking lot at Hammonds Fishing Center in Forsyth County was well-illuminated Wednesday morning by the headlights of over a dozen pickup trucks, each with a bass boat in tow.
Fishermen and women stood by their vehicles, careful to keep a safe “social distance” from one another (after all, Georgians are still under the Public Health Emergency declared by Governor Brian Kemp earlier in the month). They awaited the signal from Tim Hawkins, owner of the longtime fishing mecca at the intersection of State Routes 306 and 365, to come forward to the table where he was seated, be added to the list of competitors for the day’s competition and receive a digital scale for use during the competition.
Hawkins has come up with a novel way to host a bass tournament while being compliant with mandates issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.
But CDC compliance during the pandemic was not Hawkins’ initial goal: he readily admits that the welfare of the bass population swimming in Lake Lanier was his original concern for creating the weekly Hammond’s Digital Tournament last year. However, as the concern over the spread of the virus has grown, the format he uses is also proving to be good fit with social-distancing recommendations, protecting the health of the fishing community in the process.
“The reason I did this…the main reason was fish care in the summer months,” Hawkins said. Hawkins explained that a bass caught at daybreak and kept in a livewell for a mid-afternoon weigh-in can become stressed.
This is amplified in the summer months, Hawkins explained. Often fish caught in the cooler water found at depths of 25-feet and greater (usually around 65-degrees) and kept in a livewell filled with surface-temperature water (often over 85-degrees), and then subjected to a day travelling the boat-traffic turbulent surface of Lake Lanier, are challenged just to survive.
“I’d say the mortality rate is extremely high,” Hawkins added. “It puts a strain on the (fish) population.”
Hawkins said under the format used for the Hammonds Digital Tournaments, when a keeper-sized bass is caught the fishermen use the digital hand-held scale issued to them earlier to weigh the fish, and then immediately releases the bass back into the reservoir.
The entire process is videoed on one of the team member’s cell phone and sent to Hawkins in his office back at the store using a customized cell phone app. (See the attached video for a demonstration of the weighing procedure.)
The fish’s weight is then posted online by Hawkins so other competitors, and any interested fans, can follow the competition in real time. The weight of the five heaviest fish caught by each team is updated as bigger fish get caught.
“On this app you have a live leader board. We’ve spent a lot of time building and perfecting the software…and I’ve got new software coming out next week that’s going to make it even easier for me (to keep the leader board quickly updated),” Hawkins said.
He said the quick release back into the environment significantly increases the bass’s opportunity to recover quickly and fully.
Hawkins says he has fifty identical digital scales available for each tournament, that he carefully sanitizes each one when it is returned to him following a tournament, and that he recalibrates each scale to assure that all fifty work the same.
The end result, Hawkins says, is that the bass population is better off, and that the fishing community, many of whom are unemployed because of the recent shelter-in-place mandate, now has an outlet for “competitive juices” and to enjoy safely their passion for fishing.
Ty Overmyer said before the tournament Wednesday morning that he and his fishing partner, Michael Holbrooks, look forward to the opportunity to get outside, enjoy their number-one hobby, and compete against some of the best fishermen and women in Georgia.
“I feel very comfortable,” Overmyer said regarding the social-distancing aspect of the event. “You’re away from everybody; it’s just you and your partner, and it’s just a good thing to get out and enjoy nature and God’s creation and go fishing.”