Illinois B.A.S.S. Nation breaks their own Pitch It record
Ralph Sweat threw down a challenge to his fellow tournament anglers in Illinois and got over one hundred pounds of plastic dropped in his lap for it –- and he couldn’t be prouder. “Once again, they’ve exceeded my expectations,” he said.
Sweat has been a champion of Keep America Fishing’s Pitch It campaign since its inception. After learning that legislators in another state were attempting to ban the sale and use of America’s favorite bait type because bass fishermen were perceived as litterers, he knew he had to do something to get involved. Using his position as the conservation director for the Illinois B.A.S.S. Nation, he had the perfect platform and a group of guys who would get on board.
Two years ago, Sweat organized a collection program across the 23 clubs in his home state. Throughout the season, tournament participants bring in their worn-out soft plastic lures to be added to the club pot. At the end-of-season state qualifier, the one event when the statewide clubs come together to compete, hoping to get one step closer to the coveted Bassmaster Classic, a separate weigh-in is held. Not for the most amount of weight in bass – but for discarded soft plastics.
The 2016 IL State Qualifier, held in September on East Fork Lake in Olney, had an impressive showing in terms of both bass and the lures that catch them. The clubs weighed-in a combined total of 134 pounds of used baits. That exceeded the previous year’s total by 41 pounds. “Taken individually, it doesn’t seem like it would be a lot,” Sweat said, “but after 25 or 30 tournaments, it adds up.”
Recreational fishermen have a conservation ethic that benefits all users of our natural resources, with millions of dollars collected from the sale of fishing licenses and taxes on fishing equipment being spent on habitat restoration and the conservation of our waterways. Tournament organizations such as B.A.S.S. have taken a leadership role in defining how to handle and release fish with the least amount of impact and minimal mortality rates. The fact that each state’s B.A.S.S. Nation elects its own conservation director is evidence of their commitment to sustained populations of bass.
Sweat knew he could simply tell the IL B.A.S.S. Nation about the Pitch It campaign and receive a lot of head-nods in support, but a healthy dose of competition would have a real, tangible impact. The two clubs bringing the most weight to the state qualifier received prizes from Jackall Lures – first place received a package of lures worth $600, second place a $400 package. “Before this season even started the clubs were ribbing each other, saying they were going to win this year,” he recalls.
Now that he has a Tupperware tub full of soft baits, he’s got his work cut out for him. “We did all this work to keep them out of the water,” he explains. “We can’t just toss them in a landfill now. It wouldn’t be right.” To recycle the plastic, he melts it down and pours it into large molds in the shape of a bass. Mounted onto plywood plaques, they are transformed into trophies that are awarded to the junior tournament anglers in the state.
Keep America Fishing is dedicated to keeping our waterways clean and free of litter and helping our nation’s recreational fishermen be an active part of the process. If you want to partner with us on the Pitch It campaign, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.