Ralph Sweat

Ralph SweatThanks in part to Regional Director Ralph Sweat, Illinois BASS Nation is known for tournaments but has a strong focus on conservation, too.

Do you use soft plastic lures?

All of our Illinois BASS Nation high school, college and state guys at tournaments use soft plastics. While we’re out there fishing, we tell everyone to collect the used baits instead of throwing them away. Clubs across the state have their own collections, so at the end of every year we give a $100 BassPro Shop gift card to the club with the most weight. We’ve been doing this for five years and get about 1,000-2,000 lures or 250 pounds at each meeting. New baits are made from melting down the old ones. Then, those are distributed to our junior tournaments.

What is your group doing to stop a ban?

At every tournament our high school teams inspect the boats and trailers for discarded equipment, weeds, or shells. We encourage them at a young age to keep the waters clean. If they see anything, like a worn out soft plastic, we say, “Put it in a bag and throw it away.”

Were you aware the state of Maine threatened to ban soft plastic lures two years ago?

Yes, I learned about that issue through Bassmaster’s magazine, B.A.S.S. Times. All fishermen in this state were concerned that a similar ban would be imposed in Illinois or nationwide.

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife sees soft plastics as a litter issue but there is still a threat of a total ban. If this occurred, how would you be affected?

Tournament fishermen use a lot of soft plastics for fishing because they aren’t allowed to fish with live bait. I would say about 85% of all fishing is with soft plastics. A ban would have a tremendous impact on the fishing industry.

Do you have any other comments?

We do a lot for charity. Illinois BASS Nation works with Make-a-Wish Foundation. Since 1984 we’ve donated $256,560 to 52 kids. Fishing is big for this state, so we’re showing how to have fun and do it the right way.

Join Ralph in committing to release fish, not lures. Sign the Pledge to Pitch It today. To learn more about the threatened ban on soft baits, click here.