Meetings & Conventions: Gone Fishing - May 2000
Far from the greens, groups find camaraderie and competition
on the water
By Terence Baker
For some groups, golf might be a mandatory
leisure-time option, but rarely will it appeal to the whole crowd.
For those who don’t know the difference between a bogey and an
eagle, a fishing tournament might be the ideal alternative. Both
sports promise fresh air, teamwork and competition, but fishing can
be a bit more lighthearted and, arguably, less conducive to
A fishing tournament’s success is not necessarily measured in
points earned. When Monica Pacharis of Continental Management
Group, an Atlanta-based event planning company, organized a
tournament in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for Houston-based Compaq
Computers, “out of five boats, only one fish was caught the whole
weekend.” A fiasco? Hardly. The winning participant was a client of
Compaq’s who spoke little English and never had held a rod before.
“We ended up giving him every trophy we had,” Pacharis said, “and
we took photographs of him weighed down with awards. He was bemused
but very, very happy.”
Finding a pro
Planners need not be expert anglers to stage a fishing tournament,
as long as they align themselves with experienced partners. Many
waterside properties have in-house pros.
“Usually, the event planner leaves it all to us,” says Julie
Olsen, director of public relations at Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada,
Fla. “We organize everything from contacting fishing guides and
putting together box lunches to awarding trophies for
Similarly, at the Waterfall Resort Alaska, on the western side
of Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island, “we take care of everything,”
says Chuck Baird, director of marketing. “Even the planner is free
to go fishing.” The resort assigns to each event a Derby Queen, who
is charged with keeping participants focused and informed,
documenting catches and making sure everyone plays by the rules,
which can vary from state to state.
“We ask the planner how many prizes to award; what percentage of
the awards are to be cash, prizes or both; to what degree the
sponsor wants its company focused upon, and what kind of
celebratory finale is suitable,” says Baird.
The tournament can take a day or just a few hours, adds Kevin
Barrows, general manager at Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge in
Bigfork, Mont., which offers fishing in nearby lakes and streams.
“Many people come here to fish, but they also like to add fishing
in with other sports and compete in a mini-Olympics type of
Properties also can recommend local boat charters with
experienced skippers and guides. Smaller craft might fit only six
people, requiring a group to rent several vessels and assign one
team per boat. Often, the infectious competition among these boats
gives a tournament its edge.
When and where
Of course, the season and locale will dictate the day’s catch.
Around Cheeca Lodge, expect billfish (marlins, swordfish) between
January and March and dolphinfish (snappers, mahi-mahi not Flipper)
between June and late September. A skipper worth his salt also will
know the local weather’s idiosyncrasies and will be able to suggest
schedule changes in order to keep participants’ safety
The setting should suit the group’s overall objectives. If the
trip is a retreat, a remote site might be ideal, and the fishing
portion of the agenda should be low-key. Says Larry Page, owner of
Larry Page’s Northwest Guide Services in Portland, Ore., “Often,
the guys who come to me are stressed out, so all you want them to
do is show up. Then I take over.” Page has run fishing trips for
such clients as the Portland Trailblazers basketball team.
Anglers who come to Waterfall Resort Alaska often are on
incentive trips awarded by companies such as Ford and Lexus. Most
participants, according to Baird, are just as excited about being
in the Last Frontier as they are about the outing ahead. “They also
come to forget about fax machines and stock reports, and nowhere is
more suited to that than Alaska.”
In order to involve everyone, planners might consider organizing
separate events for women within the larger tournament. Gail
Leukanech, executive director of the 1,000-plus-member Engineering
Contractor’s Association in Hialeah, Fla., saw such a need in her
male- dominated group.
“It gives women a fairer edge,” Leukanech explains, “and it
encourages more of them to take part. The value of the prizes and
the sense of accomplishment and victory remain the same, but the
unfair advantage does not.”
Cecilia “Pudge” Kleinkauf, owner of Women’s Flyfishing, a
company based in Anchorage, Alaska, adds that women have “not yet
learned the benefits of mixing fishing and business.” Says
Kleinkauf, who takes groups of women on instructional fly-fishing
trips, “Most women don’t worry about how many fish they pull out in
a day but rather enjoy fishing because it allows them to
Fishing is a sport that combines chance and skill, but some tactics
can up the odds that even inexperienced anglers will take home a
At Averill’s, “fly-fishing teams use a downrigger, a heavy cable
with a 10-pound weight attached,” Barrows explains. “It sits on the
bottom of the lake, and without this weight, it would be impossible
to get the bait anywhere near the fish.”
The 512-room Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., which has a
four-mile stretch of the Cascades Stream flowing through it, stocks
the water with fish if a group of anglers is present, says Bill
Gilmore, vice president of sales and marketing. Some smaller fish
are tagged with gold- or silver-colored markers and are deemed the
event’s major prizes. “One does not need to be the best angler to
get the best prize,” says Gilmore.
Of course, events in nature are largely beyond the planner’s
control. At the Waterfall Resort Alaska, “Salmon often are ripped
off the ends of lines by unseen one-ton sea lions,” says Baird.
“Suddenly you have more weight on the end of your line than you
think you should. By the time you realize what’s going on, all you
have on your hook is a salmon head and nothing else.”
Tipping the scalesCheck credentials. Be sure the charter company or guide
selected has the proper insurance as well as state or U.S. Coast
Guard fishing licenses.Relinquish control. If the group is very large, consider
letting participants plan their excursions. Gail Leukanech
organizes an annual tournament at Cheeca Lodge. Her members are
responsible for chartering their own boats and organizing their
teams. “We give them a list of available boats and charter
companies, and they register with me for the tournament and
dinner.” Leukanech serves as master of ceremonies for the
post-tournament festivities.Prepare for the worst. Monica Pacharis gives out promotional
windbreakers with packets of Dramamine in the pockets. “It is very
difficult to make contacts and talk business when everyone is
feeling decidedly under the weather,” says Pacharis.Make it fun. “Use humor in everything you do,” Pacharis
advises. While most events award trophies for the largest fish or
the most fish caught, Waterfall Resort’s Baird likes to give a
prize for the ugliest fish. He also has given hand-carved totem
poles and early 19th-century carved halibut hooks in lieu of
traditional trophies. Hard-luck prizes might be granted for the
smallest fish or for those participants unfortunate enough to fall
overboard.Let them eat fish. It can be doubly rewarding when what
participants catch turns into what they eat for dinner. Many types
of fish are protected by catch-and-release laws (check in advance),
but plenty of tasty species, such as tuna and snapper, can end up
on the grill. That celebratory fish dinner often is the event’s
Even when working closely with an expert, planners can take
proactive measures to ensure the success of a fishing tournament.
Consider the following strategies.
The recent high-profile decline of theme
restaurant chains such as Planet Hollywood might be explained,
paradoxically, by the concept of food as destination. Although
theme restaurants typically have been high on novelty, some have
focused on their aesthetic appeal at the expense of food
Fishing tournamentsare designed to be fun and
to foster camaraderie. Some contestants, however, take the spirit
of competition to extremes and resort to all sorts of skullduggery
to show off the catch of the day. To avoid battles at sea, ask
charter operators for a list of nationally recognized fishing
rules. Also, consider the following measures to keep cheaters at
Have teams mark the fish they catch. This is a
particular problem in open-seas events where fish have been known
to wash overboard accidentally, only to end up being an “easy
catch” for another entrant. Agree beforehand what each team’s
symbol is to be.
Set a cutoff time for when fish need to be
presented to the weigh-in officials. Be strict about the deadline
time or teams will be attempting to land that monster all weekend.
Contestants have been known to claim the judge’s watch is wrong in
order to gain a few more precious minutes of fishing time.
Clarify that only whole fish count. It might
seem obvious, but one event planner had a team present an
incomplete yet huge fish as a potential trophy winner. Suspicions
were raised as to the fish’s origins, yet without a rule regarding
partial bodies, it was deemed fair game.
Designate a judge. The mate of a chartered boat
often is chosen. Be sure participants understand the judge’s word
These Internet sites offer insights into the underwater
This online fishing superstore sells hooks, lines, lures, rods,
reels and just about anything else an angler might need.
Go here for general news, advice, contacts and rules for fishing in
the United States.
This site offers links to state fish, game and wildlife divisions
throughout the United States.
Groups headed to Alaska will find guides, lodges, news, fishing
reports and local plane charters.
Reports, guides, stores, lodges and information about fishing in
Colorado are offered here.
This site lists guides, charters, local laws, geography and
accommodations in the Florida Keys.
This online community for Floridian anglers has articles, contacts,
equipment and a children’s page.
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