May 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions: Gone Fishing - May 2000 Current Issue
May 2000

Gone Fishing

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 corporate posturing.

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 participants.”

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 event.”

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.

Cast off: Cascades Stream at The Homestead, Hot Springs, Va.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 paramount.

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.”

Women welcome
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 relax.”

Helping nature
Fishing is a sport that combines chance and skill, but some tactics can up the odds that even inexperienced anglers will take home a catch.

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 scales
Even when working closely with an expert, planners can take proactive measures to ensure the success of a fishing tournament. Consider the following strategies.

  • Check 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 crowning moment. FISH TALES

    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 quality.

    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 bay.

    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 is final.



    These Internet sites offer insights into the underwater world.

    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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