It’s often quoted that “records are made to be broken.”
At stake in the ongoing Elephant Butte Chamber of Commerce Angler’s Challenge is a cool $10,000 – providing somebody can land a record smallmouth bass at the lake.
The challenge is to surpass the seven-pound, three-ounce bass that Cale Sanders hooked in 2006 at Ute Lake, according to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish online record book.
“The problem is not a lot of the records have been current,” said Ron Gilworth, a member of the chamber’s board of directors and an avid fisherman who created the contest. “A lot of people, they would brag about a big fish, but then they wouldn’t do what to do to get it officially recorded.”
And as everybody knows, talk is rather cheap when it comes to fishermen’s tales.
So the chamber produced a pamphlet that is available at any chamber member throughout Sierra County and soon to be available online that describes just how to record an official record.
Basically, Gilworth explained, the fish needs to be weighed on certified scales with a photo and verified by another person to ensure that the fish wasn’t store bought.
“But the last five years, nobody had a place to go weigh fish,” he said. “If you walk downtown to a meat market, the fish would probably die. I know when somebody catches a champion fish, they want to keep them and mount them. But we want to practice catch and release when possible.”
But now the Butte General Store not only has certified scales, they are mobile, and with a simple phone call will bring someone down to the boat ramp for an official weighing, Gilworth said.
Although the contest started in May, it continues through Sept. 30. So far just one person has snagged a fish they thought might be in consideration, Gilworth added. It turns out, however, that it was not even close.
Nevertheless, he said, there does seem to be a significant increase in boats on the water and people fishing from the banks even as the lake water dwindles.
“It’s a good spread through the season,” Gilworth said of the length of the contest. “I personally have seen a lot of fishing boats that I haven’t seen in a lot of years.”
The drive behind the contest, of course, was to lure people to visit the lake and spend time – and money – in the town.
But it’s also to encourage people to get out and enjoy themselves with the time-honored tradition of fishing, he said.
As for why smallmouth bass, well, why not, Gilworth said.
“We had to start somewhere,” he said. “And I know we have them in the lake. I know we have plenty in the four-to-five-pound range. So I know there was potential that it (a record catch) could happen. I think in my mind, I wanted to give the odds that the contest would last a long time.”
Still, even if someone lands an eight-pounder tomorrow, the payoff won’t come until the end of the September.
“We have to wait until the end because suppose someone catches one that’s bigger,” he said.
As for tips, well, Gilworth was a little small-mouthed himself.
“The smallmouth bass are all over the lake,” he said. “There is some talent to it. The seasoned angler would use artificial bait. Maybe worms.”
In the end however, it is all about dropping a line in the water.
“We don’t catch the fish, fish catch us,” Gilworth said. “So you have to be out there.”
Visit ebnmchamber.org for more information.