Competitive Fishing Rules

Various clubs and groups worldwide are dedicated to the sport of competitive fishing. While the rules and standards can differ depending on the tournament, larger competitive circuits typically follow a set of universal rules.

First, we’ll go over the general structure of competitive fishing, then examine the rules set forth by two of the world’s top competitive fishing tours: Fishing League Worldwide and Major League Fishing.

Competitive Fishing General Structure

Participants, known as anglers, are given a specific period of time in which they can fish in a designated area. At the end of the time period, a winner is selected based on the total weight of their catch.

Anglers are typically judged on the weight of one species of fish. If an angler catches a different type of fish, that fish will either be thrown back or excluded from the final weigh-in.

Some competitions regulate where the angler can fish from, like on land or on board a watercraft. This depends on the environment where the competition is being held. Other competitions require anglers to use specific kinds of bait and lures, and an angler can be disqualified for not using one of the pre-approved varieties. This is to ensure fish are being caught according to the skill of the angler, not because of any special item dangling in front of the fish.

Fishing League Worldwide Rules (2019)

The FLW defines fishing as “having a lure attached to a line and a rod and reel with the rod in hand.” FLW tournaments accept only bass: largemouth, smallmouth, redeye and spotted. With a couple exceptions, artificial lures must be used for FLW competitions. Only one rod can be used at a time.  

There are seven qualifying FLW tournaments. The winner of each qualifying tournament gets 200 points, the second-place finisher gets 199, third-place finisher gets 198 and so forth. The top angler from the point standings after the seven tournaments wins the FLW Tour Angler of the Year title, and the top 40 pros from the point standings qualify for the 2019 FLW Cup.

The fish must be caught alive, and marshals can’t assist participants in any way. Any fish caught must be hooked inside the mouth and immediately shown to a marshal, camera operator or remote camera for verification purposes. Every effort must be made to keep the fish alive post-catch. For each dead fish presented at the weigh-in, four ounces will be deducted from the total weight.

Scoring is determined based on the total weight of each participant’s catch. The daily limit on bass, unless conditions or water limits dictate otherwise, is five, and any competitor catching more than five has to throw the remainders back into the water. Participants with more than five fish at weigh-in will be penalized two pounds for each bass over the limit.

The minimum length limit for bass is 12 inches, unless the state or lake limit is longer or FLW sets a longer limit for a specific tournament. Bass presented for weigh-in that don’t measure the prescribed limit will be penalized one pound for each short bass.

Competitions typically take place over a number of days, and the winner is determined at the end of the tournament by the heaviest combined weight from all days. If there’s a tie for first place, it will be broken with a one-hour fish-off.

FLW Boat Rules

Participants in FLW tournaments are required to fish from a boat. Bass are considered in possession once they’re placed in the boat and fishing or travel has resumed. Participants and marshals are not permitted to leave the boat to land a fish or make the boat more accessible to fishing waters.

These tournament waters will go off-limits to anglers 13 days before the first practice day in all tournaments. Pros cannot enter the waters to fish, test equipment, sightsee or for any other reason without FLW permission during those 13 days.

Any water space accessible by boat and not off-limits to the public is available for use. Maneuvering a boat into fishing waters with cables, ropes, chains or other systems will result in disqualification. Trolling, which is defined as operating a boat’s combustion engine to extend a cast or lengthen a retrieve, is prohibited.

Each boat must be at least 50 yards from another participant’s boat, and whichever boat was anchored first is the one that gets to keep that spot. An anchored boat is one held in a stable position with the motor up.

Boats in FLW tournaments must meet the following specifications:

  • minimum of 18 feet in length
  • has a rear deck or factory-installed fishing platform
  • has a motor between 150 and 250 horsepower
  • is equipped with wheel steering
  • has a POV camera, focused on the front deck, that’s on during the time of competition
  • abides by U.S. Coast Guard regulations

Major League Fishing Rules

Major League Fishing competitions also only score bass fish. They take place over six days, divided into three rounds:

  • Round 1 (the elimination round) will take up the first three days, and 12 anglers will advance
  • Round 2 (sudden-death round) will cover the next two days and includes weight qualifying cutoffs. Six anglers will advance
  • Round 3 (the championship round) will take place on the final day with six anglers.

Anglers will fish for seven and a half total hours divided into three periods during all competition days, with 30-minute intervals between the end of one period and the beginning of the next.

FLW and MLF Rule Differences

The major differences between FLW rules and MLF rules include:

  • Boats for MLF competitions will be supplied by MLF, fully stocked with all equipment necessary to meet water safety requirements.
  • There is no limit to the number of “Scorable Bass” an angler can catch and record during MLF competition, except for on days that include a qualifying weight cutline. Size parameters for a “Scorable Bass” will be determined by MLF no less than 12 hours before the start of the tournament. Immediately after a catch is made, the bass will be verified as Scorable (or not Scorable) by the angler’s boat official. 
  • There is no official buoy distance rule with an MLF competition. However, anglers cannot interfere with one another’s lines; if they do, the casting angler will be penalized.

Types of fishing

There are two main categories of fishing, called commercial and recreational. Commercial fishing is any fishing done to make a profit. Recreational is the type of fishing that is considered a sport.

Recreational fishing is done with a catch-and-release rule, meaning whatever fish are caught must be released back into the water after measurement. This type of fishing can also be done without the competitive factor, by not awarding points for each fish caught.