For Al Farland of New Bedford, being one of the state’s top contenders in the bass anglers tournament trail has been his number-one priority since he competed in his first event 32 years ago.
During his employment at CC’s Bait and Bass Tackle in New Bedford back in the 1980s, the shop’s owner, Charlie Conner, and his father, Chuck Conner, along with some of the customers, belonged to the Fall River Bass Anglers Club, all tournament anglers. They often invited Farland to join them and he declined their invitations. He finally accepted and it set the stage for a lifelong commitment to the sport and becoming a bass pro.
“I loved fishing already, but figured I wasn’t good enough to fish with the pros,” he said. “But then I decided to give it a try. I went to a bass tournament and I liked it. It was 1986 and I was hooked.”
Farland joined the club and has been fishing the tournament circuit ever since. He also joined BASS (Bass Anglers Sportsmen’s Society) and the Mass. Bass Federation, which boasted 800 members in the late 80s and early 90s. He currently fishes four different tournament trails.
“I love the thrill of competition, the excitement,” he said. “I can’t sleep the night before a big tournament and get the jitters when waiting to take off from the shore at 6 a.m. Then it’s non-stop casting until 3 p.m. And I still shake when I catch a big fish. If I didn’t get it, I’d probably give it up.”
Ed Kraus of Middleboro, who worked for MassWildlife’s Southeast District Office, had a major impact on Farland’s motivation. Kraus was a club member and encouraged the young novice, became his mentor and gave him someone to emulate.
“I watched Ed and thought — ‘this guy is an incredible fisherman,’” said Farland. “He knew how to catch fish, but he didn’t keep a log and didn’t even use a GPS to mark his spots. He had everything stored in his head. He’s just phenomenal.”
Farland himself has volumes of log books from 1986, noting every detail of each tournament and fishing trip, including weather, lure selection, fish caught, etc.
While never attaining every bass angler’s dream of getting to the Bassmaster Classic, the world championship of bass fishing, Farland has amassed a long list of accolades, including making the state team three times, 10 first-place finishes in Mass. Bass Federation tourneys (with his partner), several Tournament of Champions wins and numerous open tournament wins. Within the Fall River club, which he served as president for 18 years, he had 25 first-place finishes, was honored as Angler of the Year five times, and was a three-time winner of two prestigious awards — Biggest Fish of the Year and Heaviest Weight of the Year. In 2012, Farland was inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame, along with Kraus.
Fishing exclusively for largemouth and smallmouth bass from his 28-year-old Ranger — a 1990 Model 374V, Farland targets no other species. If he catches anything other than a bass during a tournament, it gets released immediately, unless it’s a state record.
“I don’t even eat fish,” he said. “I like other seafood — just not fish.”
During a tournament on Lake Quinsigamond in Shrewsbury/Worcester in 1987, Farland was casting a Mann’s crankbait and latched onto a big tiger muskie.
“That fish went into the livewell,” he said.
It weighed 19 pounds, 4 ounces at the weigh station and held the Mass. State Record for many years.
Farland explains that tournament scoring is based on the total cumulative weight of five bass, in any combination of largemouths and smallmouths. He recently had a limit of five fish that weighed 18.99 pounds at a tournament on Long Pond, Lakeville, sponsored by the Silver City Lunkers of Taunton. His personal best limit was 23.41 pounds, also caught at Long Pond.
“It’s (Long Pond) my favorite pond, but it can have its struggles,” he said. “South Watuppa is a close second.”
Area tournaments offer cash prizes from $400 to a substantial $2,000.
“It’s a nice bonus,” said Farland. “It covers entry fees, tackle, boat maintenance, etc.”
Some tournaments are individual, where anglers fish alone and some are teams of two, where anglers fish with a partner and winners split the purse. Farland and his partner won a total of $1,200 in Captain Bub’s Tournament on South Watuppa this year, netting $600 each. During a tourney at Glenn Charlie in 2016, Farland caught one fish that was worth $900.
“It was a rough day fishing — a very tough bite,” he said. “There were only three fish caught between all the boats that day. My fish was the heaviest, which took first place and also the lunker pool.”
Many anglers know Farland as “Twitch”, a moniker bestowed upon him early on in his fishing career because his favorite fishing technique was fishing a big orange floating Rapala lure and twitching it on the surface.
Fishing techniques change and he went from twitching Rapalas to casting crankbaits to slithering rubber worms along the bottom. Nowadays, his favorite lure is a Carolina-rigged rubber worm.
“It puts fish in the boat,” he said
To rig Carolina-style, run a 3/16 ounce sliding tungsten sinker up the running line, then add a glass bead and tie on a swivel. To the other end of the swivel, tie on a three-foot leader and then tie a 3/0-size Gamakatsu (brand) round bend worm hook and add the rubber worm. What color worm?
“June bug,” Farland says. “It’s an effective rig because the sinker stirs up junk on the bottom and it looks like the worm is going after whatever creature is on the bottom, so the bass clobber the worm. It’s my go-to lure.”
Only artificial lures are permitted during tournaments. Live bait is not allowed. Farland notes that he only fishes with artificials, even when he's fishing for fun.
Knowing when and where to find the fish is half the battle, which comes with experience, he said. Making them eat is the other half.
“To try and determine where the fish might be holding, you have to consider such things as time of year, depth and temperature of water, weather patterns and bottom structure,” he said. “A high pressure system will give them lockjaw. You can mark them on the fishfinder so you know they’re there — but they won’t bite. It can be frustrating. Then all of a sudden, they’ll turn on. It’s often a decision you have to make during a tournament — I know they’re there so do I wait them out or spend valuable time moving to look for other fish that may or may not bite?”
The tournament season begins in April and finishes up with the Tournament of Champions events, usually in October, but Farland doesn’t put his gear away. He’s a special breed of angler who fishes year-round as long as there’s no ice.
“There’s a group of us that’ll fish through January and February as long as there’s open water,” he said.
Farland also notes that a misconception of bass tournaments is that they negatively impact bass populations by precipitating a high mortality rate.
“There actually is a very low mortality rate among tournament-caught fish,” he said, explaining that fish are held in oxygenated livewells, weighed-in at the end of the tournament, then released. Points are deducted for weighing-in dead fish.
“Sometimes one ounce can spell the difference between winning and losing, so the penalty is an incentive to handle fish very carefully,” he said, also noting that the slime on a fish is a protective coating, which shields fish from parasites and bacteria. Anglers put additives in their livewells that protect the slime.
“There’s a lot to it,” said Farland. “And let’s not forget that there’s a mortality rate associated with any type of fishing.”
Steve Hurley, Fisheries Manager and Biologist for MassWildlife’s Southeast District Office concurred with Farland, saying that bass are prolific and generally unaffected by tournaments.
“Our bass populations in Southeastern Massachusetts are generally very healthy, both in ponds with bass tournaments and those without,” said Hurley, who also supports the claim that tournament anglers take great care in keeping their bass healthy, noting the dead-fish penalty while adding that “bass tournaments also have helped popularize catch-and-release fishing for smallmouth and largemouth bass.”
For Farland, it used to be “fishing before anything,” he said. Every year, the Tournament of Champions, which he’s fished nearly every year since the late 1980s, fell on his wedding anniversary and he admits that instead of being home celebrating with his wife, he was off fishing the tournament. He also said that most of the big federation tournaments were out of state and he’d leave Thursday, come home late Sunday night and be up for work on Monday morning.
“My wife, Pat, and my family have always put up with me chasing those little green fish,” he said. “Pat always stood behind me. She’s a wonderful lady and my driving force — always excited when I do well — and she makes me feel better when I don’t do so good. We’ve been together for 45 years.”
Things can change with time and Farland, now 66 and retired, while still passionate about bass fishing and continuing to fish four tournament trails, has discovered that family is now his number-one priority.
“I don’t know if it’s maturity, or if I’m mellowing out, or both, but I’ve finally realized that family comes first,” he said. “Now, if there’s a tournament or a family event on the same day, I’ll skip the tournament.”
Marc Folco is the outdoor writer for The Standard-Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through OpenSeasonSpecialties.com