What Is Culling In Fishing?

If you are new to fishing and tournaments, you’ve come across the word culling. You are probably wondering what it involves and how it is done. Culling fish involves selecting fish by weight and throwing out the smallest fish in your life well. In this post, we tell you everything you will ever need to know about culling fish. Read on!

Culling is a practice in tournament fishing; tournament rules limit how many fish you can catch. Once you catch any extra fish, you cull from your catch by releasing the smallest fish. 

Releasing the smallest means you add to your overall weight to increase your chances of winning. If the limit for a particular tournament is five fish, you will release the smallest fish by weight in your catch when you catch a sixth. Culling is also used in aquariums and management of fisheries where specific ages or sizes of fish are targeted for removal from the fishing or aquariums.

Is Culling Cruel To Fish?

Culling, especially in fisheries and aquariums, does seem harsh and cruel, but it is not. It does not seem kind because these are living creatures being euthanized, but the same principle applies to maintain ecological balance. Fish produce excessively large numbers of fingerlings, and most never make it to adulthood. If all the young ones were to survive to adulthood, resources would be depleted and the ecological balance upset. The fish that don’t survive provide protein to other animals making the cycle quite natural.

Culling fish in an aquarium also ensures the habitat doesn’t deteriorate due to overcrowding, causing the entire shoal’s death. In fishing tournaments, culling is done in such a way that the fish don’t die. Anglers use methods that don’t injure the fish to ensure they survive when put back into the water.

Dos And Don’ts Of Culling For Tournament Anglers

Dos And Don'ts Of Culling For Tournament Anglers

The main difference between professional anglers and those doing it for fun comes in the culling. For hobby anglers, having the maximum limit of fish in their live well is the most satisfying feeling, but it marks the beginning for pros. How fast, efficiently, and carefully you curl your fish in tournaments determines whether you will get the trophy or check. We’ve compiled some rules for better culling to help you be the best in the game.

Here’s a quick summary:

What To Do (Dos) What To Avoid (Don’ts
Tag and clip the fish as soon as you catch themDo not mishandle or injure the fish
Choose the right culling clip and beam balanceAvoid putting fish without tags in the live well
Have color-coded tags for easy identification of the fish you are cullingDo not put the pin through the gills 
Choose a clip that doesn’t injure the fishAvoid culling before you know the rules in your region 

If you are serious about winning the tournament, then adhering to these rules should be your ultimate priority. Let’s have an in-depth look at all the rules

1. Tag And Clip The Fish As Soon As You Catch Them

Tagging the fish as soon as you catch them saves you much time when it comes to culling. Clipping and weighing your fish as they come to keep you from having to chase them in the live well a second time. Some species such as bass can be hard to catch, and putting them in the live well before weighing makes your work harder. 

Some people reason that weighing is a waste of their time if they don’t catch the limit. We are of the opinion that you should get into the tournament with a winning attitude. Expect the best and hope to catch the limit.

The only time when it makes sense to put your fish in the life well before you weigh is when you have a huge catch. You can choose to focus on reaching the limit and consider your catch when the bait slows down.

2. Choose The Right Culling Clip And Beam Balance

In fishing, the right equipment can be the ultimate game-changer. The culling clips and beam balance that you use can make a huge difference in your prize money. While there’s much debate on the best type of culling clips, we recommend those that are punched through the underside of the fish’s mouth. You have options between the old chain stringer clips and those that pinch the lip of the fish.

It will be an added advantage if your clips of choice come with a beam balance. The beam balance makes it easy to weigh the fish without undoing the clips. A beam balance is also quite accurate and doesn’t need batteries or zeroing.

3. Have Color-Coded Tags For Easy Identification Of The Fish You Are Culling

Color-coded tags are an ideal system for identifying the lightest fish in your live well. They help you to know which fish has to go without reweighing. If you want to be confident all through to your last catch, these tags are the way to go. You only need to mark in your head which color holds the lightest fish. You can then cull the fish with that tag when you catch a heavier one.

4. Choose A Clip That Doesn’t Injure The Fish

When choosing clips, it is advisable to go for the ones going under the mouth. Avoid anything that has to go through the gills as it stresses the fish. Avoid clips that can tangle or get hooked to each other as these can kill the fish in the live well, and you will be fined heavily.

Fish care is quite essential when it comes to culling, and you need to ensure you don’t harm or kill the fish.

5. Know The Rules In Your Region Before Culling

In some states, culling is illegal, even in tournaments. When fishing, it is essential to know which side of the waters you’re in and their rules. Years back, a tournament angler from Minnesota was stripped of her win for culling. According to American Bass Anglers, she was stripped of her success because of culling in the Mississippi River in Wisconsin. The tournament was held in Minnesota, where culling is legal, but the angler crossed onto the river unknowingly and lost her win.


Culling in tournament fishing helps anglers increase the average weight of their catch without exceeding limits. There are numerous culling methods available to tournament anglers, with new technology coming up each day. When choosing a culling system, go for one that’s least stressful to the fish and guarantees fifth returning to the waters alive.

Choosing a culling system that is not harmful ensures anglers have more fish to catch in the future. Culling systems also have their fair share of drawbacks and may cause you to re-cull sometimes.  However, it’s nothing you can’t handle, and with experience, you get to know what works best for you. Do not be afraid to try different methods as long as they are safe for fish until you find your best fit. We wish you all the best in your upcoming tournament and hope that this information adds value to help you win.

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