When we pay our entry fees for a bass tournament, we expect a fair tournament that puts our bass fishing skills against the bass themselves. At the end of the day, anglers weigh their catch and the man or woman that outsmarted the bass on that day takes home a nice pocket full of cash for his or her abilities. As bass tournament prize money increases, cheating in these bass tournaments is becoming far too common. Everything from the extravagant such as tying up previously caught bass, to minor rule infractions like forgetting to put on your lifejacket.
Tournament directors cannot possibly have eyes on every angler on the water at all times to enforce the rules or prevent cheating. Some bass tournament directors use polygraphs to help, but they are expensive and take funds away from the total prize purse. Many tournament directors simply rely on the anglers, particularly in draw events. Most of your major events will have a boater and co angler draw. This gives non boaters a tournament opportunity and puts two anglers fishing against each other in the same boat, thus protection against cheating or rule violations.
The concept of putting two competitors in the same boat only works to protect against cheating if a violation is reported within the guidelines of the tournament rules. Point being, there are tournament rules that must be followed, and inside those rules will be procedures for reporting a violation, which also must be followed.
I ran into an issue that actually cost me a small check. Due to improper reporting, nothing could be done about it. An angler catches several keeper bass. One of the larger bass has trouble in the livewell, and the angler is concerned that it might die. This tournament has a one half pound penalty for a dead bass. There is also a rule that is announced at every briefing, which is that you can only have five bass in your livewell; upon catching the sixth bass, you must cull. With yet another fish care rule stating, you cannot cull a dead bass. Compile all this together and here is what you get. An angler catches his six keeper bass; the ill bass is still not doing well, so the angler keeps six bass in his livewell so that prior to weigh in he can make a determination as to the health of the bass in question. Should the ill bass be considered a liability to his overall weight, he simply won’t weigh it in, instead, taking the other five lively bass to the scales and avoiding the fish care penalty all together.
I’ve been in this position before; you have a bass that may or may not make it through weigh in. The question is do you let it go “alive” in hopes that you can catch a bass to replace it, or do you keep it and hope for the best, gambling on the fish care penalty. In my case I asked my observer, “if I let this fish go right now, could you in good faith call it alive?” He said yes. After much thought, I decided to keep the bass as I didn’t have a limit yet. A fish care penalty would be worth it if I only caught five keepers that day, meaning a five bass limit with a fish care penalty is better than four bass; I only had three at the time. I used the little bottle of “crack for bass” called Rejuvenade, and the bass improved, yet was eventually culled.
So we have a violation, too many bass in the livewell, which was purposely executed. I should make note here that in some tournaments this is legal, as long as only five bass are brought to the scale; but not this one. The co angler did not report the violation until the next morning; the last day of the tournament. Tournament rules say that all violations must be reported within 15 minutes of the scales closing. I approached the tournament director myself after the event about this situation. Basically straight up I asked, “How can you award a check to this angler, knowing he cheated?” The tournament director pointed out that there are procedures for reporting violations, just like any other rule, they must be followed. As far as the tournament director was concerned, because of the late notification, he had to group it with hearsay or rumor that was started by a frustrated co angler. So unfortunately, he could not act on it.
There is a huge burden put on bass tournament directors to provide a fair tournament; money is on the line, and we as anglers expect a fair fight. This is why the rules, all of the rules, have to be followed, including the reporting of violations.
No one wants to be “That guy”. The guy that is a “Tattle Tale”. Just as much as I don’t want to be “That Guy”, I also don’t want to be the guy that lets someone get away with violating the rules or allows someone to cheat. Even if I’m not in the hunt to win the tournament, I’m going to say something to the violating angler. If that angler does not correct the situation, I will proceed to the tournament director. It’s our responsibility, as competing anglers, to say something; to stop the cheating in the competition we love. It’s too easy to say, “I’m not going to win this one anyway so why bother”. The fact is that someone is going to win, and someday it might be you that is on the money line. This can’t be a hit or miss concept, all anglers, all the time, must report violations. We have rules for a reason; report them, and let the tournament director decide the fate of the violator. Sometimes it might be a smack on the hand, sometimes it might be a weight reduction, sometimes it might be a disqualification. Anglers should feel good about reporting violations and keeping our sports integrity intact. Let the tournament director know, and let them make the call.
In this particular event, I finished 41st out of a field of 220 anglers. Guess what the payout went to? Yep, 40th place received the last check. I’m not going to blame my lack of ability on the cheater, nor am I going to blame not getting a check on the angler that didn’t properly report the cheating. I had several opportunities to produce quality fish and failed to do so. However, if I had done better and taken a check, there would still be the angler that finished one out of the money, all because this angler cheated and the angler that was with him didn’t report it correctly.
The angler that cheated did not deserve to win a check, much less the high finish he received. If we don’t speak up, anglers that knowingly violate the rules of the tournament will continue to do so. It’s our obligation to speak up; there are procedures in place to allow anglers to speak up and report violators. When we don’t do it, the violators are preying on us. They are betting that we won’t say anything because we are sportsmen, and sportsmen don’t “Tattle” on each other. We as anglers must stop this kind of thinking. If you’re not going to be a true sportsman and you’re going to put me in a position that questions my integrity, you’re going to lose. For me, my integrity lies with the rules of the tournament. My integrity lies with a fair tournament, in which everyone is matching wits with the bass, and not worrying about anything else; true and fair competition. For me, not reporting a violation or at least addressing the angler on a minor one, is just as serious as committing the violation myself.
When I fish a tournament, I pay my money, expecting a fair fight. I need every angler on the water to expect the same thing and settle for nothing less.
Bottom line, I should have done better. This is not a complaint as to why I didn’t do better, or why I didn’t take a check. That is 100 percent on me. However, there is no room for cheating in our sport, no matter how small the infraction, please, everyone speak up! It’s up to us, the anglers, to keep our sports integrity!
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