Although the percentage of those who have cheated (or will cheat) in bass tournaments is but a miniscule fraction of all those who legitimately compete, it is amazing how a cheating incident affects us. Although it affects each of us differently, it definitely affects all of us in one-way or another. Cheating is an attack on our very soul, our passion, and our integrity. It is a slap in the face to those who have dedicated their lives to elevating tournament bass fishing to a viable professional sport. One thoughtless, selfish, and dishonest person or team can wipe away years of blood, sweat, and tears in one brief moment of dishonesty. These cheaters have in their hands (and in their twisted minds) a weapon of mass destruction. They can drive a stake into the very heart of every honest tournament bass angler and not think twice about doing it. They have no conscience. They are the terrorists of our beloved sport.
Those who cheat in bass tournaments are nothing more than common thieves. They are the scum of the earth who are willing to sell their soul for fame or fortune. The amount of money is irrelevant. Whether it is for a few hundred dollars or thousands of dollars, the thought of cheating in a tournament for ANY reason or for ANY amount of money simply goes beyond the comprehension of every honest tournament angler (or every honest human being, for that matter). It is a dirty deed that honest, law-abiding people simply do not and cannot understand. How can a cheater hold a trophy high above his or her head with pride or stare at it on their mantle or on their wall knowing that they cheated to get it? They stole it! They stole the money that came with it! A thief is a thief is a thief, and a person who cheats in a bass tournament is a thief. There is a Commandment that condemns stealing. A cheater may be able to successfully pull one over on everyone here on earth, but he will NEVER pull one over on the guy who wrote that Commandment.
Over the past few months, there have been several cheating incidents that have surfaced. Each one of them has, in some way, affected every one of us in a variety of ways. These incidents have put us on edge and have caused emotions to run high. Perhaps most notably was an incident that reportedly occurred in a prestigious national Tour event. A very popular and successful Tour angler, who has won nearly a million dollars over the past two years, was accused of having caged fish. Although the tournament organization never publicly acknowledged that a cheating incident actually occurred (nor will they ever), they have alledgedly banned this angler for life from fishing any future events.
And more recently, and much closer to home, two team tournament anglers were out fun fishing at a popular Southern California tournament lake when they located a cage containing five bass in it. The anglers knew that there was a team tournament at that lake in two days. They wisely summoned two other team tournament anglers to witness their findings and photographed the cage and bass. They then replaced the cage and fish and notified the director of the organization holding the upcoming tournament. A plan was put into motion to catch the cheaters who had planted the cage and fish. Sure enough, a team weighed in the fish from the cage and the team was disqualified. (The dummies had 16 pounds of fish in a March tournament at lake where it always takes over 20 pounds to win). During the investigation, it was learned that another team was suspected in this cage incident and possibly others. When the two suspected teams were asked to take lie detector tests, all four anglers refused to do so. The tournament director banned the four cheaters from fishing all of their future tournaments, as have three other tournament organizations in which the cheaters have competed. If there was one good thing to come out of this cheating incident, it successfully opened a line of communication between four Southern California tournament organizations, including discussions on how to deal with such issues in the future. It also established a cooperation between the organizations to ban these cheaters from ALL tournaments in the area (and beyond), thus eliminating the possibility of them cheating again.
Another incident occurred at a recent Pro-Am tournament on the Delta where an angler who, while fishing a spinnerbait, caught some fishing line that had a six-pound bass attached to it. The bass had apparently broken off after being hooked by someone else and had a length of line still attached. The angler throwing the spinnerbait landed the fish and weighed it in. Although this angler had no dishonest intent whatsoever and the tournament director ruled that it was a legal catch, the incident created a lengthy thread on a popular bass fishing forum. Some of the forum responses supported the tournament director’s decision, while others opposed it. Was it the right call? I guess it’s a matter of opinion.
And yet another recent incident occurred at a Southern California lake during a team tournament where a team was fishing inside of an area that is normally buoyed off. Several months ago, the buoy line around this area broke and was never repaired or replaced by lake officials. A second team saw the team fishing in this area and filed a protest against them. The tournament director contacted lake officials, who acknowledged that the buoy line had, in fact, been broken for some time. They said that, because they had not repaired the buoy line, they would not issue a citation to anyone caught fishing in the area. As such, the protest was overruled. Was it the right call? Again, it’s a matter of opinion.
Unfortunately, several anglers got into a shouting match over the incident and came very close to throwing punches, all of which was witnessed by a number of tournament spectators and the general public.
With the number of cheating or suspected cheating incidents apparently on the rise (at least it sure seems that way, but perhaps we are all just a little hyper-sensitive right now), we as tournament anglers and tournament organizers must maintain our wits. It is all too easy to lose our cool and say or do something that we should not have said or done when we hear of these incidents. Every reputable tournament organization has a protest process, which, in most cases, is very effective – if it is given the opportunity to do what it is intended to do. If we as tournament anglers try to shortcut the system or try to pre-judge or force the issue, we will (most likely) add to the problem more so than help remedy it. We must allow the system to work. If we do, in most cases, the truth will become known and the proper outcome achieved.
As tournament anglers, we have the absolute duty to police our sport. If we see a rules violation and do nothing about it, then we are as guilty as the person or team that violated the rules. It is our responsibility to utilize the system in place to protest those for violating tournament rules. But by the same token, while it is our obligation to police our sport, it is not our responsibility to impose the punishment, even though we would really like to do so, especially to cheaters. Keep in mind that those who cheat, and not just in bass tournaments, will someday have to answer to a higher source (you know, that Commandment guy). It will be then that the trophies on their mantle or on their wall will come tumbling down upon them, so to speak.
Thanks for your time and always remember: “The shortest distance between two points is a reef!”