What are the rules, anyway?

I was grieved to hear about the verbal rift that occurred between two prominent California fishermen in the B.A.S.S. event at Clear Lake.

While our ESPN Sports Center experiences have conditioned most of us to expect crass, selfish or “unsporting” remarks as a part of the weekly post-game bluster, I thought that our sport of tournament bass fishing was at another level. Clearly I was mistaken.

In fact, perported bad behavior on the water, followed by irresponsible rationale afterwards, proves bass fishing truly has reached the professional level! We can now match malfeasance with the best of them.

Having said this, I see a couple of points to be made. First, as I have often noted, all those wannabe pro fishermen (even those who look pretty good in an embroidered shirt) really have no idea what’s in store for them, should they progress that particular course. If one’s image of a pro is the guy casting at the Bass Bin at some sports show or signing autographs at a Wal-Mart in Littlerock, that view is sliverish.

Not only must a pro catch fish on demand, he must also have enough personality, business sense and--how about--horse sense, to know that what one does and how one does it is constantly under scrutiny. How one performs as an individual, not just the conquering fisherboy, weighs heavily on how one is viewed, judged and speaking commercially--rewarded.

Yet we live in an odd time where imperfection is so easily overlooked—even forgotten. And speaking of forgetfulness, one of our biggest California stars has managed to endure despite the fact he forgot to buy a fishing license; forgot the regulations regarding possession of live trout; and then, in a remarkable tactical feat, forgot the weigh-in time at the World Championships.

Hey. Stuff happens.

Nonetheless, we have clamored for years about making bass fishing big—bigger--and bigger still. We want big rewards and big recognition, but what the sport sometimes produces is guys with big reputations that need to be maintained at any cost.

Then it gets down to competition, all supposedly within the “rules of the game.”

One of the problems with the game of bass fishing, though, is its curious standard for what is acceptable within the rules. We’ve all heard the expression, “the unwritten rules.” The problem with unwritten rules is they’re a little hard to annotate.

Brought up on Middle Class values, I was raised to always do my best. My track coach taught if you couldn’t win, you did all you could to finish second or third--whatever place you might achieve and score--with a full effort. He went so far to create a standard that declared, “If you can’t score, you will still run the fastest time of your career.”

That’s a little contrary to football’s unwritten “No throwing the bomb late in the game with a 30 point lead.” It’s also contrary bass fishing’s “Let the leader or contender’s water alone so he has a chance to win.”

So there can only be one solution. Either we write down the unwritten rules. Or we rely on the Golden Rule, etiquette and civility.

Yeah. Like that’s gonna happen.