Bass tournament controversy can stem from unintentional blunders

As they say, records are made to be broken. Well, the same can be said of rules in a bass tournament. 

Every bass tournament organization has its own set of rules and not all circuits are the same. Some tournament trails are called “team trails” and others are  called Pro/Am events in which a pro is randomly paired up with a co-angler. The pro fishes out the front of the boat and has total control of the trolling motor and where they fish, while the co-angler/amateur fishes out of the back of the boat and is not allowed to fish off the front deck. 

While most of the rules are very similar, some circuits might have a couple of rules specific for what body of water they are fishing. But no matter what, it’s the responsibility of the angler to read, know, and follow the rules of each event. There are no excuses for violating a rule under any circumstances, especially not a plea of ignorance.            

Let’s look at a controversy in a recent Bass Champs Team Trail event on Toledo Bend about the third-place team of Bill Cook and his partner Ken Burgess. First and foremost, most of the time when anglers violate a rule in a tournament, it’s unintentional. This does not make them cheaters; it means they violated a rule they didn’t realize was a rule. This Bass Champs event was a trailering tournament, which meant you could launch your boat anywhere on the lake but could not start fishing until 7 a.m. 

On this particular morning, Bill and Ken left the ramp and headed for the area they were going to start fishing, arriving around 6:45. Around this time, Bill lowered the trolling motor with his Livescope screen activated. This was an immediate rules violation. Livescope is part of Garmin Electronics’ fish-finder system that is what anglers call a forward-facing sonar. It allows an angler to see fish up to 100 feet in real time. 

The rule that Bill and his partner were not aware of was that you could not turn on your Livescope until the official start fishing time. They were, however, allowed to use their electronics before then, but only for navigational purposes.  

After revealing how Bill and his partner caught their fish on an episode of Tackle Talk Live and the radio program Hook’N Up & Track’N Down, a tournament competitor heard how they were using Livescope before the official start time. This guy then called Bass Champs and reported the violation. Bass Champs verified the accusation and concluded that indeed Bill and Ken had violated the Livescope rule.  

Bass Champs notified Bill that he and his partner would have to forfeit their third-place winnings of $2,700. Embarrassed and upset with himself, Bill posted his reaction on Facebook and apologized for the rule violation that he and his partner inadvertently committed. He never made any excuses and said no one was to blame for this mistake other than himself and his partner. They took full responsibility and emphasized that they should have done a better job of reading and understanding the rules. 

From this angler’s perspective, Bill and Ken are two awesome individuals who made an honest mistake. But I can say with 90 percent confidence that out of 169 other teams in this event, there were others who violated the same rule but never came forward and admitted it. 

If you were one of these in this category, shame on you for not being honest! One thing I’ve always praised about tournament bass fishermen is that most do hold themselves accountable whenever they break a rule, from forgetting to wear a life jacket while changing locations on the lake, to having more than five fish in the live well and forgetting to cull one.

It’s the responsibility of the angler to call the tournament director and report any violation when it occurs and accept whatever penalty or punishment that might be handed down. Rules are not intended to make things tougher on anglers. They exist to level the playing field for all anglers.  

The message to take away from this story — always read the rules for all tournaments. Nothing is worse or more embarrassing for an angler than being disqualified from an event.

 Until next time, good luck, good fishing and don’t forget to read the rules! 

Contact Steve at

To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE