Cheating rocks pro bass fishing — again

And the saga continues. Once again anglers are taking advantage or blatantly ignoring the rules of their sport. Major League Fishing has brought to light a controversy that took place at the Stage 6 tournament on Lake Cayuga, N.Y.

Major League Fishing (MLF) announced June 21 it was investigating accusations that four anglers may have violated sight fishing rules. For those that have no idea what sight fishing is, it’s a technique where anglers visually see a bass sitting on a bed looking to spawn and will try and entice these bass into biting their lure. But one very important rule must be followed. If you are sight fishing, you are required to hook the fish inside the mouth. If the fish is hooked outside the mouth, the fish is considered an unofficial catch and must be returned to the water immediately. This rule is in place so that anglers don’t go out trying to catch fish by snagging them.

Some analysts think it’s immoral or unethical to fish for bass on beds, but it’s not that big an issue since the MLF Bass Pro Tour is a catch and release format. As each fish is caught, it is weighed, recorded and released immediately. 

But here’s the accusations — some anglers were not following  protocol when they pull their catch on board. Anglers who are sight fishing are required to show their on-board marshal (an observer who weighs and monitors each fish caught; making sure anglers follow the rules) that the fish is hooked inside the mouth. If not, it must be released — considered an unofficial catch. But in this event, some anglers were being discreet and hiding their fish as they brought them on the boat so that the cameras nor the marshal could see how the fish was hooked. They would just unhook the bass and proceed to weigh it without confirming it was hooked inside the mouth.

The next issue from this event: some anglers were catching the same fish more than once during the day. The rule states that an angler cannot catch and weigh the same fish more than once in a day.

They can return and catch that same fish the following day if they choose. After video reviews, 16 anglers were called in and subjected to a polygraph test. One failed.

MLF officials have been hard at work reviewing video footage of the anglers in question in order to make sure all the rules were followed. If they find rules have been violated, MLF officials will have to decide to what extent they should be punished. This is where things could get a little weird and revealing. MLF has got to come down hard on this if they find violations were made. No longer is a slap on the wrist a strong enough punishment for violating the rules. MLF’s reputation and integrity are at stake with these rulings. 

Extensive punishment is called for — like suspension for the next event or even worse, suspension for a full season. The best way anglers will get the message that cheating will not be tolerated is to hit them in their checkbook. Disqualifying their days catch and dropping them in the standings a few places is not strong enough. A message needs to be sent that will make anglers think twice about cheating.

Yes, I said cheating! Since its inception, MLF has basically turned a blind eye to certain violations. Just like NASCAR, drivers are always trying to push the envelope and dabble in the grey area of the rules. Bass tournaments are no different as anglers are always looking for an advantage over their competitors by looking for loopholes in the rules. 

Due to the amount of money involved in today’s bass tournament world, with thousands of dollars up for grabs, anglers are thinking outside the box and looking for ways to get around the rules in order to be successful or gain an advantage. But now the time has finally come for anglers to be held accountable for their actions.

While 98 percent of the anglers do a great job of self-reporting and holding each other accountable, it’s the other two percent that need to be made to pay a penalty. With the increase in live prime time TV coverage and national exposure, it’s important to preserve the integrity of the sport and show the anglers and their fans that rule violators will not be tolerated.

I hope MLF officials will come down hard on the angler or anglers if rules were violated. Nothing will bring the sport down faster than anglers who insist on cheating.

‘Til next time, good luck, good fishing, and always read and follow the rules for any tournament you’re competing in.

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