Rules, Rules, Rules …
By Bill Hutcheson Past WON BASS Tournament Director
Rules of the road, the rules of etiquette, the rules according to Hoyle. Whether you are obeying traffic laws or God forbid, tax rules while filing your 1040’s, we all have to live by the rules or risk the consequences. So why is it that when a rule is broken during an organized bass tournament, that it raises such a furor – especially by the offending parties?
Anytime a pro angler gets DQ’d, it always makes the news regardless of what the grounds for disqualification may be. From incidents as innocuous as running late for weigh-in, to criminal acts like intentionally snagging fish and then gluing on scales to hide the hook marks, a disqualification from any organized tournament will make the rounds on the internet and in the press.
Anglers will spend days pre-fishing, studying maps, and prepping their boat and tackle but few will read the entire set of tournament rules to make sure they understand them and are in compliance. Those who do not, may find themselves in an embarrassing situation when they get a tap on the shoulder from the tournament director.
Does being disqualified in a tournament mean you are a bad person? Not at all, unless you are attempting to defraud the tournament or place someone in grave danger as a result of your actions, most disqualifications are simply the result of an oversight of the tournament rules. The biggest names in bass fishing from Roland Martin to Mike Iaconelli have all been called out at one time. The last I heard, both of these guys are doing just fine.
When a disqualification occurs, please handle yourself like the professional you are supposed to be. If you disagree with the call, ask for a meeting with the tournament officials in a private location where you can express your frustration. What you absolutely do not want to do however, is go ballistic, using profanity in front of spectators, sponsors, and tournament staff. The repercussions from an outburst witnessed by sponsors may result in a loss of their support and a reputation that future sponsors will not want to burden themselves with.
While finger pointing often occurs when someone is disqualified, ultimately the burden will rest upon the angler. It is the SOLE responsibility of every angler to know all of the rules of the particular organization’s tournament they are fishing. Nearly every circuit has their rules available online for all to see. Additionally, these rule booklets are distributed to anyone who needs a copy during the pre-tournament meetings.
One thing I want to make clear is that disqualifying someone is not a fun thing for the tournament director. Fishermen are the lifeblood of the tournament circuit and most T.D.’s have a friendly relationship with their anglers. When a tournament director has to make a DQ call, it is not done with malice nor is it personal. The T.D. is simply doing his job to make the playing field level and the rules equally applied to all. To do otherwise would jeopardize the integrity of the tournaments. You would not want to play poker for money at a table where someone makes up the rules as you play, who would want to fish under the same circumstances? Disqualifications are made to protect the entire angling field, not simply to punish anglers.
I remember when playing organized baseball as a kid, I used to dread when my dad was the umpire at one of my games. No one in the entire league had a tighter strike zone than I did when I was on the mound as my dad did not want any question of impropriety coming into play when calling balls or strikes. Likewise, when I was at the plate, if it was close, I’d better be swinging, or I’d get called out on strikes. I know that my dad hated to call me out, but it was his job. This is exactly how a good tournament director feels when they are making a DQ call against one of their anglers.
Bearing all the above in mind, how do you make sure you don’t inadvertently run afoul of the rules? Some key points follow for all fishermen to remember when it comes to staying within the rules of a tournament:
Paperwork – The paperwork needed for a tournament includes everything from current boat registration, proof of insurance card, fishing license/s, partner phone numbers, and check-in or weigh-cards. Ideally, you should have all of these together in a zip-lock bag that you can bring with you to the check-in or pre-tournament meeting. This packet can then be placed in the glove box of your boat or your tackle bag so it will be on hand if/when needed.
Off-limits – While most off-limits areas are clearly defined at the pre-tournament meeting, any questions regarding them should be discussed with the tournament director either during or immediately after the pre-tournament meeting. When I am finished with my pre-tournament briefings, I will ask the angling field if anyone has questions. This is the best time to bring up any points as the answer to your question will be heard by all. Unfortunately, disqualification for fishing in an off-limits area often carries a stigma, so be sure you know where not to fish during the tournament.
Check-in / Weigh-in – Probably the most common reason for disqualification is being late for weigh-in. Most organizations will provide you with paperwork that indicates your boat and flight number, and the time you are due in. This is information you should memorize and keep with the above paperwork packet mentioned. It is amazing how many guys will launch their boat and be ready to go and yet not know their own boat number or what time they are to check-in. Likewise, do not rely on the time on your wristwatch. With the high-tech Garmin GPS units on most boats, the tournament orgs. will use the GPS clock time as their official tournament time. I would recommend doing the same. Cell phones with a GPS driven clock will also suffice as they are operating on the same set of satellites.
Size and Limits – While most short fish will only result in a weight penalty and not a DQ, bringing too many fish to the scales will unquestionably result in disqualification. Please keep a careful count of how many fish you have in the livewell and make this count prior to your final run to weigh-in. Counting the fish at the weigh-in dock is too late since most tournament organizations rules will allow you to be DQ’d if you have an over-limit in your livewell.
Boating & Safety – There is no excuse for any angler, whether during a tournament or any other day on the water, to operate their boat in an unsafe manner which may endanger their passengers or others. All fishermen should keep the USCG mandated safety equipment on board their vessel and must wear their PDF’s when the big motor is running.
While many other tournament-specific rules apply to each circuit, the items listed above probably account for 90% of the disqualifications that occur in our sport.
This story is one from a past issue of Bass Angler Magazine to get the latest tips and techniques sign up for Bass Angler Magazine