Read the Rules
Read the Rules
By Reed Montgomery
When entering any tournament there is always a set of rules to go by. Many tournament regulars know this and generally have a copy of the rules before hand. Yet every tournament is different, whether it is a club tournament, tournament trail or an annual tournament and all have rules. Not knowing or not following, these often very strict rules can mean losing precious end-of-the year points, big bass of the day, disqualification or actually being barred from these andother events throughout the rest of your life. Along with these disheartingly facts can be total embarressment and a finger pointed at you the rest of your fishing days, every time you appear on lakes and rivers throughout the state. I learned my lesson years ago during a club tournament, where the reward was only a small trophy and I had little to lose. Yet bringing in a short bass cost me forfeiture of my biggest bass, of which would have been big bass of the day. It also knocked me back a few places at the time and at the end of the year, definitely had a bearing on my yearly standings. Not all that bad, but at the time making the bass clubs top ten of the year meant a lot to a then, very young and proud angler. Another situation occurred as I fished an Alabama Solo Trail (C.A.S.T.) tournament on Lay Lake a few years back. There were only 26 boats and this was my first time to fish this new Solo trail. With that in mind, I picked up a copy of the rules upon registration that morning. Although boats were already blasting off and I was the last to register, I still took time to read the necessities of this tournaments set of rules. Even as I idled by the tournament director I pondered several important questions concerning the rules. First I inquired of the weigh-in time. Then how many fish for a limit and would culling be allowed. I had already checked on the official time beforehand. With this in mind I set out to catch a 5 fish limit in hopes of winning this one-on-one competition tournament. All of the regulars were there and I knew it would take a quality bag of bass to beat this top-notch field, which consisted of some of Alabama's most adept anglers.
The day went rather well for me and a half dozen other familier faces that I had seen in the past in other tournaments. One rather new, young face came in and blew the competition away. Although I had not had the pleasure of meeting this aspiring young angler now joining the Lay Lake crowd of bassin'regulars I knew he had it won. He seemed overjoyed at the excellent day he had experienced. He brought in a five bass limit of bass weighing 18.50 lbs. Not only did this overshadow second and third place contenders by more than two pounds but also included the big bass of the day, a beautiful Coosa River spotted bass weighing near seven pounds. To the amazement of the onlookers he announced that he had not entered the big bass pot that morning. This knocked him out of 250 dollars for the tournaments biggest bass. Still the proud young angler knew he had the tournament won with his hefty bag of bass as the last angler weighed in his bass. Unfortunately while this angler was taking the mandatory polygraph test for first place, it was discovered that the young man had made another terrible mistake that would ad to his downfall on this glorious day all tournament anglers strive for. He had brought in 6 bass and the remaining bass was discovered in his livewell. The rules read; The limit will be five bass per boat. Culling will begin as soon as the sixth bass is caught before making another cast. Any member found to have more than a five bass limit will be disqualified. The rest is history and a hard lesson learned by an honest young angler that had made a bad mistake. I'm sure this will follow him all of the rest of his fishing days and be hard to overlook by him and the others that often misjudge one by one of life's many simple mistakes. Don't let this happen to you as it and many other rules can mean failure in the ever competing world of tournament fishing. Take these and other rules to heart for no tournament director can bend the rules no matter who you are or what the circumstances call for. And if by chance you do get caught up in an honest mistake, learn to live with it and make no apologies. For we are all just human and all of us make mistakes.
LIFE JACKETS AND KILL SWITCHES In no particular order these rules can apply to various situations as they occur during your tournament day. Putting on your life jacket and hooking up your kill switch should be as habit as wearing a seat belt when you get in your car. Before cranking your outboard motor and backing your boat off the trailer you are officially entered in the tournament. That means you should abide by the rules as soon as you hand your money over and enter the tournament. Many tournaments state in their rules; Life jackets must be worn and securely fastened with a kill switch attached anytime the outboard motor is running. If you unknowingly take your boat off the trailer in the morning without wearing your life jacket and someone notices it, it could cost you the check you might have received that evening. Even if you abided by this rule all day, no tournament director can bend the rules if the protester has a witness and can prove you were in the wrong. This is very likely to happen in this dog-eat-dog atmospere we all can feel after years of tournament fishing. There are many jealous peers that would love to see you go down for a simple mistake. This also goes for putting the boat on the trailer at the end of the day. The tournament is not over until the checks are handed out. I have witnessed it all. Including hot summer days when life jackets are uncomfortable and anglers merely idled from one side of a creek to the other. I have even seen life jackets flapping in the wind behind two obvious tournament anglers running wide open down the lake. If you have never seen the eventual end of an angler that got ran over by his own boat, drowned because he got thrown overboard, or possibly got knocked out, then you can not possibly realize the importance of this rule. Thats why they call them LIFE jackets and KILL switches. Wear Em'. Exception; Some rules state wearing both the life jacket and kill switch anytime the boat is on plane, motor is in gear, etc. Some say only when the motor is running.
RUNNING LIGHTS Another rule concerning human life is having working running lights on any boat underway during early light or night tournaments. Even if you are just sitting in the dark fishing, the law says you must have lights on, for and aft of your boat. Most daytime tournaments get underway after sunup. If you have problems with your running lights explain the situation to the tournament director. Usually they will allow you to pull over and you can blast off at safe light after running lights are not required. Water patrols are out early, in the fog and throughout the night and enforce this rule strickly. Invest in a good Q-beam spotlight for spotting ojects when running at night, a floating crappie light and a night fishing black light. Always bring along some spare bulbs for your running lights. This will remedy this rule and some easily fixable problems. Besides perhaps saving your life or the life of others.
FISHING NEAR OTHER COMPETITORS I don't know if this qualifies for a life saving tactic but I personally know of many instances where it could have some bearing. Many tournament rules state that if another competitor is anchored down and has the trolling motor up then he can claim that spot and no other competitor can invade his area within 50 yards. Some rules state no fishing within 50 yards of another tournament competitor. Again, read the rules and have a little respect for your fellow angler. If you make a couple of anglers mad and they remember you as you heave that hefty bag of bass on the scales, who's to say they wouldn't protest you for fishing to close to their boat earlier that day? Many times small creeks make it impossible for passing another competitor during competition to reach whats on the other side. If this is the case then return later or give it up to first come first gets to fish. There are to many other places on these huge lakes to fight over such a small spot-no matter how many bass you have caught there before. If you are splashing water on another competitors boat with your lures, don't wait on him to tell you you are to close.
LENGTH AND LIMITS How many times have you took a chance and weighed in that bass that barely measured. As I tried to do years ago in a club tournament. I knew that bass measured out on the lake and for a while I couldn't believe it when the tournament director and his assistant tried to swing the tail to where it would touch the 12 inch mark. I accepted reality as I watched them subtract a bass over five pounds for bringing in a short fish that barely weighed one pound. Major tournament trails abide by this rule to avoid any unnecessary time killed on the weigh-in stand. It also discourages other anglers frommaking the same mistake-with you as an example. If the bass is doubtfull then throw it back. It may haunt you for a while, but reality will tell you that a bass of the twelve inch size is usually not worth the effort. On the other hand if you are fishing for 16 inch bass then double check a bass that mayhave shrunk in a days time. Get another anglers opinion before getting on the weigh-in stand, remember, its to late then. Not only can your bass be to short. State laws could get you a ticket by an observing water patrol at the weigh-in. Many tournaments have stiff penalties for bringing a short bass to the scales. A deductionof your biggest bass weight could mean many pounds and perhaps a check. Some tournaments subtract up to three pounds for short bass. As mentioned in the beginning of this article bringing in to many bass has cost more than one angler the tournament. Even Rick Clunn did it in a Bassmasters Tournament. We are all human(even Rick)and make mistakes. If the rules say no culling at the dock then you must count your bass out on the lake. If they say cull on the sixth bass then keep count and don't bring in to many. Its to late then. There is a system called Cull-em-right on the market that eliminates this problem. Every bass you catch is color coded with a tag and the weight recorded. Upon catching the last allowable bass you exchange it for the smallest bass in the livewell and go about your fishing. If the tournament officials don't allow culling at the dock remember to cull before you come in. To many bass brought to the scales can mean subtracted weight or total disqualification.
WEIGH-IN-BAGS Every bag made to weigh in bass is constructed in different ways. Some consist of thicker plastic than others and some are much bigger. This can add up to different weights and an unfair advantage over other anglers when ounces add up to dollars. This is why some tournaments state that bags will be provided. Usually only a dozen or less are given out at one time to keep bass from dying at the weigh-in lines. All you have to do is look around to see if this rule is in effect. I have seen competitors disqualified for not following this rule and before this they had the tournament won. If you are not sure, ask the tournament officials, before you bag those bass in your own weigh-in bag. Its to late then.
DEAD BASS This is a subject we all avoid but it happens to the best and most honest ofv all anglers. First of all, this has caused more concern by most anglers for the life of the bass itself. Besides deducted weight for dead bass this assures that the bass will live to fight another day when released in a healthy condition. It also avoids any angler from bringing in questionable bass, especially if they are all dead and look like they were caught three days ago. Every once in a while an aereator can go bad killing your catch. Or catching bass out of deeper water and bringing them up to fast can kill your catch with the sudden depth change. Even a late hook-set can mean the bass has swallowed your lure and calls for having to operate with needle nose pliers-often to the misfortune of the bass, along with your less-important deducted weight. Leaving the hook in the bass and cutting the line can mean saving its life and not cost you precious weight for a dead bass. The hook will evntually rust and fall out of these released bass. Always use catch and release formula, if it is available. These crystals, added to the livewell water, is often needed during summer whether fishing day or night tournaments. Be prepared, for the life of the bass you save today could be the lunker your offspring catches tomorrow.
LATE PENALTY This rule has gotten many anglers to the tune of a pound-per-minute for up to fifteen minutes, if you are late returning to the weigh-in site. In tournaments with different weigh-in times this can mean staggered flights returning every fifteen to thirty minutes in the evening. Know your return time to avoid being late or to early. Timing your run up or downriver when you blast off in the morning can tell of the needed running time to return that evening. Official time is given at the beginning of each tournament. Be sure to remember if your watch is ahead or behind a few minutes upon your getting ready to return in the evening. Its best to set your watch to his, even a minute or two ahead to be sure. Some tournaments are very strict with a no weigh-in policy if you are not in on time.
BIG BASS POT This is pretty simple, either you pay in the morning with your entry fee or you choose not to put up 5 or 10 dollars for a chance at a payout from 500-1000 dollars(or more). Often you are asked upon signing up in the morning but if not, it is up to you to remember to enter the big bass pot. I have entered many tournaments in the past and look at big bass as part of the entry fee. You never know when big daddy is going to be yours for the day. One win can pay all the big bass fees for the rest of the year.
I once stopped in a creek one hour before quitting time in a SOLO trail tournament on Alabama's Lay Lake. This last minute stop paid handsomly that day and I got in with two minutes to spare. I weighed in the tournaments biggest bass that day, weighing 6.83 lbs. One hundred and twenty anglers put in 10 dollars each that morning. If I had chosen not to pay my ten dollars that morning I would not have taken home a check for 1200 dollars for big bass of the day.
When watching the weigh-in, after your bass has been declared the biggest bass of the tournament, keep an eye on the following bags of bass brought to the scales. Check each potential big bass that could beat yours in a blink of an eye. Once during an annual tournament held on Lay Lake I was told my reigning big bass weighing 5.68 lbs had just been beaten by another bass weighing 5.71 lbs. That bass was worth well over 1, 000 dollars at $200 per pound. I later found out from several reputable club members fishing the same tournament, that the bass weighed after mine had been weighed in a bag layed in a basket and placed on the scales. My bass was weighed, without the bag, in a basket. Surely that bag with its few drops of water weighed more than three one hundreths of a pound. When I confronted the tournament directer he said it was to late to protest even with half a dozen witnesses. I now observe every big bass weighed in, especially when I am leading big bass of the day. A very expencive lesson learned for me...but never again.
DRINKING, DRUGS AND PAST POLYGRAPH FAILURE Many anglers celebrate a tournament win with a good cold beer, but often to soon. Some have been disqualified for drinking before the tournament was officially over or before polygraph tests were given. Taking drugs, whether prescription or intentional abuse can alter a polygraph test and break tournament rules. Flunking any polygraph test can mean not being able to enter future tournaments with that particular organization and others that have it in their tournament rules. Questionable entrants in any tournament can be asked to take a polygraph test if a prize or money is to be awarded. Stay as honest and as sober as you can. If you win it can show to be false later-if you broke the rules. Its hard to fool a polygraph test. Besides, if you cheated you deserve to get caught.
INSURANCE AND LIABILITY Most tournaments require that the boat owner has boat insurance and that he(or she)sign a release of liability. This is for the benefit of the people holding the tournament, in case someone gets hurt or decides to sue for some reason. Some tournaments(such as Bassmasters B.A.S.S.tournaments)state that you must have $100, 000 liability insurance, covering each occupant of the boat. This protects everyone. Most anglers that enter any tournament don't know it, but if someone gets hurt while in that tournament, that angler(or relatives)can sue everyone involved in that particular event. If a tournament requires you to have insurance and it is discovered that you don't, you will have to forfeit any prize or money.
There are many rules and all are strickly enforced by tournament promoters. This is serious business with thousands of dollars and hundreds of lives at stake. Some rules I haven't mentioned, due to the endless possibilities. Many other rules apply in various forms in each and every tournament. Obey all rules when out fishing during these tournaments. The old addadage "Big Brother is Watching" never held more truth. Unknown to a lot of tournament anglers in these major tournaments is that those anglers in the nearby boat, may not be fellow competitors. Tournament officials, do travel the lake while you and hundreds of competitors are out fishing. Live well checks or any other possible tournament rule that may be broken, can cost forfeiture of all prizes(and money)at the end of the day, if you are found at fault. Pay close attention to designated fishing locations, such as within a bouy line, in the mouth of the weigh-in site, or within 50 yards of any competitor or marina gas pump. Keep in mind culling rules, fish limits, short fish, dead fish, weigh-in times and many, often unseen other rules, can trap the unaware angler. I have seen anglers disqualified for using their own weigh-in bags, drinking beer before the tournament was officially over, putting the boat on the trailer before weighing in their fish, operating a boat without lights or for not wearing a life jacket. Even one case where "both" anglers did not pass a polygraph test...even after winning the tournament!
Don't let this happen to you. NEVER ask another competitor for answers(such as weigh-in times, official time, fish limits, etc.) without confirming the answer with a tournament official. Remember, these anglers are competing against you and(sad, but true)some will take any edge they can-even if it means lying to you, to eliminate one more of the competition. Keep a copy of the tournament rules with you during the tournament. If any doubts or questions arrise during the tournament, a discussion between you and your partner will usually remedy the situation. Good Fishing' and remember, "Fishing is hard enough, catching is even harder. Getting disqualified lasts a long, long, time"... Read The Rules!