The good, the bad and the ugly

This is honestly not the blog I was going to send in this week. Next time expect a structure fishing extravaganza!

For now, I have to comment on the doings at the Arkansas River Elite Series Diamond Drive. It got me fired up!

Here is what I know. I know Denny Brauer, and I know Jonathon VanDam. I know Denny has always treated me with class and respect. I know Jonathon, and over the course of the last few years, he and I have become friends.

I know Denny would not go off half-cocked if he didn’t think he had a reason. I know Jonathon is not a hole poacher. I also believe he did not run two sets of locks just to follow Denny to his fish.

That being said, I was not there and I did not witness any of the drama, so I cannot voice my opinion on who was right or wrong. I can say for a fact that I respect where Denny is coming from, and I can fully understand where Jonathon is coming from.

So what’s the problem? I have been a full-time bass pro for over 11 years, and I know the unwritten rule: If an angler is leading the event and can win, you give them their water. I have done so many times.

The key phrase in this unwritten rule is “their water.”

I know what I consider to be “my water,” and I have several instances I would like to share. They range from the good to the bad and yes, there’s even ugly. 

While I was pre-fishing a B.A.S.S. event on Santee Cooper, I found the absolute mother lode of largemouth. I scoured the entire area and knew where every bass pod was for 300 square yards; it was the most unrealistic largemouth migration that I have ever come across.

On Day One, I had spun a prop and could not fight the big waves to get to my fish. I was bummed, but I had a backup spot close by where I could get 18 or 19 pounds. I did not see anyone near my AAA spot in practice, so I figured I would get there on Day Two, but for now I would snatch 18 pounds and head to the weigh-in.

Even with 18, I lost sleep over not changing the prop and going to the goods. My plan was to go there the next day, catch 25 pounds to get back in the hunt. But when I got there, Zell Rowland was camped on it. And he was leading the tournament.

After some talking, I told him I would leave him the good spot since he was there first. He thanked me, and I asked him if I could fish within eyesight and never get within 75 yards. Zell said it would be OK and thanked me again. So I went to the perimeter fish, which were not as large but just as plentiful. I weighed 20 pounds that day, and Zell won. I learned one huge lesson that tournament; Always go to your best fish first!

OK, that was the good. Now for the bad. So you know, the following examples are the exception, because most professional anglers have a great amount of respect for their competitors and the sport. The problem is, a few bad apples can ruin the reputation of our entire group. Here are a couple really bad ones:

It seems that fish stealing has become protocol for those few fishing in high stakes bass tournament. (Writing this is making me so angry I have to stop and cool down so I can think!)

What gives another angler the right to be running by me at 80 mph and then make a U-turn to pull up next to me and start idling around … like he just remembered a spot he missed!

The thing that really gets me smoked is that this is in practice, and it happens all the time when there are offshore patterns. This is a monster pain, especially when we are up North.

I know this blog sounds like my old one “Find Your Own &%#$ Fish,” but I assure you it is not. I am sick of bass poachers who have no integrity, let alone a conscience. Maybe they need to brush up on the word “professional.”

I unfortunately have too many stories like the one I am about to tell you.

I won a 2004 B.A.S.S. event in Buffalo by finding fish at a depth no one else was onto; the weather was so bad in practice I had Lake Erie almost to myself. (Awesome!) Unfortunately, the next time B.A.S.S. visited Buffalo, I had an entirely different experience.

Every time I was out looking for smallmouth and shut down to idle speed, other competitors would immediately come out to investigate what I was doing, or they would simply waypoint me!

I became so frustrated with the audacity of these “professional anglers,” I simply could not go to any of my good rockpiles during the entire practice. This cost me dearly, and I did an el-foldo in the tournament mainly because I completely missed being able to pinpoint the depth range of the bigger smallmouth.

This is BAD when you can’t even practice. I personally don’t know how other fishermen could do this and look at themselves in the mirror.

And I know I was being poached in practice because I would arbitrarily throw a buoy out to nowhere and have other competitors come out to it and start fishing. I did that because I feared I was being paranoid and needed some verification that I was sane.

Now the ugly is really ugly. I will not mention names because I think that would be wrong; however, the next few examples are brutally honest and without embellishment.

Several seasons ago I finished third in the Northern Opens point race. The last event was on Oneida Lake in New York. I was in second, and on the second day the wind was honking and I was cracking the smallmouth.

I had electrical problems and was worried, but I had my drift socks. I dropped a marker overboard at my rockpile, idled upwind, threw the wind sock over the side and used a controlled drift to fish.

I was culling every pass by the buoy; the only problem was every time I culled I would wind up 30 to 40 yards past my mark. I was putting a bass in the livewell when a competitor ran past.

I fired the big motor, went back to my buoy, made another drift past and was culling again. The same angler went by again, but this time he U-turned to my buoy and started to fish it!

I went mental!

I started my big motor and went over to him; we had words, first polite then not so much. He left but not after he went on plane over the fish. Unbelievably unprofessional.

That was bad, but Chesapeake Bay in 2009 was worse. I almost hate to revisit this one, but for the greater good I will if my blood pressure can handle it.

After Day One, I was leading the event. I could see another angler fishing 75 to 100 yards from me while I was on one of my best rockpiles. He was fishing a bridge pylon. I stopped on that rockpile to cull one fish; I wanted to save it for the last two days of competition.

I stopped on the spot, caught a smallmouth over 4 pounds and culled a 3-plus. I stopped fishing and trolled around it for awhile then left and culled one more at another place. On Day Two I caught fish but not as big. I ran to my smallmouth hole and the other competitor was nowhere in sight. I came to the weigh-in and fell to second place by ounces.

Day Three would bring much emotion. On my first cast at my first stop, I broke off a monster on some barnacles. My second cast yielded a nice 5-8 largemouth. The tide was ripping out fast and I had to go to my smallmouth spot before the tide ebbed.

I get there and the competitor who watched me the first day was fishing it. Now keep in mind he was not there during practice or during the first two days of competition.

I know this because he caught no fish in practice, and his non-boater brought him to the fish he caught the first day.

Now, you can imagine my frustration level. I just need two more fish for the win.

I pull up to the spot and I can hardly speak. All I can do is try to push him out. And get this, he will not go. I fish there for awhile and finally cannot stand it anymore. I thank him for his integrity and go elsewhere.

At the weigh-in I heard him on stage telling how he figured out where his fish moved to. Yeah! Right at the yellow, black and white buoy was where I was catching them, I politely said.

That behavior should be a crime; it really is stealing since there is money involved.

I know this all might sound like sour grapes, but it is not. I am relaying these stories to illustrate how far things have gone, how the bad behavior of a few ruins tournament fishing for so many others.

This unethical behavior should not be tolerated. There is no reason for someone to pull up on another competitor’s spot, whether he’s there or not, and fish.

If someone is truly on a place where you found them and he is there first, go somewhere else. I am so sick of this type of behavior; my patience on the water has become thin and I will not tolerate it. Period.

The only real way to fight this behavior is for all fisherman to hold themselves accountable to a higher standard, get some pride and do it right.

My father told me the only thing you have that cannot be taken from you is your integrity and your character. It is a wonder with something this valuable that so many are willing to just throw it away.