Tharp on Toho incident

The term “bass pro” is one that is thrown around pretty loosely these days. Sometimes it seems that everyone who has ever fished a tournament at any level considers themselves to be a “pro.” There are “pros” who fish in high school and college tournaments. The entire field at a B.A.S.S. Open or an FLW Rayovac probably considers themselves to be “pros.” If they’re pros, then what does that make the anglers on the Bassmaster Elite Series or the FLW Tour? It seems that all you have to do is put a sticker on your truck and boat, buy a jersey and pay an entry fee and now you’re KVD, right? 

I’m not going to fall into the trap of debating what constitutes a true professional. I’ll leave that to your conscience and your accountant. Otherwise, we’ll just sit here and argue in circles until we’re all blue in the face.

Rather than go down that death spiral, I’m going to assume for the time being that everyone who calls themselves a pro is a Pro with a capital “P.” So if we’re all Pros, isn’t it important that we all start acting like it?

I was not a witness to the debacle between Ish Monroe and Keith Poche that occurred outside the lock on Friday. Both combatants fish the Elite Series with me, and from my experience with each of them, they seem to be good guys and strong competitors. Whatever the facts turn out to be in this dispute, it’s evident that neither of them acted professionally at all. Wherever you cut off the line at what constitutes a pro, I think we all can agree that it’s imperative for the Elites to set an example. We know that anglers at lower levels aspire to be like us, and we have the power to set the tone for the whole sport – positive or negative.

Because the lock is what apparently caused the disagreement, I do feel that I am in a good position to talk about that issue generally. On both Thursday and Friday, I locked up and down from Toho. That particular lock will hold 13 to 15 boats, and that is exactly what was waiting each time I went up or down. It wasn’t unusually crowded. Nevertheless, each of the four times I went through the lock, I witnessed collisions between boats, rub rails torn off and outboard cowlings busted by unnecessary impacts. There was extensive cursing and arguments. The bottom line is that there was a total disregard for each other’s safety and each other’s equipment. There was certainly nothing professional about that. Some of the guys I knew and some of them I didn’t. Some were calm and courteous and others were nervous wrecks. I still don’t understand exactly what is going through some of these guys’ heads throughout what should be a very simple process.

This is how it should work: The doors open and the first boat, the one that has been waiting the longest, goes in first all the way to the front. Then the second and so on until the lock is full. No one gave me a lesson on locking. This is about as basic an exercise in common sense and courtesy as you could get anywhere. I’d expect the average first-grader to be able to figure it out.

Despite the simplicity of the process, it rarely occurs that way. This week was particularly bad. It didn't matter if you were waiting the longest or just pulling up as the doors opened. It was a no-holds-barred, get-to-the-front-at-any-cost cluster, all four times I went through that lock. Trying to enter in turn or in any order was pointless. Three boats trying to go through an opening only wide enough for two. Boats driving over other boats. Boats were turned sideways, and brand-new $80,000 rigs and boat wraps were damaged. I’m disappointed in my performance in the tournament, but I am really thankful that I survived and my boat only has a few scratches.

Professionals? REALLY?

It is all stupid. No one gained anything by what happened in that lock. It only hurt us all. It cost us valuable fishing time and damaged our equipment that we have to use the rest of the year. All of the cursing and fighting also shed the wrong light on a sport that I love. There is nothing professional about the win-at-any-cost attitude that is becoming more and more prevalent in the sport these days. 

I have to say that I think it is ironic that my good friend and competitor, Chad Morgenthaler, won the derby fishing on Toho. He never even went through the lock that people were fighting to go through. Congratulations, Chad! Well-deserved. You earned my respect and that of a lot of other competitors. Professional? No doubt!