ALEXANDER CITY, Ala. — I was impressed by Lake Martin.
I was impressed by the crowds.
I was impressed by the fish that were brought to the scales.
But most of all, I was impressed by the class shown by the on-the-water spectators who wanted to catch a glimpse of the best professional bass anglers in the world.
They were pure gold.
I spent a big part of the Bassmaster Elite at Lake Martin presented by Econo Lodge covering Takahiro Omori — and as the chances of Tak winning grew, so did the gallery of spectators following him.
But not once did I see anyone inch even the slightest bit too close to him. No one came in hot and caused waves to crash over the area he was fishing. Instead, they all handled it perfectly, watching from a distance and cheering every time he put a fish in the boat.
Leave it to the folks from Alabama to understand that encroachment is still a foul — even if it doesn’t happen on a football field.
Giving a guy some space used to be one of the most sacred unwritten rules of bass fishing on every level from club tournaments all the way to the Elite Series. But slowly through the years, that invisible ink has faded.
I don’t think it’s faded so much in local tournaments, where the guy you’re trampling on might come and find you back at the boat dock. But in Bassmaster events — where everyone knows the anglers are bound to certain code of conduct — some people have gotten shamefully pushy.
It doesn’t happen on every lake — and even on those lakes where it does happen, it’s usually just a tiny percentage of the crowd. But when it happens, it stinks.
I’ve seen people fall in two boat lengths behind an Elite Series pro, throwing the same bait he’s throwing in an obvious show of spite. I’ve seen people watch an Elite angler on an offshore spot and then swarm that spot before the pro’s boat was even out of sight.
The defense is always the same: “It’s a public lake.”
That’s a hollow excuse when you consider all of the things that are public these days.
Tailgating on a public roadway is inexcusable. So is knocking someone over at a public grocery store.
Forcing the word “public” into your response doesn’t automatically make something right.
The good people of Lake Martin don’t need to make any excuses.
They gave Takahiro Omori the space he needed to do his job — and if they did fish his spot after he was gone, they didn’t do enough damage to keep him from winning the $100,000 first-place prize.
I’ve always joked that Tak’s English sort of goes in and out when you ask him how he’s catching his fish.
But after Sunday’s weigh-in, with that heavy blue trophy in hand, he spoke as clearly as anyone about the Lake Martin crowd.
“The people who were with me were obviously fishermen,” he said. “They were great the whole time.”
I agree — and they set the standard everyone should follow.