I made the mistake

This is the first time I’ve talked about the DQ on Cayuga, where my Thursday catch was disqualified. I want to say right up front that I made the mistake. It wasn’t anyone else’s fault, and no one else is to blame. At the same time, though, I think the punishment was too harsh.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bassmaster Elite Series angler Greg Hackney had a sizable lead in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race going into the Bassmaster Elite at Cayuga Lake, N.Y. On the first competition day, however, he was reported to have been fishing in an off-limits area, and his entire catch for the day was disqualified. He finished the tournament in last place and fell from first to fifth in AOY points. See original story here

Before I get into everything, I want to say thanks to everyone — fans and fellow competitors alike, for all the support they’ve given me. I also thank my wife, Julie, for her support throughout this thing, especially Thursday night and through the weekend. I’m sure I wasn’t a very pleasant person during that time. Like always, she was there when I needed her the most.

Here’s what happened:

I was fishing a weedbed in front of a dock on the lake. It was full of big fish and I knew it. It was early in the morning and cold. It seemed like the bass were down deep in the weeds. I thought I’d fish the shoreline for a while and let them come up. I fished around the dock, caught one small keeper which I put in my livewell, and then headed back to my weedbed.

Basically, I was killing time. I didn’t want to move over the fish time after time and I didn’t want to run anywhere else. There was a camera boat and another angler in the area. I wasn’t trying to hide anything. I knew they were there. Being off-limits never entered my mind. I never, ever knowingly break the rules of our sport.

As I was heading back to the weeds, the other angler said I shouldn’t have been where I was. I wasn’t positive about that but I didn’t go back just to be sure. Why he didn’t yell at me as I was going in is something I’ll always wonder about. It was obvious I wasn’t doing anything wrong on purpose. Had the situation been reversed I’d have said something to him. I would never want to see another competitor make an honest mistake like that.

But the situation wasn’t as obvious as folks might think. There are only small boats at this dock and they don’t sell gas. It’s not a marina, and it doesn’t look like one. Real marinas on Cayuga have big cruisers and giant sailboats in them and the manmade ones look like they’re handmade. You know it’s there as soon as you see it.

Another thing is about the maps. B.A.S.S. officials gave us a big package of maps for Cayuga and for the Niagara River at the same time. It was half confusing, to me anyway. Maybe I didn’t look at them as carefully as I should have but I still feel like the punishment didn’t fit the crime.

I’ve fished Cayuga before but always out, offshore. I really didn’t know anything about the marinas because they were never a part of my game plan. I did have maps marking them. There’s no doubt about that. But, they really didn’t show what they looked like on the water. The only way I would have known that was if I rode around the lake and physically boated past each one.

As the day went along I caught better bass and culled the small one I’d boxed in the off-limits area. I didn’t think it was any big deal. But, by the time I got back to the launch the other angler I mentioned had already said something to our Tournament Director about it. Elite anglers are indeed required to report any rules violations they observe.

B.A.S.S. determined there was a rules violation. That was absolutely true. But then I was told it couldn’t just be a fine because what I did created a competitive advantage to me. I disagree. If I’d kept the fish, that would have been right. But I didn’t keep the fish. I culled it. So I didn’t get any benefit from being in the off-limits area.

This is the first time I can think of that I’ve ever had anything like this happen. I know I made a mistake, and that the rules apply to everyone. I don’t mind being punished. Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel like I was over punished.

This is not a Bubba sport anymore. There’s real money involved, along with careers and lives. If we’re going to be professional, we need to have procedures like professionals have. One mistake should not destroy an angler’s season.

I also feel the details about all rules violations, and the punishment, should be made public. We have no idea what’s been done in the past in similar situations, or why. That should all be public. Anyone should be able to look at it and review it.

The Tournament Director should only be the first step in something like this. After he’s had his say the matter should automatically go to a committee — three or five former professional anglers — to see if and when a rule violation occurred and what punishment is appropriate.

We should also have a set of standard punishments for certain violations with the committee having the authority to decrease or increase them depending upon the circumstances. Things like intent, effect on the outcome of a tournament and prior violations should all count for or against the guy who broke a rule.

There is an appeals process now, but it’s nothing like what I’m describing. I didn’t appeal my punishment. Maybe I should have but I’ll be honest and tell you that I was in shock when it all went down. I could hardly believe what I was being told. It took a while to sink in and by then it was too late.

I paid a huge price for what happened, an unfair price. The ramifications of my Thursday weight being disqualified go far beyond one tournament.

I appreciate B.A.S.S. giving me this opportunity to speak my mind.