I made a mistake

I decided to fish the B.A.S.S. Nation Qualifiers this year for the long-shot opportunity to work my way to — and win — the 2025 Bassmaster Classic. B.A.S.S. revamped the Nation format for 2024, doing away with having to qualify through state-run events for the four regional qualifiers. Instead, they host four open events where 200 boaters and co-anglers are welcome to try their hand at securing one of 20 spots each to advance to the 2024 Mercury B.A.S.S. Nation National Championship presented by Lowrance on Grand Lake, Nov. 6-8. 

Anglers who want to fish the state level B.A.S.S. Nation events can still make their way all the way to the Classic as well. They are able to advance straight from the state level to the National Championship, forgoing any need to fish the regional events. I, however, opted to fish qualifier No. 1 back in February — the 2024 Mercury B.A.S.S. Nation Qualifier at Lake Eufaula presented by Lowrance. 

It was a lot of fun fishing close to home for a shot at the National Championship, but I came up just a little shy of the top 20, finishing the event in 25th. As soon as that tournament wrapped up, my eyes shifted to the next event on the schedule, qualifier No. 2 to be held in Muskogee, Okla., on the Arkansas River. 

The plan to begin with was just to fish Eufaula and hopefully qualify there. But I prayed about it, talked to my wife about it and we decided to enter the Arkansas River event. I’d wager the $400 entry fee and 12-hour drive out there to see if we could make a top 20 there and qualify for the National Championship, keeping the 2025 Classic dream alive. 

This is where things get a little dicey though. I made a mistake, and it cost me. 

I spent a lot of time preparing for the event on Lake Eufaula, probably focusing on it too much to be honest. After the disappointing near miss, I made a conscious decision not to even think about the Arkansas River event until it got closer to time. Then, I sent a buddy of mine I’ve known for 10 or 12 years the text below on March 17, and the following series of events transpired. 

I then said, “I’m headed up there a week from Friday for that Nation Regional.” He asked, “What part of the river?” I responded, “Putting in at that three harbors ramp.” He asked, “In Pine Bluff?” 

I couldn’t honestly remember where the ramp was, or even what it was called apparently — Three Forks Harbor. So, I went to the info sheet for the event on Bassmaster.com. And, that’s when I saw it: “Off-limits will begin on Saturday, March 16th and extend until March 30th at safe light.” And, “The competitor must know and observe these dates. During any posted off-limits period, official practice, and competition, anglers cannot solicit, gather, or intentionally receive any information from anyone other than another competitor in the tournament. NO EXCEPTIONS.”

That was it. It made me sick to my stomach. I immediately texted my buddy not to say anything else and that off-limits had already started. But, it was too late. The damage was already done. There was only one decision to be made. I took a screenshot of the text, sent it to B.A.S.S. Nation Tournament Director GL Compton and was disqualified from the event for a violation of Rule 3. 

There was nothing to be done. It was an honest mistake, but a mistake none the less. And B.A.S.S.’s expectations were clearly communicated. I agreed to hold up my end of the bargain when I signed my form and paid my entry fee. I failed to do so. This is the first time I’ve been disqualified from a tournament. And it stings — not gonna sugar coat it. 

But, I believe good will come of it. That’s really why I’m writing this piece right now. I’m under no obligation to do so. Very few people even know I was signed up to fish it. I don’t have any sponsors to apologize to. I could have easily saved myself the embarrassment and just let it blow on by. 

But, I could have easily just kept right on keeping on when I realized I had messed up too. Or, at least, in theory I could have. No one would have known that I had asked for information. And the little bit I did gain from the conversation would have likely had little to no bearing on the outcome of the tournament. I mean, I had basically already gotten that information 10 years ago in all reality. Right? 

Just being 100% transparent here, those were the thoughts running through my mind during the 180 seconds between realizing I had made the mistake and texting the tournament director to turn myself in. Perhaps I could have gotten away with it. Perhaps others wouldn’t have turned themselves in. Maybe even you would have a hard time making the decision. 

I don’t say all this to toot my own horn. I’m not holier than thou. I screwed up. I turned myself in. And I paid the price. I took ownership for my actions. I was able to do so on account of a few things. First, fishing does not define who I am — not anymore. It used to, for years. And perhaps back then I’d have had a harder time with this decision. But my identity is firmly rooted in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ now. He’s the Rock I stand on. And neither where I land on a leaderboard nor what the world thinks about me defines me. 

But, as much as I like the freedom that’s found in not having my value be determined by what others think of me, I am called by Jesus to live a life that’s “above reproach.” I do actually have to care what others think, if I’m to hope that they’ll listen to me. 

See, this whole fishing thing, this is just a platform that has been given to me by God to shine light into a dark world. I want to help people, through fishing. I want to offer them hope and joy and freedom. And, ultimately, eternal salvation — all of which can only be found in Jesus. 

I want to show you the way to freedom from things like alcohol and other weaknesses, which had me trapped in bondage for years. I want to help people who are plagued by depression, as I was and still am at times. But, if I am to teach people anything about Jesus or lead them to Him, I am called to be “a man whose life is above reproach,” according to 1 Timothy 3:2. 

This is not to say I don’t mess up, or that I’m required to never sin in order to try to help someone else out. It’s just that I’m required to own it. To confess that sin and repent. Even to own a mistake like this that really doesn’t amount to a sin itself, but would have had I chose to hide it. 

I have to lead by example, to focus on going to God for help with the plank in my own eye before trying to help others with the specks in theirs. Taking all of this into consideration, you can see why I had no choice but to turn myself in, if I’m really here to help others.

I also turned myself in to encourage others, about the sport of bass fishing in particular. There’s a lot of negative talk out there about a select few playing around in the gray area when it comes to rules. Really about breaking rules out right. There’s truly very little grey area left anymore. And, I like to think, the integrity of our sport is still strong as a whole. 

But, for that to be the case, the integrity of our anglers must be solid. Likely somewhere in the vicinity of 95% of the rules in bass fishing have to be self-enforced. There’s no one paying attention to whether or not you have your kill switch hooked up most of the time. If no one is around, no one will know if you blow through that no wake zone, right? And, what’s it gonna hurt to get a little information here and there? 

It’ll hurt us all. All of it. These rules are in place for a reason. We all agree to abide by them. And, we all should be willing to turn ourselves in, in the event we break one. It’s not fun. It’s not easy. And doing so cost me $400 this time, a shot at the National Championship and perhaps even a shot at the Classic. That’s a tough pill to swallow. 

But, I can rest easy. I have peace that surpasses all understanding. My conscience is clear. I did my part to protect and preserve the integrity of the sport that I love, as well as my own integrity. And, I’m not out of this thing yet.

The next Nation Qualifier on the schedule after the Arkansas River is the Mississippi River in May. I’m out on that one though, as practice falls on my beautiful wife’s birthday. And as much as I’d love to fish and spread the gospel at the same time, my family is my first ministry and priority number one (refer back to 1 Timothy 3:5). 

So, my eyes are on the last stop of the year, the 2024 Mercury B.A.S.S. Nation Qualifier at Lake Champlain presented by Lowrance. I know very little about Champlain. I’ve never fished there, it’s a 20 hour drive from home in a 2011 Silverado with a 2001 Triton/Optimax in tow, and I don’t likely intend on getting much information for this one, prior to the off-limits or not. So, the odds are stacked against me a little. But, I’m eyeing it pretty hard at the moment, and we’re leaning towards giving it a shot. 

That Bible I read also has a lot of stories about underdogs in it. And God also promises in it that, if I seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, that all these other things will be added unto me. We may just wind up in New York at the end of July walking that one out.