UNION SPRINGS, N.Y. — A strange pall hung over the takeoff for Friday’s second round of the Busch Beer Bassmaster Elite at Cayuga Lake, as anglers tried to come to grips with the stunning news about Louisiana pro Greg Hackney on Day 1.
Hackney caught 17 pounds, 8 ounces and finished Thursday’s first round in 36th place, but it was announced after the weigh-in that his catch had been disqualified for a rules violation. The Louisiana angler and leader of the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race for much of the season fished in a marina basin that had been previously identified as an off-limits area by tournament officials.
The disqualification of Hackney’s Day 1 weight dropped him from first place to fourth in the Angler of the Year standings and left him with a lot of ground to make up in a race he once seemed to own.
Many anglers stood in small groups on the dock quietly discussing the matter Friday morning, while others openly expressed respect and regret for Hackney.
“I hate it for Hackney, I really do,” said Brent Chapman, the 2012 Angler of the Year. “I feel terrible for him. But they had (the off-limits areas) posted and had it online. I took half an hour and went through the computer and marked everything on my GPS.
“I think I know where he was, and I clearly see how he wouldn’t have thought anything about fishing there. I’m glad I took that extra time, because it would be an easy mistake to make.”
Reason for the DQ
On New York’s glacier lakes, state law says all man-made marinas and boat basins are private property. There are 11 such areas on Cayuga Lake.
B.A.S.S. Tournament Director Trip Weldon said officials marked all of the areas on a map and then confirmed them with local law enforcement. Weldon said officials then took extra steps to make sure the anglers were aware of the off-limits areas.
“We emailed [maps showing] the off-limits areas for Cayuga Lake to all of the competitors before BASSfest at Texoma and then posted the [maps] while we were at Texoma (earlier this month),” Weldon said. “We sent out an email about them again last week, and then we posted them at the pre-tournament briefing Wednesday night.”
Weldon said Hackney was upset but didn’t deny entering the area in question. “He said, ‘Ultimately, it’s my fault,’” Weldon said. “He said, ‘I have never broken a rule,’ and I don’t recall that he has.”
Hackney, who is fresh off a victory at BASSfest, could not be reached for comment Thursday. There was some talk that he might skip Friday’s second round, but his was one of the first boats in the water. And he kept his distance from the crowd while the rest of the field launched.
Aaron Martens, a three-time winner of the AOY crown, said he’s not sure he would have fished Friday’s second round under the same circumstances.
“It would be sickening, knowing that you could catch 20 pounds today and still be in last place,” Martens said. “I felt a sick twist in my stomach when I heard about it. I just wouldn’t want to be in that situation right now.”
Martens held a big lead in the Angler of the Year race last year — similar to the one Hackney held coming into this event. He said that made him more paranoid about mistakes that could cost him the title.
“When certain things would come up or when I was in certain situations, I was definitely more cautious,” Martens said. “Greg was probably just in the moment. It sounds like it could have happened to anyone.”
There is perhaps no one who can relate more to Hackney’s situation than Michigan superstar Kevin VanDam.
At the 2006 Bassmaster Elite Series event on South Carolina’s Santee Cooper Lakes, VanDam was disqualified when he allowed a co-angler to drive his boat during practice while he stood on the front deck and looked for spawning bass.
VanDam, who had six Top 10 finishes that season, would have almost certainly won the AOY title if it hadn’t been for the disqualification. But instead, he finished three places behind eventual winner Michael Iaconelli.
“I got DQd in South Carolina for something that I didn’t realize was a rules violation, and I was DQd from the whole tournament,” VanDam said. “It cost me Angler of the Year, no question about it. All I had to do was catch a single bass in that event, and I would have won Angler of the Year.
KVD said he feels for his friend and believes he has time to make up the 37 points that now separate Hackney from new AOY leader Gerald Swindle. Jacob Powroznik and Takahiro Omori also now rank ahead of Hackney — and all three anglers seemed to keep a low profile, staying far away from fans and media during Friday’s take-off.
Though he said he hasn’t talked to Hackney about the situation, VanDam said he knows him well enough to have a good idea of how it all went down.
“I know Greg really well, and he did not intentionally try to fish some place that he wasn’t supposed to,” VanDam said. “I even know the marina and where it’s located. It’s very easy to think that it’s not man-made, and I’m sure he never even thought twice about it.
“I promise you he’s sick to his stomach — and I know exactly how he feels.”