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Counting to five

John Crews

The best tournament anglers in the world make mistakes during every event they fish. In 220 tournaments over two decades, veteran Virginia pro John Crews admits he’s made plenty.

So when Crews — a two-time B.A.S.S. winner and one of the brightest guys in the business — says he just made the “biggest mistake of his career,” you have to consider the magnitude of that statement.

Crews was fishing the second Bassmaster Elite Series event of the season on Lake Seminole in February, and things were really starting to get rolling for him, as he’d just landed a 5-pounder. But when he went to open his storage compartment to look for a cull tag, there were none — and he says he just went numb.

“It hit me that I might have made a mistake,” he said. “Then I opened the livewell and my heart just sank. I had seven fish in the boat. I had forgotten to cull one, and that’s a 2-pound penalty.”

Crews dutifully self-reported the violation to Tournament Director Lisa Talmadge and culled back down to five bass. The penalty cost him $7,500 and a chance to make the Saturday cut.

“I have a system that works for me,” he said. “But that day, I was catching them so good that I got excited. In 20 years, it was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made.”

What’s truly amazing about Crews’ mistake is just how common it is.

At the first Elite Series event of the season on Lake Okeechobee, the same thing happened to veteran Texas pro Lee Livesay.

Reigning Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year Brandon Palaniuk — one of the most organized and cerebral guys you’ll ever meet — has committed the mathematical faux pas a mind-blowing three times.

It seems so simple.

You catch one, two, three, four, five and then you start culling. But things like a $100,000 first-place prize, AOY points and sponsor expectations give new meaning to the age-old phrase “the heat of competition.”

Plus, the rules don’t provide any margin for error.

If you have five in the livewell, catch another one and don’t cull your smallest one, you’re docked 2 pounds for making even one cast.

If you went up and down the roster for the Bassmaster Elite Series and polled each angler about whether they’ve committed the mistake, I’d wager 80% or more have been guilty of miscounting at some point.

I’ve even seen it happen in smaller tournaments where the pressure didn’t compare to that of an Elite event.

Once during a 500-boat tournament on Alabama’s Lay Lake — an event with a seven-bass limit — my partner and I moved up several places in the standings because two guys actually brought eight fish to the scales.

The penalty in that event was much harsher than the 2-pound penalty imposed by B.A.S.S.

They had to release their biggest fish, which just happened to weigh 6 1/2 pounds. With it still in their bag, they might not have won the tournament, but they would have definitely claimed big-fish honors.

So, the moral to the story is be sure to count carefullly. Then take a deep breath and count again.

“Knowing” that you’re right might be harder than you think — even with a number as small as five.