Greg Hackney was disqualified?!? What? Are you sure?
That was the question of the week, the season, the year. Unfortunately, the answer was yes.
Hackney fished in an off-limits area on Day 1 at the Busch Beer Bassmaster Elite at Cayuga Lake, and he lost his day’s weight and his lead in the Toyota Angler of the Year race.
While the fishing world is sick about it, his distress has to be off the charts. Including sponsor incentives, a potential windfall upward of $250,000 might have been lost, let alone one of the most prestigious titles in fishing.
Visibly shaken but trying his best to keep his composure, Hackney weighed in 15 pounds, 4 ounces Friday. Emcee Dave Mercer detailed Hackney’s tale of woe before saying all hope was not lost -- there was a lot of fishing left. He asked Hackney if he wanted to say anything.
“Naw, I can’t talk about it.”
Nobody could blame him.
Nobody even wanted to believe such a thing could happen, especially to a guy everybody says is honest to a fault. At the All-Star event in 2010, the author was watching Hackney fish a Lake Jordan dock when the home owner popped out of his house and yelled down, "There's a 7-pounder under there." Hackney dropped his head and moved on, not wanted the slightest hint of impropriety.
Talk was Hackney might run away with a second AOY to match his 2014 title. He came into New York with a 572-542 margin over second-place Gerald Swindle, but the DQ left him 107th in the tournament. Swindle, meanwhile, while being sick for his friend, ran through the opened door. He finished 10th in the event and jumped into the AOY lead with 643 points. Hackney is 67 points back (576), with Keith Combs (602) Jacob Powroznik (591) and Randall Tharp (578) between them.
Despite the 100-point swing in his favor, Swindle didn't seem to smile much this week.
“I don’t like getting ahead at the expense of somebody else’s misfortune,” Swindle told Alan McGuckin for this story. “I just can’t imagine how Hackney’s feeling … ”
There was an enormous outpouring for Hackney, starting with the man who had to tell him. Tournament director Trip Weldon, who said he doesn’t agree with the state’s off-limits designations but added that B.A.S.S. has to abide by them, appeared distraught over having to tell Hackney his 17-8 Day 1 weight was nullified. (That weight had him ahead of Swindle on the day and gaining points.)
“He said, ‘Ultimately, it’s my fault,’” a gut-punched Weldon told Bryan Brasher for this article. “He said, ‘I have never broken a rule,’ and I don’t recall that he has.”
Weldon said B.A.S.S. officials tried to drill the off-limits area into the anglers. New York grants private property status to man-made marinas and boat basins, of which there are 11 on Lake Cayuga. Anglers were emailed the information and there was a photo of each area on the B.A.S.S. information board at the registration and angler meeting, where they were once again told about the various no-fishing zones.
A number of anglers, including winner Kevin VanDam, said they easily could see how an angler might think the area Hackney fished, the Cornell Sailing Center, wasn't a manmade basin, and therefore OK to fish.
Fans commenting on social media railed on the state laws, many pointing out that public water should be just that. Another pointed out New York law allows the land owner to maintain possession of property even when it’s under water. Hackney's Marshal was questioned for not warning him about the area, even though Marshals are instructed to act solely as observers, to not affect the outcome.
Anglers from Brent Chapman to Aaron Martens, B.A.S.S. employees from Weldon to Steve Bowman (who's known Hackeny since he was 13) to LIVE emcee Mark Zona, a good friend of Hackney's, said they felt badly for him and certainly sympathize with his plight. Weldon said in a video post that New York should put the onus on the marinas to post signs denoting them off limits to fishing.
Yet Weldon has always said that B.A.S.S. rules are the rules, and it should be clear the organization plays no favorites.
There's been a number of disqualifications that turned many a stomach, like Brandon Palaniuk's cull on a confusing state border that cost him certain victory in LaCrosse, Wis. Mark Menendez removed himself last year from the AOY Championship and a spot in the Bassmaster Classic after foul-hooking a fish. In 2011, Skeet Reese called officials after he found a sixth fish in his livewell. His DQ made him miss returning to the Classic in Shrevport-Bossier City, where he had won the title.
There's been unpopular disqualifications throughout the history of B.A.S.S., even for legend Rick Clunn. Clunn, who won the first Elite event this year, had a 15-pound penalty for checking in 15 minutes late that cost him the 1979 Classic on Lake Texoma. Mark Zona spoke to him during BASSfest earlier this month and reported Clunn is still angry about it.
Opens angler and Bassmaster writer Mark Hicks drew the rules wrath. He was disqualified from the 2012 Cayuga Open before it began for practicing with a youth who was a "provisional" co-angler for the event. Hicks believed he going to be a competitor, and was subsequently DQ'd for practicing with a non-tournament competitor.
VanDam can truly empathize with Hackney. VanDam was leading the AOY race in 2007 when he was disqualified for the Elite event on Santee-Cooper. He was hit with a recently enacted rule that did not allow anyone other than the angler to operate their boat.
“It cost me Angler of the Year, no question about it,” KVD said Friday. “All I had to do was catch a single bass in that event, and I would have won Angler of the Year.”
So to a man, rules are rules, and there's no use questioning them, no matter how bad it hurts.
Hackney has three events to make up the deficit and capture his second AOY. The Elites go to the Potomac Aug. 11-14, then the Mississippi River out of La Crosse, Wis., Sept. 8-11 before the AOY Championships on Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota, Sept. 15-18.
Steve Kennedy and Edwin Evers (below) check out the information board at registration. (James Overstreet photo)