The tough want it tougher

MUSKOGEE, Okla. — BASS is considered the most prestigious organization in tournament Bass fishing. This is due, in part, to the strict rules and high standards that Elite Series Pros must adhere to if they want to compete at the sport's highest level. BASS has strict guidelines regarding practice and information. Specifically, there is an off limits period for the month prior to each tournament which specifies that anglers may not be on tournament waters 30 days prior to the start of the tournament, with the exception of the three official practice days they have immediately preceding each tournament.

 Additionally, anglers may not receive, seek or solicit any inside info on tournament waters during the off limits period or tournament days. While they are allowed to confer with fellow Elite Series Pros, they may not discuss the fishery with locals, buddies, or even family, and once cut weights are announced on Friday and Saturday, they may not even discuss fishing on tournament waters with other Elite Series Pros that finished outside the cut.

 It's no secret that there are two different camps within the Elite Series roster. Those who seek as many waypoints and as much intel as they can find on any given fishery prior to the 30 day off limits and those who approach every lake on their own with absolutely zero outside help. While both camps are operating well within the rules, you have to respect the guys who are doing it on their own.

 While you would have a hard time determining who does and who doesn't accept help, there is no disputing that one angler in particular is doing it all by himself; Japan's Morizo Shimizu understands very little English and speaks even less. Morizo can't even overhear information because he simply doesn't know the language. Morizo certainly isn't the only angler doing it on his own, but the language barrier makes that fact uncontestable. You might try to argue that he could talk with some of the other Japanese anglers, but the fact is those guys don't speak to each other.

 This week's AutoZone Sooner Run was scheduled for the Arkansas River in Muskogee. Several anglers spent every available day practicing the river before it went off limits and once official practice began on Monday, it seems that most of the field was catching them pretty well. After Mother Nature served up 10 inches of rain up river, a mass of logs, debris and a whole heap of water came flowing into Muskogee.

 There were reports of water heaters and refrigerators flowing down river, and driving over the bridge one glimpse of the telephone pole sized logs jamming the river made it apparent that it was not a safe place. Tournament officials made the call on Tuesday afternoon, and in a meeting that evening anglers were informed the tournament was moving to nearby Ft. Gibson Lake, and they would have just one day to practice.

 So, on the last event of the regular season where more than 50 percent of the field is jockeying for their final positions inside Post Season, Bassmaster Classic and TTBAOY bonus money contention we have a very level playing field.

 The exception is Tommy Biffle, who lives here and has 40 years of history and waypoints on Ft. Gibson. The fact is, the tournament was only moved 14 miles and he would have been just as dangerous on the river as he is on Ft. Gibson. Regardless, we've got a great tournament on our hands and the makings for a real shakeup in the points race.

 While it may be hard to find anybody that's going to bet against Biffle on his home lake, the late venue change really makes everybody in the field figure things out on their own — no waypoints from friends that live in the area or fish other circuits, no secret lures or brush piles. It forces every angler to utilize their own skills, instincts and experience to figure out the lake and piece together four limits that are worth a hundred grand.

While the full field invested time in practicing the Arkansas River, it was refreshing to hear angler after angler cross the stage praising the no knowledge, little or no practice format, and asking BASS officials to consider doing more of that in the future.

 It's a throwback to the early days of BASS when Ray kept the Bassmaster Classic tournament waters a mystery until the entire field was on board a plane, and in the air headed for their destination. In the modern day, with the amount of media coverage the sport gets and all of the promotion Elite Series host cities do leading up to events it's just not possible to plan them like that anymore, but you have to admit, it sure makes it interesting when you serve the field a curve ball like this.

 Rick Clunn says he's always wanted a tournament with no practice, and this was the most level playing field we've had all season. Angler after angler came across the stage echoing that sentiment. After all, tournament fishing should be about who figures out the fish, not who has the most contacts in their cell phone.

 Considering the 2011 schedule was released earlier this week, it's hard to keep the tournament waters a secret, but many anglers would like to see BASS tighten up the off-limits and no-information rules and make the toughest bass tournament series on the planet even tougher.

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