Elite pros Bill Lowen and Bobby Lane learned valuable lessons in their painful, first-round disqualifications during the Ramada Champion's Choice on Oneida Lake.
But the costly experience of voluntarily reporting their on-the-water rule violations also displayed their integrity and gained them respect from fellow anglers.
"It was a dumb mistake, but I had no trouble turning myself in," said Lowen, "I slept with a clear conscious that night. So, in that respect, it was all good."
Both anglers discovered they had more than five bass in their livewells during competition — an Elite Series violation. And while they took corrective action, and then reported it to tournament officials, both erred in the process and it cost them their points for the day.
How did it happen? Both anglers attributed the accounting mistakes to being overly anxious during Oneida's aggressive morning bite, during which they were catching keeper bass on almost every cast.
"With all the pressure on you in this last event, there are a thousand things racing through your mind while you're catching fish and trying to cull down," Lowen explained. "I spent more time in the livewell than I did fishing, and everything just got away from me."
"We strive all year to get where we're at and Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, Classic and postseason points come down to this," he added. "I honestly can't tell you how I wound up with too many fish — I've never done this before. But I did. I was just being what I call a 'cement head.'"
Had the anglers called tournament officials before culling down to the legal limit, they could have salvaged some of their day's catch and remained in the hunt for valuable points.
"If we would have done that, we could have gone in early, let officials cull out our biggest fish and could have gone back out fishing," says Lane. "In my case, it was a matter of not knowing the rules thoroughly. I have no one to blame but myself."
Lowen discovered his error, culled to five and immediately called tournament director Trip Weldon and reported it. Lane, on the other hand, culled on the water, continued fishing and weighed in his five best fish. When he discovered he had violated the culling rule, he reported it to tournament officials after the weigh-in.
Both paid dearly for their mistakes. Lowen, who says he would have had more than 13 pounds, lost his bid for a Bassmaster Classic berth and finished 98th in the tournament.
"Classic, Angler of the Year points, money ... it all just fell apart," Lowen said. "I was on good fish and only have myself to blame."
Lane, who ranked 22nd going into the event, blew his chance to get into the postseason. He finished 97th but did manage to hang on to a 2010 Classic invitation.
"What really hurts is I was four minutes late to the weigh-in at Dardanelle earlier in the season, and that cost me 60 points," he laments. "And now this. I just wish I would have known the rules better."