You Don't Say

By Pete Robbins

During this past week’s Elite Series tournament on Wheeler, Luke Clausen was disqualified after taking a polygraph test at the conclusion of Day Three. At the time, he was in 7th place, unlikely to win the whole event, but with a chance to gain some AOY points. He’s currently appealing the penalty.

The rule in question – C3(i) – reads in pertinent part that “During practice and competition, anglers cannot solicit, receive or gather any information from anyone other than another competitor in the tournament. NO EXCEPTIONS.” (emphasis added).

BassFan reported the following:

According to Clausen, B.A.S.S. official Chuck Harbin informed him while in the bag line behind stage that he’d been randomly chosen to take a polygraph test following Saturday’s weigh-in. After going on stage and later trailering his boat, Clausen reported to the building where the test was to be administered. Only Clausen and the polygrapher were present while the test was in progress.

“I took it and it said it showed a reaction to the question about whether I obeyed the 28-day off-limits rule,” Clausen said.

Clausen said he answered, “Yes,” when asked if he had obeyed the rule. He then volunteered that over dinner Thursday evening with a friend, whom Clausen did not want to identify, the conversation shifted to content published in Bassmaster.com’s blog coverage of the tournament.

Clausen said his friend, who lives in northern Alabama, was trying to interpret where other competitors may have been fishing based on the photos posted on the blog.

Clausen insists he didn’t ask his friend to decipher locations and that he didn’t solicit the information – his friend simply mentioned it in the course of conversation.

“I never asked for anything,” Clausen said.

Clausen said when he explained this to tournament director Trip Weldon, Weldon deemed it a rule violation. Clausen was then asked to leave the room and upon being called back in, he was informed he’d been disqualified.

“I was awestruck. It was unbelievable,” Clausen said. “I can’t fathom what I’m going to do about it. I never asked for anything. I never said, ‘Give me something. Give me some help.’ It was just a conversation about the blog.”

Clausen said he didn’t request that his friend stop talking about the blog because the conversation was brief.

“I never did say, ‘You shouldn’t be telling me this,’” he said. “It was never a conversation about, ‘Tell me where you think he’s at.’”

I wasn’t there and I haven’t spoken to Clausen about the situation. I’m hoping that it occurred just as he described it, and that he was the inadvertent recipient of this info and didn’t know how to cut off the spigot. In talking to other pros, I know that this happens all of the time. If you’re KVD or Rick Clunn or Shaw Grigsby (none of whom I’ve spoken to about this topic, to be clear), and you’re sitting in a restaurant near the tournament venue, someone is going to try to tell you something. Even if you’re Joe Rookie, as you fish down a row of docks, you’re likely to get some semi-friendly advice from the folks on the bank.

As written, the rule invokes a standard of strict liability. In other words, if you receive the info, no matter what you did or tried to do to stop it, you’re guilty. I don’t think B.A.S.S. can truly enforce it that way, so it really becomes a matter of how quickly you cut off the speaker and possibly whether you act upon the information provided. In some situations, that leaves the anglers in gray areas. If you’re fishing down a row of docks, hitting every outside piling, and an onlooker tells you (before you can stop him) that there’s a 4 pounder on the next dock’s outside piling, what do you do? Do you abandon your pattern? If you catch the fish – from a spot you were going to fish anyway – did you rely upon that information?

The end result of this is going to be that the anglers will likely have to sequester themselves and wear ear plugs during tournaments. Twenty years ago, when I fished a few FLW Tour events as a co-angler, it was possible to wait at the ramp with your tackle on practice days, ask a random pro to practice with him, and be invited to do so. Gradually, as the information pipeline led to rules violations and other issues, pros tended to practice alone, or with a trusted partner. We still see that they have dinner with friends, or stay at acquaintances’ homes during events, but eventually that’s going to cause problems, too – if it hasn’t already.

The very things that make our sport special – the public playing field and the pros’ accessibility, is now the source of some of its greatest problems. The best we can hope for is that BASS provides its competitors with a meaningful interpretation of rule C3(i), or perhaps an elucidating rewrite. If not, we can only wish that competitors who comply with the spirit of the rule will not be on the wrong end of justice.