During the Bassmaster Classic Bracket on Lake Pokegama, eventual winner Jacob Powroznik extracted a bass from beneath a dock that already had a cull tag firmly affixed to its lower lip. How convenient. At first, his in-boat judge Jon Stewart wanted to weigh the fish without the tag in it, but Powroznik wisely insisted that they call tournament director Trip Weldon for a ruling. After all, he argued, he didn’t plant the tag there – he just caught it that way.
Once they got Trip on the horn, the TD, likely confronted with a problem he’d never contemplated, made the Solomonic decision to have them weigh the fish both ways. Since it was a catch/weigh/release tournament, they could punt the issue until later that afternoon.
It ended up that the punt sailed a little bit higher and longer than expected, because the fish weighed the same amount – 3 pounds, 3 ounces – both with and without the cull tag. I guess it’s possible that the thing weighed less than an ounce, even though it seems unlikely, and that deferred the issue. On the one hand, it’s unlikely to ever come up in this form again. On the other hand, you never know, so it seems like BASS should clarify. They might have done so, but I haven’t seen that ruling yet.
It’s something that can and should be resolved because if this tournament was one where fish were actually put in a livewell and brought to weigh in, the presence of the tag or other object could be the difference maker in a culling decision.
It seems odd that you’d weigh in something as “unnatural” as a cull tag, but as Powroznik pointed out, it came with the fish. He caught it “as is,” so to speak. If he’s caught a mega with a license plate in its mouth, and his judge/marshal/observer confirmed to me that it came that way, then I’d say that it should count, no less than a fish with a bluegill or gizzard shad inside or sticking out of its gullet should count. And if that counts, can you weigh in a fish with something else caught in its mouth? We’ve all caught fish with single hooks, but what if there’s a worm weight or crankbait attached? Or a piece of gillnet that weighs a few ounces?
That’s not the only question. How did the fish end up that way? I mean, we know that some tournament angler likely put it there, but did the fish launch itself out when he opened the livewell again? Or did he balance beam two fish and then throw out the wrong one?
And what was the fish thinking? Was he resigned to a life with excessive lip jewelry, or had he been caught enough that he knew that some grateful angler might do him the favor of removing the tag in exchange for a brief tussle? We’ll probably never know.