Unsafe at Any Speed

Pete Gluszek of Bass University checks out the floating debris caused by flash flooding on the Chesapeake after the Elite Event was cancelled there last week. 

Pete Gluszek of Bass University checks out the floating debris caused by flash flooding on the Chesapeake after the Elite Event was cancelled there last week. 

In June of 1997, I fished an FLW Tour event on Minnesota’s Lake Minnetonka as a co-angler. I remember the event largely because I finished 14th, and after failing to catch my limit fish on Day Two I missed the top ten cut by less than a pound and a half. Had I made it, I would’ve gotten to weigh in the next day at the Mall of America, which would’ve been pretty cool -- how many people can say that they’ve weighed in their fish, then immediately hopped off the stage and bought an Orange Julius?

I also remember the event because it was one where boat speed was regulated. It did not feature a shotgun start or a numbered blast off, but rather an “ooze off” because the launch site at Lord Fletcher’s restaurant was in a no wake zone. Even outside of that no wake zone and others like it, there was a 40 mph speed limit on the interconnected chain of lakes. My second day partner, the legendary Ron Lindner, told me to keep an eye on his GPS speedometer to make sure that we didn’t exceed it. I don’t know if we failed the test or not…we did not get a ticket or dq’ed.

I was reminded of that long-ago event last week when the Elite Series tournament on the Chesapeake Bay was postponed due to what were deemed to be unsafe conditions. Some anglers said that the show should’ve gone on. Others added the caveat that they wanted to fish, but with certain areas ruled off-limits.

I don’t know precisely where I came down on those proposals, but I heard one that I didn’t like – a 40 or 50 mph self-regulated speed limit.

First, if the Flats were too dangerous to traverse at 60 or 70 mph, I’m not sure how you settle on 40 or 50 as an alternative. Is there any scientific or empirical basis for saying that if you hit a submerged telephone pole or refrigerator at 10 or 20 or 30 mph less than max speed you won’t be seriously injured or killed or do serious damage to your gear? Absent some meaningful information on that matter, anything greater than idle speed could prevent a hazard – and you can’t operate a tournament at idle speed only. That applies anywhere, but even more so on a vast system like the bay.

Second, that would be one of the most unenforceable rules ever imposed. Normally, I think that’s a crappy argument for NOT having a rule – we can’t enforce a wide variety of laws and regulations one hundred percent, but that doesn’t weigh in favor of legalizing murder or child abuse. Nevertheless, in this case, there are far too many variables to consider.

If you were to set the speed limit at 40, and Angler X is chugging along at 39 and suddenly needs to speed up by 2 mph to make an evasive maneuver or get away from a stray wave, is there an exception to the rule?

How many of us even monitor our speed regularly? In the old days, before we all had GPS, your speedometer tube would get clogged up by the first piece of wood or debris that it inhaled. Now that GPS is just about standard equipment, we have alternative (and more accurate) speed gauges, but unless we’re trying to see what our boats will do, most of us rarely consult them. Would the Marshal be tasked with watching for speed violations, and if so what are the consequences of that requirement when he’d certainly rather be bracing himself against big water and warning his boat driver about late-seen obstacles?

Finally, what is the appropriate penalty for a speed violation? Is it a standard of strict liability, where if you go over by 1 mph for one second, you’re out? If not, which is more serious, going 10 mph over for 5 seconds, or going 1 mph over for 5 minutes? And putting someone in the penalty box is particularly meaningless in a tournament where conditions were worsening – meaning that it might be worth it to take a risk on Day One if you thought that the consequences would be muted by a cancellation on Day Two.

In short, I think that a speed limit is too arbitrary and too untethered to the sport to be effective. Either you go or you don’t. Certain places are in bounds or not. They might be limited in their equipment (e.g., engine size) and how it can be modified, but once all of that is established, you’ve gotta let the big dogs run.