The non-boater who fished with Paul Tormanen on day 1 of the Red River Bassmaster Central Open said he didn't actually see the Missouri angler cheat. However, he said the strange series of events he witnessed over the 45-minute span in which Tormanen caught all five of his fish made him certain that what took place wasn't entirely above-board.
BassFans will remember that Tormanen was arrested after the day-2 weigh-in and charged with felony contest fraud. Tormanen allegedly
tied fish to submerged stumps prior to the tournament, then weighed in at least one of those fish during the first 2 days of the tournament.
At least one fish that Tormanen allegedly weighed in had been marked for identification by Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) wardens. Later that evening, BASS announced that Tormanen admitted to violating Louisiana state law. He was disqualified from the tournament and banned from BASS competition for life.
'You Had To Be There'
The non-boater, who has more than 30 years of tournament-fishing experience, granted a phone interview to BassFan on the condition that he remain anonymous. He said that although he didn't see Tormanen commit any overt act of cheating, "(He) could tell something wasn't right. You just kind of had to be there to understand it."
The non-boater said he'd already caught a limit when they arrived at the spot with the stumps, but Tormanen's livewell was empty. Tormanen then proceeded to catch an 8-pound limit over a period of less than an hour. "He caught three right away, then we moved about 20 yards and he caught two more," he said.
It wasn't the quick limit that raised the non-boater's suspicion, but rather Tormanen's actions as the process unfolded.
"Just the way things went on, they just don't normally happen like that," he said. "The way he was changing lures and stuff every time he caught a fish Ė it was just weird."
Why Change Now?
The non-boater said Tormanen caught fish using several different lures in that short timespan, and each time Tormanen boated one, he'd clip the line and drop the fish into the livewell. Not once did the non-boater see Tormanen remove a lure or hook from a fish's mouth.
"You know, you're fishing with a guy and he catches a fish, you want to look and see what he caught it on," he said. "I couldn't see anything. He'd cut the line, throw the fish in the livewell and then pick up another rod with a different lure on it.
"That didn't make sense Ė here he didn't have a fish, then he catches one and immediately changes lures? To this day, I don't know exactly how he got those fish onto his rod."
He said Tormanen didn't make an aggressive hookset on any of the five fish, although at least one was caught on a plastic craw (which the non-boater had given him). Such a lure usually requires a strong set to get the hook point through the fish's jaw. He said Tormanen also used crankbaits and perhaps a topwater lure during that time.
The non-boater noted Tormanen also boated all five fish next to the bow-mounted trolling motor. Tormanen's back obscured the back-seater's view of what was taking place at the moment Tormanen's hand came into contact with the fish.
"It was different," he said. "I've been fishing all my life and I don't think I've ever seen anybody catch five fish right at the trolling motor. And I've darn sure never seen anybody cut the line and change lures every time they caught one."
The non-boater said he considered reporting what he'd witnessed to tournament director Jon Stewart after the weigh-in on day 1, but a strange coincidence occurred during the pairings draw for day 2. He drew an angler who he learned was sharing a motel room with Tormanen at the event.
"I thought maybe there was more than one of them involved and I could watch this guy like a hawk and find out how they were doing it," the non-boater said. "But I watched this other guy and he absolutely did not cheat. He was totally legal and he was just a great guy to fish with."
The non-boater was then approached by LDWF officials after the day-2 weigh-in and gave them a written statement. "I told them I couldn't prove anything," he said. "I was looking real hard to see what I was missing, but there just wasn't anything I could see. This wasn't a deal where the guy was just throwing out a lure and snagging the line and then just hauling the whole thing to the boat. This was slick.
"BASS and the wardens did such a great job Ė they were right on top of it," he added.
> The non-boater said he and Tormanen carried on little conversation during the day. "It's not like he was rude or front-ending me or anything," he said. "I was just concentrating on fishing."
> BassFan again contacted Heartland Tournament Association owner Ralph Haggard to ask whether Tormanen's recent run of success on that trail (four Pro-Am wins in 14 months) would be called into question. Haggard said discussions with attorneys are ongoing and he had no comment at this time, but should have something soon.
FLW Outdoors Statement
Tormanen has competed in 17 FLW Outdoors events since 2002. He won the 2004 Ozark BFL at Truman Lake by a 4-11 margin and was 5th at this year's Lake of the Ozarks Central EverStart.
BassFan received the following statement regarding Tormanen from FLW Outdoors communications director Dave Washburn via email on Tuesday: "Like you, I've read the news stories and they are disconcerting, but I've not seen the official arrest report. I can't comment on Mr. Tormanen's 2004
win because I don't have all the facts available to me just yet.
"I can tell you that he has not entered any tournaments for 2006. I can also tell you that our sportsmanship rule (Rule 7) clearly states that suspension/disqualification from any tournament or fishing organization is grounds for refusal of an angler's entry."