BASS announced shortly ago that Alton Jones had been DQd from the Santee Cooper Bassmaster Elite Series. The announcement was made at 9:57 p.m. EST approximately 5 hours after the scales had closed.

Prior to the DQ, he was in 2nd place with a 35-06 sack. He described his catch as his "career best day in a BASS event (his) best day in a tournament ever."

A statement issued by BASS said he was DQd for a violation of BASS Rules 3 and 12. According to BASS, Jones was "given assistance in operating his boat while he located fish during the tournament's official practice period."

Kevin VanDam was DQd for a similar violation on Monday of this week (to read that story, click here).

Rule Breakdown

BASS tournament director Trip Weldon was not available for comment tonight, and Alton Jones did not return BassFan's calls.

But BassFan did interview Weldon about the VanDam DQ shortly after weigh-in today. That interview sheds a little light on the Jones DQ.

Weldon quoted both BASS Rules 3 and 12 in his decision to DQ VanDam. The applicable part of BASS Rule 3 states:

  • "During both the official practice and the tournament, a competitor may not have the assistance or advice of anyone for the purposes of locating or catching bass, nor enter the tournament waters with anyone who has been on the tournament waters during the off-limits period including, but not limited to, a professional guide, state or federal wildlife agency employee, or any other person deemed an "expert" on these tournament waters by the tournament director, unless they are a competitor in the tournament."

The applicable part of Rule 12 states:

  • "Non-boaters are only allowed to drive the boat in emergency situations in both practice and competition with the exception of loading and unloading from trailers."

Day Vs. Days

VanDam was DQd because a non-boater registered in the tournament drove VanDam's boat in practice, while VanDam stood on the front deck and looked for bedding bass.

BassFans likely remember that Tim Horton had his day 1 weight DQd at the 2005 Smith Lake Bassmaster Elite 50. Horton's paid observer in other words, a non-competitor held a bush to position the boat while Horton fished to a bedding bass.

BASS Rules state that penalties for a rules violation may include the following:

  • (a) Loss of catch for the day of the violation
  • (b) Disqualification from the tournament in question
  • (c) Disqualification from future BASS events which disqualification may be from a specific number of events or for a specific period of time or may be a lifetime disqualification
  • (d) Any different or additional penalties determined by the tournament director

So why did Horton just lose a single day's weight, while VanDam was DQd from the entire tournament?

Weldon said VanDam's case "fell into (b). Kevin was practicing for the tournament, looking for fish for all 4 days. The Timmy Horton deal at Smith, we had announced and written that observers can't assist you in any way. (The observer) was assisting Timmy while he was fishing for one bedding fish. There's a clear, distinct difference."

Weldon also noted: "I want to reiterate what a class act Kevin is and how professionally he handled it. I told him, 'I've had very little sleep, and I'm sure I had less than you, Kevin.' He agreed."

Questions About the DQ

While there appears to be some initial clarity as to why Jones was DQd, there are many more questions than answers at this point. The first of which is who assisted Jones in practice.

Jones, for years, has practiced with his son Little Alton. There is at least some chance if not a strong chance it was Little Alton who assisted Jones in practice.

Note that Little Alton is neither a "non-boater" as implied by the rule since he wasn't registered to fish the tournament and not an apparent "expert" on the water. But the rules do prohibit "the assistance or advice of anyone for the purposes of locating or catching bass (unless a competitor in the event)."

Again, someone else could have assisted Jones.

Other questions that remain, for now, unanswered:

  • Did someone protest Jones? Did Jones come forth with the information? Or was it brought to BASS's attention by other means?
  • Did VanDam's DQ create additional pressure to DQ Jones?
  • Will Jones appeal the decision?
  • The applicable rules are meant to level the playing field. But does a strict interpretation prohibit anyone but another competitor from riding with a pro during practice? Would the rule apply to members of the media or TV cameras? What if a member of the media hands the pro a bait from the deck, for example, or helps him spot a navigation buoy?
  • Jones is a two-tour angler. Will this DQ influence whether he continues to fish two tours?

2007 Qualifications

Just like VanDam, Jones' DQ affects his 2007 qualifications. But VanDam's guaranteed a Majors spot this year because he leads the BASS all-time money list. Jones is not, since he falls below the 10th-place cutoff spot for money qualification. So the DQ affects Jones' 2006 qualifications too.

Prior to this event, Jones was 25th in the Elite Series points. His only way into the 2006 Majors is through the 3-year combined Angler of the Year (AOY) points. The Top 40 in the combined points qualify for the Majors.



Rebecca Edwards
Photo: Rebecca Edwards

Jones faces a lengthy list of struggles when it comes to qualifying for BASS's big-money Bassmaster Majors and Classic.

BASS has not yet published a rolling list of who's in and who's out of the first Major, but prior to this event Jones' 3-year average AOY standing was 46th, and it'll drop with no points accrued here. So it doesn't look good for the first Major at least, and maybe more.

And to fish the 2007 Majors, he must average 47th or better in combined 2006/2007 AOY standings prior to each Major, or qualify as a 2006 Major champion. Another uphill battle.

To fish the 2007 Bassmaster Classic, he has to finish 36th or better in this year's AOY race. Again, he could backdoor the Classic through the Bassmaster Northern and Southern Tours, the ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series or even via the BASS Federation Nation.

Jones is currently ranked No. 48 in the BassFan World Rankings and the rankings affect 2006 Top Gun Championship qualification. The DQ will certainly hurt his ranking, but by how much isn't known.

And to requalify for next year's Elite Series, he has to finish 70th or better in the AOY race. Doable, definitely, but another uphill struggle.

At some point the question will come up: Jones is a two-tour pro, and has been critical of BASS at times in the past. Given the uphill struggle he faces this year, will he continue with this Elite Series season? For the record, should he decide to withdraw, he would still owe bass the balance of his $55,000 entry fee.

Notable

> Again, although it's not confirmed, it's at least a reasonable guess that Little Alton did assist Jones in practice. The Jones family travels together, and his wife Jimmye Sue homeschools the children. Little Alton has been a fixture on the tours and in his father's boat for years. In the past he often appeared onstage with his father.

> The Majors are no-entry-fee events with a $250,000 1st-place payout. The 2007 Classic, which is also a no-entry-fee event, pays $500,000 for 1st place.

> He's currently 79th in the FLW AOY race.

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