The debate about the relative merits of co-anglers competing in professional events will rage on for as long as this sport exists. Is it better to be all-inclusive and allow amateurs to fish against each other from the back of the pros' boats (as the FLW Tour) does, or eliminate them and their influence on a pro's day entirely (as the Bassmaster Elite Series did several years ago).
My opinion, as I've stated in this space in the past, is that no one other than the pro should wield a rod and reel in a pro's boat on a competition day. Having somebody else fish simply brings in too many additional variables, and that position was reinforced last week.
Two pros fell under tremendous co-angler influence at the Potomac River FLW Tour Major. One was Jim Moynagh, the eventual 4th-place finisher, and the other was the legendary Roland Martin. Both had co-anglers who inadvertently dropped fish into their side of the livewell.
Martin's incident occurred on day 2 and caused him to take a zero for the day. He ended up finishing 143rd (third from last) in a tournament won by his son Scott.
Jim Moynagh was both helped and hurt by his co-anglers en route to a 4th-place finish at the Potomac River FLW Tour Major.
Moynagh had the same thing happen to him on day 3. Because there were still several hours of fishing time remaining, he and the co-angler were able to dump their fish, return to the launch and start their day over from scratch. Moynagh estimated that the snafu cost him approximately 2 pounds – his final total was 1-15 shy of the younger Martin's 66-06 winning mark.
Ironically, Moynagh (a likable sort who thoroughly enjoys the attention his cartoonish M&Ms graphics draw from the pre-teen crowd) freely admitted shortly after the final weigh-in that he'd been helped by his day-2 co-angler. He started that day fishing a swimming worm while the back-seater was throwing a jig. The co caught as many fish as he did, and the co's were bigger. That caused Moynagh to hop on the jig train and stay on it, and he rode it all the way to a Top-5 finish.
The fish-in-the-wrong-box issue is one I'd never encountered before, but a lot of people have heard of it now. And that's a problem.
We all know there are unscrupulous competitors at every level of this game. The fields are merely a cross-section of our society, and our society has more than a fair number of sewer rats who have no qualms about cheating if it improves their chances at a big payday.
The wrong-box thing can't be used to boost a potential cheater's own weight, but it could dang sure be employed to sandbag a competitor. What's to stop an angler in contention for the victory in a multi-day tournament from going into cahoots with another contender's money-hungry or vengeful co-angler? Nothing other than his own value set, and the law of averages dictates that there are some out there who are lacking in that department.
And what could possibly be an easier route to influencing the outcome than pretending to make an honest mistake and releasing a fish into the wrong side of an enclosure toward the end of the day. "Whoopsy-daisy! My bad, bro! So sorry. Guess you're disqualified now."
If such an incident were to occur accidentally in a weekend event, the principals could likely sort it out amongst themselves to the satisfaction of both. But a professional tournament is a different matter entirely. People fishing for their livelihood shouldn't be subjected to such man-made disasters – whether they were perpetrated unintentionally (as the occurrences at the Potomac undoubtedly were) or on purpose (even the most trusting among you have to admit that the potential is there).
Roland Martin had his day-2 weight at the Potomac DQ'd because his co-angler inadvertently inserted a fish into the wrong side of the livewell.
I sincerely hope that the instances at the Potomac were akin to two bolts of lightning striking in the same place and that we'll never hear of such a thing again. If we do, though, my larger-than-average eyebrows will instantly jump toward my hairline. If it happens to a contender, the cynic in me will wonder whether it could've been a nefarious act. That would be unlikely, but the possibility unquestionably exists.
The circumstances, of course, could be reversed and a pro could inadvertently insert a fish into the co-angler's side of the box. If the competitors played it by the book, then the consequences would be identical.
If we're going to call this a professional sport, then those scenarios shouldn't be within the realm of possibility. A pro athlete must be allowed to go about his business without such potential outside influences.
It might help if co-anglers didn't bring their fish back to the weigh-in site and instead used one of the various methods of determining their weight onboard before immediately releasing them. That brings other questionable hypotheticals into play, though, and problems would surely arise.
There's simply no solution that will satisfy everybody. And as for the two major pro circuits, the status quo isn't likely to change anytime soon.
John Johnson is BassFan's senior editor.