Many people freely apply “pro” status to top-level bass anglers. Most pros are among the greatest people you will ever meet. They are family oriented and true sportsmen. Companies have entrusted their reputations to these men and women.
Sportsmanship is practiced along with catch and release, going back to tournament pioneer Ray Scott's conservation roots. Livewell improvements, additives and even rule changes have elevated fish care. Every organization serves up penalties for dead fish and conducts pre-launch livewell checks to ensure the live release of tournament catches. FLW states every effort must be made to keep bass alive through the use of a properly aerated livewell. A 4-ounce penalty is deducted for each dead bass presented for weigh-in.
B.A.S.S. has produced a document detailing proper fish handling, recognizing the importance of protecting the slime coat. B.A.S.S. says fish secrete a protective “slime” or mucus as a barrier to disease and every effort should be made to avoid removal of the mucus coat. Even touching the slime coat should be avoided. Contact with carpet is definitely a no-no! Major League Fishing assesses penalties for allowing a fish to touch the carpet.
Recently on social media one top-level angler, who has fished FLW, the Elite Series and Major League Fishing, posted a photo of 10 3- to 5-pound largemouth bass, carefully laid out on the carpeted deck of his bass boat. I was not impressed. Had this been a weekend angler, it might have been chalked up to uninformed fish handling. However, I suggested to this pro, "Not good to lay fish on carpet." Nothing more, nothing less.
This raised the ante and ire of the pro. "Steve, I can lay 'em where I want too. I've took care of fish my whole life and they were all released alive and fine." I replied to his comment directed to me. "So … you are saying this is proper fish handling?"
Not taking advantage of the opportunity to back off, this “pro” attempted to redirect the conversation. “Obviously, Steve, your gonna be the one to start a debate. I didn't say it was the best way, but a lot better than holding their lower jaw out of place. So what is your best way?”
The torch was then carried by his fans. Many of his followers joined in on the misguided pro's defense. One actually gave the pro fish-handling credibility. "Oh good, this guy is going to argue with a longtime pro and guide."
Even as this pro encouraged his followers to support his bad behavior, a few brave posters questioned his fish care. A Japanese angler took exception, asking how long it took to position the fish for the photos. He also pointed out that this photo was taken pre-spawn and the reproductive success of these fish would likely be impacted. He called on the angler to act like the pro and be the model of good manners.
Bass fishing tournaments may be popular to the participants, but a lot of locals are not impressed. In fact, many would like to never see another event on their home waters, claiming these events prevent locals from being able to get out on their water, or they are encroached upon by competitive anglers while recreationally fishing. Even more believe tournaments mishandle fish and ruin fisheries by killing fish directly or through delayed mortality.
This incident is a reminder to everyone who fishes to take care of their fish and for the pros to behave like pros, setting the example rather than inciting and encouraging bad behavior! Pros represent their sponsors, their tournament organizations and themselves. It’s time for guys like this to be called on the carpet!
(Capt. Steve Chaconas is a Potomac bass fishing guide and contributing writer for BoatUS.com. He can be contacted by sending an email to info@NationalBass.com.