The recent disqualification of Spencer Shuffield following completion of the BPT event at Cayuga Lake set a precedent in the sport, immediately grabbing the attention of fans and competitors. Transparency is all too uncommon in pro bass, where most violations seem to be settled by backroom conversations and a slap on the wrist. For years, the policy in professional fishing has been to keep any hiccups out of the press.

So I was intrigued to read MLF’s release on the situation at Cayuga. Initially, it appeared several competitors may have violated the rules. MLF frontman Boyd Duckett was happy to clear things up.

“We investigate everything, all the time, not just what becomes public.” Duckett made clear that the ruling body of the Bass Pro Tour is made up of competitors, and those anglers demand all rules be thoroughly enforced. Polygraphs, like those given at Cayuga, are part of the process.

For the record, 16 polygraphs were issued following the event, significantly more than the customary tests given at each Bass Pro Tour tournament. This was due to the aforementioned investigations which led to a number of possible scenarios where competitors came under scrutiny.

Most of the concern came over rules prohibiting identifying and catching the same bass twice. In this case, BPT officials used the GPS tracking technology and on-board cameras to determine if competitors were knowingly in the wrong.

Sixteen polygraphs sounds like a lot, and it is, but we must consider the format adopted by MLF.

“They (competitors) were never suspects,” Duckett stressed the importance of clarifying that fact. “Look, if you’re standing outside a store that gets robbed, you’re going to get questioned. That doesn’t mean you’re guilty!”

Conversely, the entire competition is heavily scrutinized, and any potential for a rule infraction is investigated.

Duckett didn't mince words.

“It’s incumbent on us to explain the whole story. The other big sports – the NFL and MLB – they all disclose (rule infractions) correctly. We’re the only sport hiding. If we want to grow up … we need full disclosure to the media like the other sports.”

Similar to the big leagues, Duckett insisted that BPT athletes “take risks and occasionally break rules. Like the NFL, there are penalties, not cheaters.”

The Cayuga event featured two distinct rule discrepancies, both of which have since been revised. The first, as mentioned earlier, prohibited an angler from fishing for the same visible bass twice in one day. Initially, the rule allowed the possibility of catching the same bass twice, as long as it wasn’t visibly targeted both times. This made for problems in a smallmouth spawn-fest.

The newly revised rule prohibits an angler from weighing the same fish twice in any form. I wondered if an angler could sight-fish the same bed or spot twice, as multiple bass may be present.

“If a competitor knows it’s not the same bass (say, a larger bass in the same spot), they can catch it and easily pass the polygraph,” Duckett made clear.

The other major infraction, and the rule directly affecting Shuffield, was the requirement for competitors to verify hook placement of bass caught while sight-fishing. Shuffield did not pass the polygraph questions pertaining to this rule, and therefore was disqualified. (It’s important to discern: Shuffield was not fined for his infraction. Instead, he was required to forfeit his winnings.)

The new ruling requires more effort from the anglers to display and verify each fish before it’s unhooked. Without the boat official’s OK, the fish will not be counted. This appears to remove any discrepancy over verification. Regardless, in the end, the on-board cameras and polygraphs will still play a role.

Throughout our conversation, Duckett was very clear to point out the topic of intent. When a rule is violated, did the competitor in question do so with the intent of gaining an advantage? For instance, did he intend to blow a no-wake zone to gain more fishing time? Did he intend to conceal an improperly hooked fish from an official, or obscure the official's view? Did a competitor intend to solicit information from a local fishing buddy, and was the intent to use that information for gain?

Intent. Seems like a sticky topic, and may require some interpretation. But it’s honest.

Perhaps that’s the best we can do. While the BPT takes a lick for doing things by the book, portraying the sport in a way never done so before and remaining professional in the wake of public slander, honesty, really, still has the final say.

Rules are always open to interpretation. A group is in place to do so. Not everyone will come out happy. These are the facts of life and the basis for fair play.

“We're always trying to make everything as fair as possible, Duckett finished.

In the end, that’s all we can ask for.

(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)