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Bass fishing gets caught up in scandal

August 16, 2010

It's hard to put any faith in sports anymore.

Baseball allows one or two teams to buy up all the good players, basketball players shoot more guns than jump shots, football players beat up their girlfriends, tennis players have on-court meltdowns and bicyclists routinely grow third eyeballs from all the drugs they've ingested.

Like many people, I hold different sports to different standards. For example, I believe that college football teams that are not routinely in the Top 20 should be allowed to cheat. It's really the only way they have to compete with the "traditional powerhouses," many of which got to the top by cheating, themselves. So that's a case where cheating is only fair.

But in the back of my mind, I'd always wanted to follow a sport that was lily white, where men and/or women won or lost on pure merit, not on some quirk in the system or a new, undetectable drug.

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This was why I turned to professional bass fishing, which I first saw in action up on Lake Champlain. I figured a lake is about as level a playing field as you can get. The fish don't have agents, unions or personal trainers. Fishermen win or lose based on the weight of the fish alone and, not being human, the fish aren't likely to be on HGH -- or in this case, I guess, FGH.

I also discovered firsthand that if you want to seek advice and pick their brains, you can have some pretty good conversations with bass fishermen, most of whom hail from a small town in Alabama. They are always more than happy to answer questions:

"So, I guess when you're fishing in thick vegetation like this, you need some really tough tackle to bring the bass out through the weeds, and maybe a 7-foot rod with medium to heavy action and a parabolic bend to keep the pressure on the fish after it's hooked?"

"Yup."

"And when it's really hot like it gets toward the end of August, you're probably not going to catch much unless you can find some vegetation that has some kind of access for the fish to get into the deeper water because they need to be able to get to food and to the cooler water at the same time, are you?"

"Nope."

Try getting that out of Michael Jordan.

So you can imagine my shock and disappointment at the news of a scandal that hit the bass circuit this month: A fisherman at Lake Mead was caught stuffing lead sinkers down the throat of a bass.

Cheating at fishing? I would have thought it impossible -- like cheating at lying in a hammock and sipping lemonade.

Some people suspect the fellow, who was quite successful on the tour, had been weighting down his fish for some time.

Seems as if it would have been hard to pull off. They all release their fish after the weigh-in, so if this guy tosses a bass back into the water and it immediately sinks to the bottom of the lake, you have to know there's a problem.

You wonder whether this fellow set any records, and if so, whether the books will contain an asterisk. "Yeah, he landed a 10-pound smallmouth, but that was back in the lead-sinker era."

I don't know that much about it, but wouldn't there be ways to add weight to a fish that wouldn't be quite so obvious as sinkers? Maybe feed it a couple of frogs or something.

Whatever the case, the bass circuit moved fast to boot the scofflaw from its ranks. This kind of justice would be unheard of in any of our major sports, but fishermen apparently have better morals.

And as one commentator said, "Why would you cheat at something that's so much fun?"

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com">timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant video under opinion@herald-mail.com">opinion@herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 evenings at 6:30. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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