In virtually every sport that is played in this country, you have some form of defensive play. Whether it is the mind-numbing quarterback sack in football or the bone-jarring hip check in hockey, there is always some method used to prevent the other team from scoring. In each and every sport, these preventative actions are acceptable. Why should defensive fishing be any different?
During a recent television interview, one of bass fishing's biggest money winners admitted that he went out during his pre-fishing period and stuck every fish he could see. Most of us know that this is something that you normally do not do in practice. The reason being, you don't want to make your fish skittish and prevent them from biting your bait during the tournament. In this angler's case, he did want to prevent those fish from biting during the tournament. The only problem was the fish he was setting the hook on, were not the ones he was planning to hunt during the competition. He was trying to keep the anglers in the earlier flights from getting on the easy bed fish bite. Although this is well within the rules, many are expressing a lot of displeasure with his actions.
Come on, are you kidding me? This kind of stuff goes on a lot more than what anyone ever realizes. Partly because 99% of the anglers doing it, don't have the guts to go on national television and admit it. I am not condoning this persons' logic or saying that I would personally do it, but for him to be called a "cheater" is pretty darn harsh. Do you really think this person is capable of going out and hooking enough fish, on a body of water the size of the Harris Chain, to affect the outcome of the tournament? He is good, but not that good. I think what he did was have "mind relations" with half the field. In other words, "he punked out all of them."
The psychological warfare in bass fishing extends farther than going out and sticking a bunch of fish in practice. As far as I am concerned, a large percentage of "dock talk" is another form of defense. If you can get into the heads of everyone within earshot, you can greatly affect how well they play the game. When anglers stand around in the morning talking about the fish they are catching on finesse worms and Carolina rigs, while in reality they are flipping Yamamoto Hula Grubs and dragging Mizmo tubes, it can really be a detriment to their competitors. The eavesdropping anglers will often second guess themselves and totally lose their train-of-thought. If the talkers only win this mind game for a single day or even a single hour, it can be enough to put them ahead of you in the tournament.
A couple of years back, I was fishing a tournament on a lake that I have fished since I was old enough to cast. It was common knowledge that I was a pretty hot stick at this lake and had caught more than my share of big bass from its waters. Also competing in this tournament was a guy that gets his kicks out of trash talking me. Even though I have beaten him in 75% of the tournaments we have fished against each other, he is constantly giving me good-humored crap (at least I think it's good humored). During this tournament at my home lake, I knew everyone was gunning for me, but I didn't care. Almost immediately after the tournament started, I put a few fish in my livewell. A short time later I came around a corner and fishing towards me was one of my "on the water" rivals. You guessed it, the guy that is always dishing out a mouthful of junk. In a matter of about two seconds, I decided that I was going to play a little defensive mind game on this person.
Prior to him seeing me, I quickly laid down the Pflueger flipping stick that I had been using with success and picked up my spinnerbait rod. I hadn't even made a cast with a spinnerbait in that hour since the tournament started. As my Minn Kota trolling motor pulled me past him, I gave a friendly hello. He then asked if I had any fish in the box yet. I said, "Yeah I have a few nice ones." With a look of disappointment, he said he had not even had a bite yet. Then he asked if I had been using that spinnerbait in my hand. Of course, I said "yes." I knew the fish were in tight to cover and flipping was the key to getting them to bite. If this angler spent his time fishing a spinnerbait, I knew he would not beat me.
After it was all over, I had finished second to my good friend JJ Patton. The guy that I had run some defense game on, came in with just a single keeper. Was what I did illegal? Nope, not even close. Was the recipient of my diversionary tactic upset? Of course he was, he lost. Some might view what I did as "unethical" and to a minimal extent, I would agree. Others might view what David Dudley did this past week as "unethical" and I might slightly agree with that as well. Nevertheless, when you are fishing for money, it takes the sport to an entirely different level. It is actually no longer a game, it is a business. You go into business to make money and when you are successful, there will always be those that are not going to be happy.
As I am launching my boat tournament morning, I can assure you that keeping everyone happy has never crossed my mind. The only thing I am thinking about is catching bass and winning cash. Anytime you meet your objectives and win (or even just finish high in the standings) there will always be someone that isn't happy. They are most generally the ones that borrowed Gerald Swindle's "Suck Truck" and didn't do worth a crap in the tournament. People can complain about the tactics other anglers used before and during tournaments, but the truth is "there isn't anything you can do about it." As long as these anglers are fishing within the rules, there is nothing illegal about their approach. They are doing nothing wrong. If anglers choose to talk about fictitious patterns, set the hook in practice or throw decoy baits, that is just part of that day's business plan. This doesn't make them cheaters, whether you like it or not.