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Angling snoops a disgrace in winners' wakes
By TERRY TOMALIN
Published November 21, 2004
ST. PETERSBURG - What would you do to win? Hit a baseball with a cork-filled bat? Take performance-enhancing drugs?
How about steal another fisherman's secret spots?
There are people who would say the latter is impossible. When it comes to fishing, especially tournament fishing, there are no secret spots.
Most teams fish with the same bait, the same equipment, in the same areas.
Still, when it comes to the highly competitive kingfish tournament circuit, some anglers will do anything to get ahead, even if it means spending the day following a successful team from spot to spot.
The fishing Web sites have been buzzing with controversy the past few weeks as a result of an incident at a recent area kingfish tournament.
The specifics don't matter because you can participate in any big-money tournament, any weekend, and witness the same behavior.
There are probably a dozen local teams that win again and again, and subsequently most tournament anglers could pick out their boats from a mile or more away.
And there usually will be teams right behind the well-known anglers, trying to stumble into a winning fish without putting in the money and effort on their own before the tournament.
Some would say that following a team that is "in the money" is just part of the tournament game. Others, however - call them "old school" - would consider it unsportsmanlike.
It's not cheating, because there are no rules that forbid following another boat. Buy a fast enough boat and you can follow anyone you like.
But part of the thrill of catching fish always will be the hunt. Most of the top anglers spend days before a tournament "prefishing," or scouting for big kings. They win because they put that time in, clear and simple.
But some want to win, regardless of what they must do. They will try on their own on Day 1, go to the weigh-in to see who is on top, then follow the leader on Day 2.
Some anglers find this acceptable. After all, even the best fishermen share GPS numbers and will go as far as calling a friend on a cell phone when they find a school of fish. The difference, though, is that such cooperation is mutual.
Tournament fishing has become so focused on the money, power and fame within a tight circle of anglers, much of the camaraderie and fun is lost.
There is some hope. After hearing that a competitor had a private jet on standby to fly a fish back from the Panhandle, one local tournament tightened its rules to prevent such a transgression. If the tournament is based near Tampa Bay, the organizers figured, the fish should be caught within a reasonable boat ride of Tampa Bay.
Many anglers long for the days before big money entered the sport of fishing. There was a time in the not-too-distant past in which tournament anglers looked nothing like NASCAR drivers, covered with sponsors patches in hopes of attracting even more sponsors.
At least the fish aren't emblazoned with the names of tackle manufacturers. Yet.
Every now and then a regular Joe wins a big-money tournament. There is nothing better than seeing a middle-class angler pull up in a beat-up old boat with a motor that has seen its finer days and slap a hog on the deck.
It reminds everybody of the sport in sportfishing, and that the fishing gods have a sense of humor.