DALLAS -- Garland, Texas, bass tournament angler Robby Rose pleaded guilty to cheating in an October tournament, but he insisted that he stuffed a one-pound weight into a big bass in order to embarrass the tournament.
Somebody was embarrassed, but it wasn't the tournament. Rose, who has won multiple tournaments in the last 10 years, was sentenced last week to 15 days in jail, five years' probation, a $3,000 fine and suspension of his fishing license while on probation.
He's been barbecued on the Internet since this story hit cyberspace. Rose is a national pariah among bass fishing fans, but he's not the first guy who's cheated in a tournament and he won't be the last.
BASS founder Ray Scott was paranoid about tournament cheating. Scott's tournament trail, started in 1967, was the first pro fishing circuit. He understood that a cheating scandal would kill the sport.
He required anglers to be paired by random drawing in hopes that they would police one another. Scott once told me that most of the early BASS rules were in response to two of the highest-profile anglers.
Those guys weren't cheating but were constantly pushing the envelope on how they caught fish, and Scott's rules were closing loopholes as the tournament trail progressed.
Scott hired a guy named Harold Sharp as his original tournament director. Sharp resembled a Marine drill instructor, with less charm.
Rose often fished alone, even in two-man team tournaments. He was so successful that Bass Champs president Chad Potts decided in February 2008 to place an observer in Rose's boat. This was done after repeated complaints from other tournament fishermen. Rose never entered another Bass Champs tournament.
When Scott devised the Bassmasters Classic, he placed a member of the fishing press in the boat with each qualifier. Now that ESPN owns the Bassmasters circuit, there's still an observer, and often a camera, in Classic boats.
Pro anglers who make a living competing on the BASS circuit or the rival FLW circuit have too much at stake to cheat. Most of the top anglers earn more from endorsements than they win. That doesn't mean they don't violate the rules occasionally.
Even Kevin VanDam, arguably the best bass pro of all time, was disqualified from a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament for a minor rule infraction a few years ago. Trip Weldon, the modern-day version of Harold Sharp, said that more often than not, the pros turn themselves in when they realize they've violated the rules.
There's a lot of money in weekend bass tournaments, even at the state and regional level. According to Potts, 25 two-man teams won more than $25,000 last year on the Bass Champs circuit, and the record earnings for a team in one season is $100,000.
Some events pay $100,000 for the biggest fish of the tournament. When that kind of money is involved, it's human nature for some people to stack the odds in their favor.
When Texas Parks and Wildlife announced it would pay $500 per pound to the angler who caught Toyota ShareLunker No. 500, officials stipulated that the fisherman would be subject to a polygraph test.
They also went silent on the lunker count after No. 498 was caught. They were afraid some unscrupulous angler would catch a big bass and hold onto it until he knew that 499 had been caught.
Garland game warden Capt. Garry Collins, who was instrumental in investigating the Rose case, has spent hours trying to catch anglers suspected of cheating to win a bass tournament pot as small as $600.
The usual cheating method is to catch fish before the tournament and stash them around the lake on a stringer or in a wire fish cage tied to a stump. At Lake Fork, Collins said, there's been a rash of tournament anglers using scissors to trim the tails of bass slightly larger than 16 inches. Lake Fork has a slot limit that protects bass from 16 to 24 inches.
TP&W has a legal code that addresses cheating, but it needs tweaking. It does not address, for instance, the issue of adding weights to make a fish heavier or trimming a fish's tail to make it shorter. Where are Ray Scott and Harold Sharp when you need them?