Poor Sportsmanship, Dead Bass
Highlight Big Time Tournament

From H-T of 3/5/06

KISSIMMEE, Fla.--Their most popular and most hyped fisherman was disqualified for poor sportsmanship, and dead or dying fish were featured on national television last weekend as the professionals harvested largemouth bass full of spawn in the BASS/ESPN Bassmaster Classic.

Luke Clausen, a 27-year-old bass buster from Spokane, Wash., was declared the tournament winner on Sunday for his three-day catch of 15 bass weighing 56 lbs., 2 ozs. He also sat a new one-day five-fish record of 29 lbs., 6 ozs. And, he won $500,000, the largest cash prize BASS has awarded in 36 years of its "super" tourney.

ESPN now owns BASS and has applied its considerable promotional expertise to boost interest and television ratings (and advertising rates) for its fishing tournament circuit. The network was so successful that an estimated 10,000 people crowded into the Orange County Convention Center to see the final weigh-in.

Spectators got to see a lot of big female bass, loaded with spawn, when each fisherman grabbed his biggest fish and waved it in the air as he walked from his boat to the podium and scale. Each angler carried the rest of his stringer in a plastic bag and dumped them into the special scale to be weighed. Many of these bagged fish appeared to be either dead or dying. Fish waving continued for photographers and fans for several minutes.

This is just what sports fans, ESPN and the bass busters wanted to see--lots of big largemouth waved in front of a television camera. Lake Tohopekaliga was picked for this reason. Everyone knew a Florida tournament on Toho in late February would produce big catches, mainly because the females would be full of eggs and would bite aggressively. And, Florida Freshwater Fish Management last year completed a project of habitat improvements at Toho, aimed at producing more big largemouth bass.

The most telling incident of the three days came on the first day when the most-hyped angler of the tournament, Mike Iaconelli, was disqualified for poor sportsmanship. While on the water, the Philadelphia native and New Jersey resident threw a hissy fit when he found two of his fish had died in his boat's live well.

But Iaconelli was not upset about the dead fish, per se. He was upset because he would suffer a penalty that BASS assesses for bringing in dead fish. Nobody penalizes BASS/ESPN for fish that die during or after their tournaments, and nobody can replace the spawning year these fish seem certain to lose.

As seen on ESPN, Iaconelli broke a small flag staff and let loose a string of profanity unlike any ever heard on TV outside of Chris Rocks shows. The network bleeped him, but it wasn't hard to figure out what he was saying. While those numerous profanities got him in trouble, it was kicking the small American flag into the lake that enraged American's patriotic viewing public. After reviewing tape of the incident BASS fined and suspended Iaconelli.

After seeing how the caught fish were handled, I asked the Director of Florida Fisheries Management, Darrell Scovell, a series of questions about why he allowed this tournament during spawning season; how many fish died; how many fish would die a day or a week later from stress or injuries and when statistics on dead fish would be published.

Scovell had not replied by the time I wrote this column, but an assistant, Bob Wattendorf, provided this response: "The biologists took everything that you mentioned into consideration when permitting the tournament, plus the regulations that guide issuance/denial of those permits."

©Copyright 2006. Donald Lee Jordan