Wheeler’s in the books, and with it came a few notable events. Takahiro returned to the winner’s circle, an original FLW grinder finally showed his stuff and the tournament went down in a cloud of controversy. It seems big-league bass gets more exciting every year.
For starters, let’s give credit where it’s due: Takahiro Omori took down the tournament with three consecutive monster stringers. He did so in pure champion’s fashion, catching the largest bag of the entire event on the final day. On a lake where competitors complained of poor fishing, Omori blew their doors off, demonstrating why Wheeler will always be regarded as an original American bass hole. “I knew it,” Omori exclaimed after dropping a 6-pounder in the livewell; my mind instantly raced back to his Classic victory, when he made the same claim.
Remember, Omori was the original high-risk bass fishing success story. He moved from Japan to the U.S. on a whim, speaking little or no English, with no future in sight. Once in Texas, Omori immersed himself in the bass culture 100 percent, and never looked back. His story continues to be one of inspiration and the fruition of the American Dream.
The only competitor who stood a chance against Omori’s super-human efforts was former FLW star Dave Lefebre. After following Lefebre’s career for nearly 20 years, I can assure you his brush with Elite victory was just a matter of time, and this won’t be his last.
Without question, Lefebre is the best mechanical fishermen I’ve ever been in a boat with. Casting is truly second-nature to him; his skills honed not only on the tournament trails, but through tens of thousands of hours fishing and testing products near his home. The guy’s a vacuum cleaner with shark’s teeth.
Now that Lefebre seems to have settled into his new workplace, I would wager we’ll see a stronger push out of him, similar to that of other former FLW players. While we’ve repeatedly heard how the Elite field is the best in history, with names like Tharp, Lefebre, Ehrler, Lucas and others on the roster, I’m actually starting to believe it.
Unfortunately, the back-and-forth battle between Omori and Lefebre wasn’t the only headline at Wheeler. Luke Clausen, another former FLW champ, was disqualified following day 3 of the event, but allowed to finish competition based on his appeal of the penalty.
Clausen was handed his sentence after failing a polygraph test given at random to top finishers. Apparently, one of his answers “showed a reaction to the question about whether I obeyed the 28-day off-limits rule,” Clausen told BassFan.
Clausen will learn his fate this week, when B.A.S.S. finishes its investigation of the test results and the potential rule infraction. It’s my understanding that Clausen informed the tournament staff that he never solicited information, but did have a brief conversation about potential fishing locales with a local angler not in the tournament. It sounds as if the info was thrust upon Clausen unknowingly.
Such brings up a very good topic: How in the world do tournament committees expect this rule to be enforceable? As anyone who’s ever pulled a tournament bass rig into a gas station can attest to, “information” is everywhere. Out-of-town tournament anglers are immediately the “beneficiary” of tips and secret honey holes from every know-it-all local around, whether solicited or not. As a result, many touring pros find themselves in the direct stream of such chatter.
So what this becomes, essentially, is a situation where competitors must police themselves, and then interpret their own actions.
But here’s the problem – in such a situation, what I feel is acceptable, or morally correct, may be different than what you feel about the same issue. If I’m tossed unsolicited information, but feel I did everything I could to prevent it and not allow it to influence my approach, I’m good with that. But, perhaps, not everyone sleeps as soundly as I do.
Then, to determine whether or not a rule was broken, a test is given that’s based entirely on my personal understanding of right and wrong. You see, I’m fairly certain that’s what a polygraph measures: whether or not you believe your own story. There’s clearly a problem with this approach; both the rule and the test are far from cut-and-dried, yet the penalty is very much so. It will be interesting to see how B.A.S.S. handles such.
In addition, I find it absurd that B.A.S.S. has no mention of any of this occurrence on its website, despite it directly influencing competition. But, then again, politics in bass fishing is often childish. It should also be mentioned that I contacted Luke Clausen for his take, but found him unable to comment until the appeal process is over. I guess that’s fair.
Like many competitors as well as many of you, I anxiously await this decision. You can bet I won’t let it slip by; I look forward to sharing viewpoints next week.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)