We discussed last week the series of events that occurred during the Bassmaster Elite event at Lake Wheeler and, in particular, the disqualification of pro fishing superstar Luke Clausen. Clausen, one of only a handful of anglers in the world to win both the Forrest Wood Cup and Bassmaster Classic, appealed the decision at the time and was allowed to finish competition. However, after further review by a three-member panel, B.A.S.S. stuck to its guns and upheld the original DQ ruling.
As I mentioned here last week, Clausen’s disqualification is quite surprising, but perhaps the bigger news will be what happens as a result.
I was unable to reach Clausen this week for comment, as he is competing in the Elite event at Toledo Bend. That in itself surprised me. Following the B.A.S.S. decision on his case, I assumed Clausen would pack up his gear and move back to FLW. By taking a zero at Wheeler, his chances of qualifying for the Classic are extremely slim, not to mention that the bad taste in his mouth must be overwhelming. But many things must be considered outside of retribution; sponsor obligations and politics likely taking the top spot on the priority list.
As I plan to interview Clausen soon, my mind continues to race when considering questions. Like many of you, I want to know how he plans to handle the judgment. Remember, Clausen has always been viewed as somewhat of a “punk rock” version of a bass pro. In 2006, after winning the Classic, he turned down an invitation to fish the Elite tour due to sponsor conflicts. Viewed by many at the time as an “in-your-face” move, Clausen later set aside his pride and went back to B.A.S.S. for the benefit of his career.
This recent controversy, however, could very well set him back a bit.
While things have a way of settling fast in pro bass circles, will the asterisk now placed beside Clausen’s name be viewed as a defamation of character? Remember, bass pros are paid endorsement figures, and such endorsements often teeter on the public’s perception of the athlete.
In addition, Clausen’s resulting fall through the standings could equate to a major loss of investment for his business. A Classic qualification alone often yields tens of thousands of dollars in bonus income for top professional fishermen.
In order to present his side of the story during the appeal process, Clausen included the results of a second polygraph test he took following the tournament. This test, administered by a polygraph professional and paid for by Clausen, essentially concluded that Clausen never solicited or sought information on the tournament waters and never used any that he may have been offered.
Once he’s considered such factors, will Clausen take legal action against B.A.S.S.? I’d like to find out.
To be fair, we must consider both sides. B.A.S.S. did what, I feel, it had to – it stuck to the initial ruling of its tournament director. You see, in order to operate legitimate events, all tournament organizations must be steadfast in their guidelines. Traditionally, B.A.S.S. has done a very good job in that department; rules are rules, whether you’re Joe Schmoe or Kevin VanDam.
But the decision brings up a point that everyone is thinking anyway: as enforced in the Clausen case, the rule in question is likely being broken at every event. I’d wager that, in nearly every case, such rule infringement is entirely unintentional. The rule is simply unrealistic; but it’s being broken, nonetheless. I’ll try to get Clausen’s views on that as well.
And mark my word: this rule will be modified, whether in wording or enforcement methods, within the next year.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a strong movement toward stricter “no information” rules. The reason for such can be directly traced to the outcry among fans of pro fishing, as well as many of it’s athletes, for tournaments based on little or no practice, and even “mystery lake” scenarios. While such isn’t feasible for major, pre-planned events, it still stands that the amount of information competitors are allowed to receive could be limited.
Finding out ways to do so, however, may be tougher than just writing rules.
(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.)