“I’m not going to give up and lay down, (but) my year’s pretty much screwed. My head’s definitely not with it right now, with all this going on”.
Luke Clausen was having a tough week.
Following his disqualification from the B.A.S.S. Elite event at Wheeler, Clausen’s drive and direction seemed to have taken a 180. Gone were his chances to regroup halfway through a tough season and qualify for the Classic. Now, he was simply fulfilling obligations.
“I have to … follow through with my contracts that I will represent (sponsors) in the B.A.S.S. Elites this year and I need to do the best job I can to do that.”
I wondered if Clausen longed to be back at FLW, title sponsor conveniently tied to the organization, where things were so much simpler.
I discussed the DQ with Clausen and found his outlook less than satisfied. Given Clausen’s take on the matter, as well as the opinions of other anglers, I contacted B.A.S.S. to get a statement concerning the unsettling rumors.
“We consider the Luke Clausen matter closed and have no further comment," a B.A.S.S. spokesperson told me via email.
Well, I guess that’s that.
But a closer look into Clausen’s predicament is needed. Too many questions have been left unanswered, the future too uncertain.
For starters, I needed to know if Clausen sought legal action in the wake of the decision.
“Within 12 hours of this whole ruling, before the appeal even, I retained an attorney and I’m still consulting him,” Clausen said. “B.A.S.S. made (it) very clear … they will not even accept phone calls from my attorney.”
Clausen mentioned that although he’s still considering his options, in reality, his choice of direction is limited. From what I could gather, Clausen understands that, as a professional tournament angler, he really only has two potential avenues to ply his trade. Suing one would immediately cut that number in half.
“I’m never going to get those points back, I’m never going to get that paycheck back,” he said.
Maybe, then, the answer is to let bygones be bygones. Or maybe not.
Clausen added: “I’ve learned a lot about polygraphs over the last couple weeks.”
From what he’s learned from professional polygraph examiners, “there’s no way a test is actually valid in that short amount of time (referring to exams given quickly at B.A.S.S. tournaments)."
“Over the years, I’ve probably taken six or eight polygraphs, and none of those are even valid tests to my understanding. I’ve requested a recording of my polygraph from B.A.S.S. and they denied that; said they would not give that to me, and the matter’s over.”
Now, to some, that may seem a bit fishy. However, I maintain that the major tournament organizations always try to play it by the book, removing any favoritism or political bias when it comes to interpreting rules. But if evidence exists that results in a competitor being disqualified, I would think the competitor has a right to review such evidence.
The conspiracy theorists will continue to believe that B.A.S.S. is picking on Clausen based on more than his previous decline of an Elite Series invitation. I discount such rumors, but asked Luke nonetheless.
“I would like to think they’re bigger than that; I really don’t know,” he said. “They don’t want me to contact the appeal committee, they don’t want to give me a copy of the polygraph … I guess my doubts seem to grow.
“If I legitimately failed this polygraph, (you’d think B.A.S.S. would say) 'Here’s a copy of it; you can have somebody look at it if you want.”
Is Clausen’s getting strong-armed? Surely, B.A.S.S. has enough on its plate, and what’s done is done, right?
In any case, I’ve never liked rules left to interpretation, so I reviewed those concerning information on the Elite tour. To sum up, they prohibit competitors from soliciting, receiving or gathering information about locating or catching B.A.S.S. from anyone not in the tournament, or not a public source of information.
Yet, we’ve recently seen proof of potential infringements, based on interpretation, right on Bassmaster TV. For example, BassFans pointed out that Davy Hite received information in a tournament regarding navigating a shortcut. Such then gave him more time to fish, thus increasing his chances to catch bass.
And in nearly every Classic, fans are on boat docks begging the pros to catch a big pet bass that lives beneath. Surely that’s information, right?
Clausen also pointed out that many Elite tournament competitors attended a weigh-in at the Bass Cat Owners Tournament on Bull Shoals just one short week prior to the Elite event there. “I can’t see why you’d be there, unless you’re trying to solicit information," he concluded.
I posed this very question to my B.A.S.S. contact, who answered: “Regarding the Bass Cat tournament, whatever is said onstage is public information.” I can go along with that. But what about the unintentional information that’s likely obtained? What difference does it make if an angler spouts out unsolicited info in a boat ramp parking lot or over a cheeseburger? In each case, competitors are gathering information that could aid in their fishing.
Will the outcome of these events lead to a change in the rules, or the interpretations of such? Not according to B.A.S.S.: “We have no plans to change any rule.”
But Clausen, as well as some of his peers, seem to feel such a change is vital. “There’s some concern about the rule, because I don’t know the answer to it. Every angler that comes along is scared right now, not knowing what to do,” he said.
Clausen continued: “If you take the rule by the literal sense of the words – to receive information – every single person broke a rule. What is receiving information? If you walk through the hotel lobby, and somebody tells you it’s raining outside, is that receiving information?
“With this rule being the way it is, they (B.A.S.S.) have the right to DQ every single person in the tournament, unless somebody’s blind and deaf.”
Clausen’s not giving up yet.
“I am going to continue to pursue this, if nothing else, hopefully to make (B.A.S.S.) change this, so it’s a lot more cut and dry and clear for other anglers, and they’re not left in the same circumstance I am.”
But then, the reality of the situation again contradicts Clausen’s uncompromising opinion: “I don’t know how hard you push … you kinda gotta move on with your life at some point. These last couple weeks have been pretty dam miserable for me.”
Finally, I wonder if Luke considers the long-term effects this my have on his career.
“I hope not – that’s my biggest fear that it does. I pride myself on following the rules … something like this is kind of embarrassing almost. It feels like there’s this cloud of suspicion around you.”
I admit, I feel bad for the guy.
“There’s not much I can do about it,” he adds, “other than tell my side of the story.
“I hope it doesn’t affect me long-term. If it does, shame on B.A.S.S., because this is their fault, not mine, in my opinion.”
(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.)