You gotta feel bad for the guy.
Greg Hackney was poised to wrap up another Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. He had won the same award in 2014; multiple AOYs would forever establish him as one of the best to ever play the game. Only Kevin VanDam and Aaron Martens can make the same claim on the B.A.S.S. circuit since the turn of the century. This would establish Hackney’s dynasty.
Then the wheels fell off.
While competing at the seventh stop on the Elite schedule, Hackney unknowingly fished in an off-limits area, as designated by New York state law. His respectable catch for the day was erased, and along with it his hopes for another AOY were diminished.
How could this happen? Had the rules been unclear? Was Hackney misinformed? Surely, this is yet another example of a big-brother conspiracy theory by the powers that be, right?
It doesn’t appear so. Competitors in the event in question, the Cayuga Lake Elite Series, were given notice of the lake’s multiple off-limits areas well prior to the event, by means of four separate e-mails and briefings. The information was reviewed at the pre-tournament meeting, where large aerial photographs were on-hand to rule out any confusion. Each competitor was further encouraged to carefully review the available information in order to prevent a rule infraction.
Evidently, Hackney didn’t get the memo. Or perhaps he was so caught up in the moment that fishing overtook his cognitive thought process.
I know what you’re thinking, as I’m likely on the same plane. How could Hackney be so careless on the water? With so much on the line, I’d be as careful as a naked man climbing a barbed wire fence. It’s estimated that the AOY title could be worth as much as a quarter-million dollars, including bonus incentives.
Other competitors mentioned using their GPS units to clearly mark off-limits areas in order to prevent such an occurrence. Hackney still hasn’t commented on the events that took place, but I think it’s safe to assume he skipped any such preventative actions.
Carelessness aside, I’m afraid that what happened was a case in point for just how focused these guys are. Despite recently winning a title, previously winning the Forrest Wood Cup and two tour-level AOYs, and significantly leading this year’s points race, Hackney was still focused on every detail of every cast. From a pure fan perspective, it’s actually pretty cool.
But not to Greg Hackney.
The events that transpired brought up two significant points that are likely being discussed this week by BassFans around the world. First, the ridiculous New York law and how it affects tournaments; and second, the potential impact of tournament observers and marshals.
Lashing out at New York is rather pointless, but I might as well give it a shot. To back up a bit, laws governing various waterways within New York somehow make it illegal for anglers to enter marinas and fish, despite those harbors being connected to public waters. While in some instances this is rather cut and dried, in others it’s not so simple.
Often, property owners simply extend a small peninsula of land along a lake shore, then label the entire inner reaches a “private marina”, thus making it illegal to enter and fish. What we’re seeing here is an attempted compromise between user groups, but what we’re left with is often a gray area that borders on a loss of rights for anglers.
In the name of peace and unity, I suppose it’s important to remain flexible and respect the needs of all the stakeholders in our waterways. Other states possess their own crazy rules, like Michigan’s absurd “no power loading” law that slows ramp traffic to a crawl - yet we adapt, thankful we still have the right to fish for money.
Another concern is that over the rumors that Hackney’s marshal should have somehow informed the competitor that he was fishing in an off-limits area. This is where we must remain very clear and resilient: at no time should observers or marshals inform anglers of a potential rule infraction.
Hackney’s implosion stands as a perfect, yet painful, example. Had his marshal given Hackney even an inkling of a potential problem, such could have changed the course of history. Although it may not be Greg Hackney, there will be a Bassmaster Angler of the Year for 2016, and that man’s life will be changed forever.
If it's not Hackney, the winner will likely feel second-best, knowing it was Hackney’s title to lose, but that feeling won’t last long. There will be media flattery, sponsor rewards and a big check going to the bank; all of which will help to curb such foolish ideas. Those now in contention won’t back down, and the title won’t come with an asterisk. Just as it shouldn’t.
But, you gotta feel bad for the guy.
(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.)