I’d never heard of anything like it. Apparently, early on the third day of the recent FLW Tour event on Kentucky Lake, tournament leader Randy Haynes decided to quit – completely withdraw from the event – after a run-in on the water with Jason Lambert. The two exchanged words, Lambert caught a couple, and Haynes just said the heck with it.
Now remember, this is Tour-level event, complete with a $4,500 entry fee and a $100K payout to the winner.
Who does that?
Like just about every fan of pro bass fishing, I was shocked; perhaps there was something I missed. Certainly, Haynes had other places to fish – he’s one of the best tournament anglers to ever make a cast on Kentucky Lake. I hadn’t heard about any mechanical failure or sickness. I wondered if Haynes had done something to already spell his demise; maybe he displayed an unquestionable lack of sportsmanship, or threatened Lambert, or tried to ram him.
Evidently not. Haynes just decided to “take it to the house," as he put it.
I called both men this week to get their statements. Not surprisingly, Haynes led with “No comment”; thus, our conversation quickly ended. Lambert, on the other hand, gave me his side of the story.
“I want everyone to understand I started there (at the spot of confrontation with Haynes) Thursday morning. I caught about 24 pounds in 30, maybe 40 minutes, pulled the trolling motor, and left.”
“I went back there first thing Friday, but Randy was there, so I kept driving (and fished elsewhere). I ran back there Saturday morning (Lambert arrived first) and Randy came in and sat down next to me.”
Seems pretty cut and dried.
I reviewed the only public statement by Haynes I could find on the issue: “I'm kind of old-school and I fish because I love it, but I don't want to fish like that. It's just where the sport is now,” Haynes told BassFan over the weekend.
After digesting that for a minute, I quickly found myself reflecting on the state of our sport and how things have changed.
In the early days of competitive bass fishing, things were probably more cutthroat than ever; even more so than today. You see, prior to the sport becoming a legitimate career choice, it was just a “money-in-the-hat” affair where anything went.
But during the first major expansion period of our sport, the word “professional” got tossed in and was quickly pinned on pioneers like Bill Dance and Roland Martin, who brought such an approach to competitive fishing.
It’s more than likely that the beginning of the “unwritten code” of touring pros began to develop at this time. Don’t cut a guy off just down the bank. Give the leader his water. Always pick up a competitor who’s broken down.
A few tournament anglers still strictly follow the code, others can take it or leave it, and a few act as though they’ve never heard of it. Based on his comments, I think it’s safe to assume that Randy Haynes feels as though he falls into the category of followers, and that such beliefs are quickly becoming a thing of the past.
Maybe he’s right. I did a little digging and found a prediction on the matter from the legendary Rick Clunn: "Most of us realize that, ultimately, we're not competing against each other, but against the fish … but I can't deny the more money gets into our sport, the more greed and poor sportsmanship could happen," Clunn said in an interview prior to the 2000 Bassmaster Classic.
So, where are we headed?
First off, it’s important to point out that – according to the statement by Lambert and common belief by the tournament organizers and fans – no one in the recent scenario was really at fault. It looks as though both Lambert and Haynes had reason to be at the location early on day 3.
But Haynes' decision to pull out – whether justified or not – made the real statement of the tournament. I’d guess this type of run-in is happening more and more and anglers like Haynes, who still feel the unwritten code should be honored, are becoming a thing of the past. As the sport transforms, the gentleman’s agreements are no longer valid and bass fishing, like so much of our society, becomes a game of push and shove, me first, and the heck with everyone else.
And to a lot of guys, that’s a shame.
You see, there’s more to the world than finishing first. At times, it feels just as good – or even better – to help another achieve greatness when you realize it’s not your turn. Only those who have been on both sides will ever realize the lifelong bond that’s often created.
All was fair in love and war last week on Kentucky Lake. But perhaps a moment was created to remind us all of the big picture.
(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.)