- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 16, 2005

A local Web site that promises to provide tidal Potomac River fishing reports for the public but also uses a hefty amount of its space pushing a lengthy list of preferred rods, reels, lures, sunglasses, boats, motors and other items, recently took a shot at the fellow who writes about fishing for The Washington Times —moi.

The person who owns the site didn’t mention my name, but it was plain as day that he aimed his poison pen at The Times because he repeated points I recently made about the ignominy of conducting bass fishing contests when water temperatures are too warm even for a newborn baby’s bath. Babies and captive bass don’t do well in hot water.

Taking a poke at me isn’t a bad thing in itself. The writer has yet to be born who doesn’t deserve a rap on the knuckles now and then. However, this man has serious misgivings about my decision not to cover bass fishing tournaments conducted by well-heeled out-of-towners interested only in profit.

I used to write about them. Apparently my detractor wasn’t around in the 1970s (while at The Washington Star) and 1980s (at The Times) when readers received a heavy dose of stories about days spent with the biggest names in the bass tournament business — and trust me, it’s a business, a big one.

From Bill Dance to Roland Martin, from Kevin VanDam and Shaw Grigsby to Denny Brauer, I’ve been with them in sun, rain, even a freak snowstorm once (in Guntersville Lake, Ala.). I found them to be great fellows to spend a day with and even learn a trick or two about fooling fish.

Eventually, though, an overpowering feeling crept up on me that slick, well-organized fishing tournaments are about only making money.

A case can even be made that such events shouldn’t be referred to as sport fishing but rather commercial fishing. Long-time readers already know how I feel about any kind of commercial fishing. Not only that, telling me that it is my duty to cover such events is like telling The Times’ auto columnist, Vern Parker, that it’s his duty to cover NASCAR races, which he doesn’t.

The father of our sport, Izaak Walton, never thought sport fishing should be about money. Neither did the greats of angling since then, including the likes of Ernest Hemingway, baseball immortal Ted Williams, President Dwight D. Eisenhower or broadcast maven Curt Gowdy. All of them believed our sport should be about nature, peace and quiet, of seeking and getting relaxation, and the always hoped-for possibility of fooling a wily water creature with a man-made lure or real bait.

In no instance should there be a fight over fishing certain spots (as tournament anglers often do), and money should never be a consideration. It’s all about the fish, not the bucks; the solitude, not the crowd noise; the fun of fishing, not the fury of competition.

The objector to our decision not to cover national cast-for-cash events says our readers clamor for such coverage, that it is my duty to deliver it.

Horse hockey!

For starters, the vast majority of newspaper buyers simply enjoy reading about sport fishing (yes, fishing, not dollar signs). They enjoy the sharing of certain methods of finding and/or hooking a fish, learning about new places to visit and perhaps a new lure that can increase catch rates.

But there has been absolutely no more clamor for bass fishing tournament coverage than there has for tiddlywinks columns. If a bass pro devises a new way of finding fish, we’ll happily pass it along. But we’ll always remember the typical weekend angler/boater such as a recent letter writer, Dave Garner, who has been totally frustrated with Northern Virginia’s Leesylvania State Park and the many fishing tournaments held there (as also happens across the Potomac at Maryland’s Smallwood State Park).

“The number of bass tournaments that are being launched from the park is completely out of hand,” he complained to the state parks people. “[On a recent Saturday morning,] there were three separate tournaments scheduled. I consider myself a patient and tolerant person, but this [having to wait to launch] is a little much. I have had similar experiences at this park. I want it to stop.”

Garner is no fan of fishing-for-profit events for several reasons.

“The main reason is that [tournaments] cannot be healthy for fish who must stay in an aerated livewell for up to eight hours. There were many tournaments held in July and August when the water temps were in the 90s,” he wrote.

Garner is afraid of what all this will do to the river that provides him with relief from daily work pressures.

“These tournaments are all for profit, which leads me to think about sportsmanship and common decency on the water,” he wrote, “Competition fishing brings out a side in people that is not good for [those] who are out to have fun, to have sport.”

Dave, I couldn’t have said it any better. And to the man who thinks we ought to become a print outlet for contests that only reduce the quality of the fishing experience, I suggest he put them on his Web page. That way, those who want to see results and how much money everyone has made can do so.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.



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