- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 30, 2006

Several weeks ago, Doug Grassian, the publicist for ESPN Outdoors/BASS Communications, sent an e-mail asking if I was interested in on-site coverage of a large Bass Anglers Sportsman Society tournament, the Capitol Clash from Aug. 10 to 13. It will be held on the upper tidal Potomac River and its tributaries, with the Mattawoman Creek’s Sweden Point Marina serving as the launch and weigh-in site.

My reply:

“I have no interest in covering a money-making tournament during a time of year when our river’s water temperature exceeds 85, even 90 degrees. Anyone with any sense would know that it could not possibly be good for the bass to be confined in a [relatively small] livewell, bounced around nearly all day, stressed ever further, then weighed and released, probably to die a day or two later. If BASS had any sense, it would never schedule a tournament during the hottest time of the year.”

Grassian never answered me, which is his prerogative. He probably went on to the next newspaper or magazine writer to ask the “Are you going to cover our event” question. One newspaper writer’s objection to large BASS or FLW (BASS’s main competitor) tournaments is not going to drive either into bankruptcy.

However, one wonders how much longer the average American angler is going to believe tournament organizations’ claims that they care a great deal for our natural resources? Is it the bass they care about, or is it the almighty dollar? After decades of watching and, yes, covering some of the biggest BASS events, I’ve come to believe that the latter outweighs all other considerations.

If credentials are important to new readers of The Washington Times, rest assured that I’m no stranger to bass fishing tournaments. Long before a local fishing guide — a fellow named Steve Chaconas, who believes it is my duty to cover bass fishing tournaments — even learned how to spell tournament, I was on airplanes flying all over the country from one competition site to another.

Ray Scott, the founder of BASS and innovator of modern fishing tournaments, is my friend. (Well, he was the last time I checked.)

For three different newspapers, I covered 25 world championship Bassmasters Classic contests, flew on mystery planes to locations that were unknown to contestants or the press until the planes landed and we spotted crowds of people waving welcome banners and signs. Those were wonderful catch-and-release events, held annually during October — a time of year when the autumn chill cools and oxygenates the water. The fish were no worse off at the end of the day when they were weighed and let go, perhaps to be caught again another time.

All that changed when big business entered the bass tournament world. Despite loud proclamations of care for our sport fisheries, it quickly became apparent that money overcame any concerns one might have had about the future of a local bass fishery or the eventual condition of the fish released in such outings.

Yes, the contestants are told to run their livewell aerators continually and urged to add bags of ice to increase the bass’ live-release chances. But a top biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources said, “Bass tournaments during the hottest days of summer are a bad idea. Despite glowing statements from the sponsoring organizations, the deaths of bass increase exponentially with the rise in water temperatures.”

Sadly, the biologist was forced to ask for anonymity because his government is officially in favor of tournaments visiting Maryland waters. He couldn’t afford the risk of being taken to the woodshed for speaking out.

It’s all about money. If 400 contestants come to Charles County, where the BASS tournament will be headquartered in August, they’ll spend money on motels, hotels, KFC chicken, Big Macs, overpriced gasoline, maybe even pricey seafood dinners.

Get it? It’s about money, not the survival and health of the fish. That’s why a fisheries scientist had to ask for protective anonymity because his bosses are more inclined to help local businesses than worry about what will happen to the Potomac River’s bass.

So even if the fellow who calls himself Capt. Chaconas disagrees, this time BASS will not get a pat on the back from my corner.

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

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