Let me say upfront–I’m a rules guy. In all the sports, without rules you have no standards and without standards you have no measurement of achievement.

But rules are virtually always subject to interpretation (unless there’s a radar gun involved) so everyone needs to understand that when someone is penalized, including at the extreme being disqualified, it doesn’t mean they were cheating. Of all the playing fields on the planet, none is more subjective than one covered with water. And the larger and more variant they are in water levels (by tide or by season), the more chance there is for some kind of “infraction.”

Overlay that unique playing field with subjective rules of sportsmanship (not to be confused with gamesmanship) plus local ordinances or unique state laws that were never instituted with the consideration of 50 to 100 or more  like-intended boaters on the water, and you have more than ample possibilities for a rules violation. In bass fishing, it is up to the “tournament authority” to make the call in these areas, and just like they are in every other sport, their “calls” are subject to scrutiny in the media.

A recent call by Trip Weldon of B.A.S.S., to impose a one hour, next day penalty on two competitors who did not stop to render assistance when a passenger was thrown from another tournament boat, was a classic in poor judgment. Yes, boaters are obligated by law to render assistance on the water, but such a law was never intended to include everyone else who might on the water at the time.

Because there were tournament boats that had already stopped, absolutely no one else was under any obligation to stop. And just because someone files a protest (one whom the law perhaps did apply to render assistance since they were first on the scene) doesn’t mean the tournament authority needs do anything more than say, “Thank you for your concern: no harm no foul,” and let it go.

But closer to home, I can think of lots of infractions that are just that–mild infractions. While it makes no sense to me the “No casting over the buoy line” rule  is not universal in all fishing leagues. If you can win doing it one week and be DQed the next, a hero in one and a knucklehead in the other, in my mind it’s the rule-makers who need some counseling.

Yet, where all tournaments could do a better job is with matching the penalty with the  infraction–and hopefully, there can be some agreement with what actually is an infraction. In soccer, they have an expression, “play the advantage.” In other words, where a foul might be called, it may not be because the team being fouled was in an advantageous position at the moment.

In bass fishing, I believe they should penalize the “unfair advantage.” If pushing a wake in the 5 mph zone is a foul while heading for the ramp– okay. And if the patrol stops the offender and gives him a citation, in my mind, sufficient penalty has been rendered. If not, then maybe the tournament authority imposes say a 15-minute time penalty or imposes a fine if it occurs on the final day of the competition.

But where it would be an unfair advantage would be if that same angler was plowing through a slow zone to get to a select fishing area. This offender deserves a more severe penalty–he’s trying to get over on his competitors. Of course, intentional snagging, illegal tackle, drugs, alcohol, or blatantly unsafe boating practices should draw maximum heat.

Yet I think those cases are rare. There was a penalty imposed at one U.S. Open on Lake Mead (where all marinas are off limits)  and a competitor’s catch was disqualified for the day. But he was hardly a cheater. What they were calling “a marina” was nothing more than an incline to the water and a couple of buoys off shore. Only in the imagination of some federal bureaucrat was that possibly a marina–but for the sake of the lake rules, the tournament authority made the correct call.

Yet, it has always bothered me that anyone would deem the offender in that case as trying to gain an unfair advantage or cheat. He wasn’t.

And I’m hopeful, most aren’t.