I n October, many anglers on the Texas Coast breathe a sigh of relief, but not for the reasons you may be thinking.
Sure, October usually means the weather is beginning to back off the blast-furnace heat that bakes anglers, and it means that the bays become less crowded because many sportsmen are turning their attention to hunting. Neither is it because the fishing seems to explode when the weather starts to cool just a bit.
No, many along the coast thank their lucky stars that the long string of fishing tournaments almost every weekend from Late May until September are finally over. If you think the NBA regular season is interminable, try keeping track of all the tournaments in Ports Mansfield and Isabel during the summer.
Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against tournaments. I’ve been weighmaster at many. Most are for good causes such as various charities or scholarship funds. Ninety-five percent of the anglers who fish in these tournaments are good people.
They come to fish, and they see tournaments as a source to contribute to a cause in which they believe. They come to hang out with friends, eat some good food, and maybe even win a few bucks. The problem arises because of the other five percent, who seem obsessed with winning at all costs.
Anglers who cut off the drifts of other anglers. Anglers who drop wade fishermen in front of drifting boats. Anglers who act like fools at the weigh-in and make a production about the accuracy of the weighmaster’s measuring stick or scale. Outright cheating.
I have seen such examples—and a few I’m sure I’ve forgotten—in the course of 25 years of attending, competing, and weigh-mastering tournaments. It seems that when even as little as a couple of hundred dollars is on the line, the manners and sportsmanship of some anglers go on ice along with their catch.
Before anyone writes a complaint, let me reprat: I have nothing against tournaments—even though the number of events explodes over the summer months. It gets to the point that the weekend angler should stay in bed and wait for— well, October.
I am proud to say that I have been associated with many tournaments over the years that sponsor worthy causes—the Willacy County Young Farmers Tournament, the Edinburg Lions Tournament, The Dargel Owners’ Tournament, and the Association of General Contractors.
All these tournaments, and several others up and down the coast are run by great people for equally great causes. They encourage anglers to exhibit sportsmanship and character while on the water. Sad to say, some anglers either ignore the admonishment, or they simply don’t care.
During one tournament I was working, an angler brought a redfish to the stick that was 28 1/8 inches long on my metal Chek It Stick. I had no choice but to disallow the fish, as per the rules.
It wasn’t personal, but the angler made it so by claiming he was being cheated, though the tournament director verified the length. He claimed the fish measured exactly 28 inches on his stick.
That was all well and good, but on the official tournament stick, it was 28 1/8. He made a huge scene, big enough that the tournament director called over a constable to defuse the situation.
I’d like to say that was an isolated incident, but I’ve seen it happen over and over.
While fun-fishing with my wife, son, and Captain Jimmy Martinez, we saw some anglers cut off our drift and set down within 25 yards in front of us. Jimmy and I both spoke up, and the boat operator—another guide—shouted back an obscenity and said, “We’re fishing a tournament.”
Worse than the bad behavior or the public tantrums is the cheating. At this year’s Texas International Fishing Tournament, an angler was arrested for attempting to cheat at the Port Mansfield Fishing Tournament the week before. Two Texas Parks and Wildlife agents stepped up and arrested the angler as he was trying to weigh-in on a warrant of “fraud in a fishing tournament,” a class A misdemeanor.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated event. Anyone who has fished tournaments for any length of time can tell you stories of entrants being caught cheating. Some hold prior caught fish in submerged cages, others try trimming tails or “spiking” a redfish to shorten it’s length. Some stuff fish with lead sinkers, ice, mullet, or a myriad of other foreign material to goose a weight. Fish swapping among anglers is another practice of the cheater.
How the arrested angler tried to cheat is immaterial. The fact remains that he did.
Depending on the amount of the prize money involved, a busted angler can be charged with a full-blown felony. However, most anglers plead out to a lesser misdemeanor. Almost none ever see the inside of a prison cell.
Someone once suggested to me that tournaments should be banned from Texas Coastal waters. I think that is throwing out the baby with the bath water. What needs to be done is all a wholesale change in the idea that these tournaments are a way at easy money.
Tournaments should be seen for what they are really meant to be. They are a chance for a tight-knit community to come together and have a little fun, eat some good food, and maybe raise some money for a good cause.
Then maybe these tournaments won’t seem like a bane, but a boon.
Email Cal Gonzales at [email protected]