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A-Musing Perspective on Tournament Rules

By Russ Bassdozer

Disclaimer: This a-musing commentary on tournament rules is invalid for any usage, except to entertain you and provide you with thought-provoking reading material every week! This article talks about tournament rules related to lures, baits, scents, trolling and snagging. It's essentially the same kind of opinionated banter you can hear every weekend at sign-up meetings and weigh-in docks and awards ceremonies across the country.

This article has no bearing on any of the organization's rules below, and no officials of any of the organizations were contacted for this article. The information in this article is not necessarily complete or accurate, and it is not to be relied on for any tournament fishing purposes.

With all this being disclaimed now, fact is I have helped to devise specific rules and act as rules official for the Anglers Choice Yamamoto Open circuit. Plus, one of my team fishing partners has been an active and accomplished tournament trail director. So, I gain his perspective on tournament rules too. And just like any fellow who fishes tournaments, I have as much a personal opinion on tournament rules as the next guy - and that's what this article is about - my opinion and musings on tournament rules, not the Yamamoto company's opinion and surely not the opinions of any of the organizations whose rules are randomly sampled below. There was no reason why the organizations below were chosen to sample, just that their rules were readily available on the Internet at the time I chose to write this. So please enjoy!

Artificial Lures and Pork Only: Many of the rule samples permit artificial lures only, with the exception that ONLY one non-artificial may be used - pork. By specifying an exception only for pork, rules leave a gray area (at least semantically, in my opinion) where non-artificials such as hair jigs or feather teasers are not spelled out as permissible non-artificials. That is, non-artificial hair or feather lures are not specifically permitted in the rules, as is pork. By specifying one exception (pork) but not specifying other exceptions (hair jigs or feather teasers), lures composed primarily of hair or feathers are arguably (in my opinion) not permitted within some rule samples. If you only allow wording for pork, you summarily disallow all other non-artificials.

No Live Bait, okay. But What is Prepared Bait?:  Most rule samples disallow live bait, and most disallow prepared bait too. But what is prepared bait? The rule samples don't quite say. So if you trap a mess of crawdads, run them through your food processor (when the wife's not around!) and use a chef's cone-shaped, hand-twistable puree bag to separate out the shell particles, squeezing the resultant crawdad puree into a jar to slather it all over your artificials or pork in a tournament - is that prepared bait? If not, you'd be a fool not to use some. Now, if a fellow goes into the business of trapping crawdads and preparing all that, and puts the preparation in a vacuum-sealed jar on a tackle store shelf for you to buy - is that prepared bait, or is it attractant or scent? And regardless of what it's called, is it allowed usage?

Attractants or Scents: Of 11 rules sampled, only 2 say they allow use of fish attractants or scent. The other nine rules do not say they allow attractants or scents...only artificial lures or pork may be used. If the rules do not expressly say scents or attractants may be used, should you really be using them in competition?

And one of the rule samples, it specifically allows liquid form attractants only. So since gel-type attractants are not okayed (only liquid), are gels not okay to use? Furthermore, if you go to the local pond, trap a bunch of waterdogs, and press them in a food press or between two boards in a vise until all the juice is pressed out of the waterdogs and runs into a jar  - is that a liquid attractant that's okay to use in a tournament? If so, you'd be foolish not to try using some!

Trolling: Most rule samples attempt to disallow some degree of trolling. Some prohibit trolling with the big or combustible motor only, but do not say they prohibit trolling with the small or electric motor. So, if you have a 100 plus pound electric thruster on HBP - that's arguably not prohibited trolling with the big motor according to some rule samples as worded, but is it okay to do?

Overall, if you are not exclusively moving the rod or turning the reel to take up line as the sole means to move the bait...are you trolling? If the only "planned-for" movement of the bait is not with rod/reel and line retrieval, but you plan to move the bait with the boat, that's called dragging, drifting or a borderline mode called strolling ...but is that trolling, and is it okay if you are not using casting and retrieving as the only planned-for movement of the bait?

Snagging: 6 of 11 rule samples did not include any specific wording on snagging fish, except a catch-all to obey state, local and federal laws, and that all fish must be caught in a legal and sporting manner. Only two rule samples were specifically-worded to disallow snagging of bedding or sighted fish. For example, one of my team fishing partners participated in a pro-am event last week where he instructed his amateur partner how to bed-fish a bass during the tournament. The bass struck and ingested the amateur's bait without the amateur's knowledge, but the pro saw the fish ingest it, and yelled, "The bass has your bait. Set the hook now!" By the time his amateur reacted, the fish had blown the bait out. Still, the amateur unintentionally snagged the fish, believing he had a bona fide pick-up of his bait. Although it was a good fish they needed (it was a shared weight event, where both the pro and amateur share their catch weight for the day), the hook was not in the mouth - an ineligible catch. However, most rule samples haven't any specific wording to disallow such a snagged fish, since it was an unintentional snagging. So, should you toss it back or not?

Online Rule Samples
(click below)
Lures, Baits, Scents
(rule samples)
(rule samples)
(rule samples)
AMERICAN BASS Only artificial lures may be used with the exception of pork rind or deer hide. No prepared or live bait may be used. Trolling, also referred to as ripping / sweeping or jerking, is prohibited. Cast and retrieve methods of ripping and jerking are legal. The intentional snagging of fish is strictly prohibited.
AMERICAN BASS ANGLERS Only artificial lures may be used. No “live bait” or “prepared bait” will be permitted during official practice and competition, with the exception of pork strips, rinds, etc. Trolling as a method of fishing is prohibited. * see note below
ANGLERS CHOICE Only artificial lures may be used. No live bait or prepared bait permitted with the exception of pork rinds. Liquid fish attractants are allowed. Trolling with the aid of combustion or electric motors is not permitted. Intentional snagging of fish will not be allowed.
B.A.S.S. Only artificial lures may be used. No "live bait" or "prepared bait" will be permitted during official practice and competition, with the exception of pork strips, rinds, etc. A small electric trolling motor may be used for slow maneuvering. However, trolling as a method of fishing is prohibited. Anyone guilty of snatching or snagging visible fish will have their day's catch disqualified. When visually fishing for bedding bass, all bass must be hooked inside the mouth and must be verified by your partner before being unhooked, to be counted as a legal fish.
FLW Only artificial lures may be used, with the exception of pork trailers. Trolling as a method of fishing is prohibited. * see note below
HONEY HOLE Only artificial baits may be used (pork rind trailers are the only exception). Trolling with the combustion engine is not allowed. * see note below
(Divisional rules may vary)
All fishing must be done with artificial lures only. Pork is permitted. No trolling with the combustion engine is allowed. * see note below
NATIONAL BASS CIRCUIT Only artificial baits may be used except for pork chunks. Trolling with big motor is not permitted. No Snagging
SUPER BASS Only artificial lures and pork lures are allowed. * see note below * see note below
TEAM SUPREME Only artificial lures may be used. Pork-style baits are allowed. No trolling is permitted. * see note below
WON BASS No live bait, cut, or prepared baits other than pork rind or animal hide may be used. Fish "attractants or scents" may be utilized. Trolling (the act of manipulating the lure solely by maneuvering the boat under any type of power) is prohibited. The intentional snagging of fish is strictly prohibited.

SIGHT FISHING - This rule concerns "sight or bedding" bass and is in effect at any time either of these conditions exist, and is designed to eliminate illegal snagging of bass. A sight or bedding fish is defined as one that can be seen and watched as it approaches the lure. Fish being caught under these conditions must be caught by hook and line and by the fish ingesting the lure. Any bass caught that is either a "sight" or "bed" fish must be caught "hook in mouth with the hook point entering from the inside of the mouth" - and must be verified as a legal catch by the angler's in-boat partner. Any "sight" or "bed" fish caught by snagging or with hook starting from outside the mouth shall be deemed an illegally caught fish and must be released. This same fish may be caught again by the legal method - with the hook starting from inside the mouth. Any angler catching a fish under these conditions and not verifying the hook location with the other person in the boat may be disqualified from the tournament.

*: Note: Rule sample did not appear (in my opinion) to include any wording for or against such practices, except a catch-all provisions to obey all state, local and federal laws, and that all fish must generally be caught in a legal and sporting manner.
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