By Bob Hood
You're at your tournament. Somebody is sitting right on your spot, I mean exactly on the only spot you have any confidence at all in. What do you do? This question plagues us all at one time or another. You have to make a decision to leave and go "pot luck" trying to catch some fish, or push your way through the other anglers and try to get them to move.
I know this has happened to all of you. What did you do? This moral dilemma happens in every tournament. There are lots of ways to approach this problem. The rule of thumb with all things being equal is to treat the people in the other boat how you want to be treated. If you're not the first one there, don't get mad at them. What makes the situation such a touchy one is that every person is different, and has different values. The real problem of course that makes most people the maddest during tournaments, is if the other people are catching fish after fish on "their hole". Most people can't help themselves, and just keep getting closer and closer.
If you're there first, and the one doing good, there are several options at your disposal. My personal choice is what I call the shot across the bow or warning shot. I'll pick up my Carolina rig with at least a 1-ounce weight and throw at the other boat when I think they have reached the boundary that I have in my own mind. I would never hit the other boat, but I have crossed their lines before. Only on two occasions has this ever "not" stopped the other boat from encroaching on my spot. This is when you'll be able to say something to them. But yelling or cursing will only make the situation worse. Always use a calm clear voice, and be polite.
In a team tournament on Lake Granbury a few years ago this very situation happened to me. We were fishing a ditch next to a bulkhead wall. The fishing was very tough, but my partner Mike Odem and I were catching keeper after keeper. The lake was falling and every fish on the large flat was moving to the ditch. A local bass club team watched us catch over 20 keepers. They had been fishing near the boat docks and kept getting closer and closer. I threw my Carolina rig to the corner of the last dock. For them to get to our spot they would have to run over my line, so after 30 minutes they left. They came back from time to time to see if we were still there, and of course we were. Finally, after about four hours, they started fishing towards us. We were still catching fish. It was a true tournament angler's dream. The falling water had seemed to turn every bass off except the school in our ditch. I never said anything to them, but I finally had to throw within inches of the front of their boat to get them to turn around. They did, but only after the angler in the back of the boat told the one running the trolling motor not to get in our way.
Every angler's definition of courtesy is different. I honestly make an extra effort to show every angler, tournament fishermen or not, as much courtesy as possible. Sometimes that's not good enough for some people. This past January I was fishing an individual tournament on lake Palestine. The weather was cold and foggy at take-off. I fished out of an aluminum bass boat because I was fishing the shallow, upper reaches. When I reached my fishing area at the mouth of the pocket, there was a local fisherman about 20 yards from the cut I had to go through. I put my motor, which has a 60 hp Mercury, as slow as possible, and made a wide curve around him to finally reach my spot. He had three floats out so I knew he wasn't in the tournament. Later on in the day he trolled up to me and asked if I was in a tournament. I told him I was and on a very tough day had three keepers. He said it must be my first one because he had never seen anybody as rude as me to him that morning. After I idled by him that morning, he said, I had spooked all the fish. He said he thought tournaments had a rule that you couldn't fish within 50 feet of another boat. I could have told him that I didn't start fishing until I was at least 50 yards away, not 50 feet and that there was room for at least 10 boats to fish. What happened was that about the time I went by him the sun made its appearance over the horizon. That is probably why his fish had quit biting.
I told him I sincerely apologized if I had offended him in any way. It just so happened that when this conversation was taking place I was parked at the mouth of the bay, and I told him to go on by me if he wanted to. This got me to wondering if I had really been rude or not. I didn't think so, but like I said everyone's definition is different.
Sportsmanship in every tournament is a rule. The purses keep getting bigger, and lakes seem to have more boats. If everyone will just put themselves in the shoes of those in the other boat, and treat each other with the golden rule and just plain common sense it'll all work out.