Fishing Cheats - and the lengths they go to to win or claim a record
Exposing the dark side of the fishing force.
A lot of years ago I was out on a charter boat from Kona, in Hawaii. Before leaving the dock I had a 'frank and meaningful exchange of views' with the skipper about the habit in that part of the world, back then, of the deck-hand, on a strike, lifting the rod out of the rod-holder and passing it to the angler. Sometimes even setting the hook on the way. I made it very clear this must not happen. The skipper grudgingly agreed.
Anyway, not too far into the trip a thumping great Mahi-Mahi jumped on one of the rods, and the deck-hand grabbed the rod out of the holder and handed it to me. I gave him an earful, while setting about landing the fish.
Once on board it turned out to be a very big fish indeed - so big that the skipper wanted to weigh it in as a possible record.
I pointed out that we could not do that because the deck-hand had handed me the rod in contravention of IGFA rules. The skipper suggested I might like to forget that, especially as it would be me who would have the record. I said I would not do so.
The rest of the trip was conducted in what might be described as a less than convivial atmosphere.
The atmosphere changed from cool to downright frigid when back at the dock other skippers and deck-hands asked when we were going to weigh the fish. These questions stopped stone-dead when I announced that the deckhand had handed me the rod, although one or two suggested I should not let that get in the way.
This episode, which I stress was nearly thirty years ago,was recalled a little while ago when I was having a few drinks with a group of fishy characters. The group included well-known big-game fishing charter-boat skippers, some deck-hands, and small-boat charter skippers, and a few fly-fishing guides.
The subject of discussions was records and competitions, and the lengths some people will go to to win them. These discussions exposed the dark side of the fishing force.
Without exception, each of the group, (around 15), had been and are still, regularly offered many financial inducements to 'bend the rules' so that the client would win a competition or gain a world record. Actually they are offered bribes, not financial inducements, let's call it for what it is - a payment to cheat.
What were they offered bribes for?
Potential records seem to attract a lot of cheats; people with enough money to buy what money should not be able to buy. Some people it seems will pay an awful lot of money to have a fish mount over the fire-place with a World Record Certificate under it.
For them it does not matter a fat rat's ass how it happens, just that it happens.
Amongst skippers there are a few cheats too; those that will bend the rules, like the Kona skipper at the beginning of this piece, to gain more results on their bragging board, and perhaps sponsorship money, free tackle, and more clients.
Here are just a few examples from the record chasing scene:
- As covered above, and it still is a common one, is to try and get the crew or angler to 'forget' the that the deck-hand lifted the rod out of the rod holder and passed it to the client in the chair. Under IGFA rules only the angler may touch the rod on hook-up.
- Another common one is to have the capture entered under a lower line-weight class, so as to claim a record.
- Stuffing a whole, and as big as possible, fish down into the stomach of a fish that is very close to a record is another ploy.
- The light line-weight class ploy of teasing the fish close to the back of the boat, tossing in a live-bait, which if and when the fish the fish grabs it, the angler bolts for the bow of the boat, so the deck-hand can reach out and grab the leader. This tactic is all too prevalent in some 'Tag and Release' tournaments.
- In saltwater fly-fishing a common one is to try and bribe the skipper and crew to ignore the fact that the angler is trolling the fly, not casting it from a boat that is out of gear, as required by the regulations.
Once you get into the competition area, the hunger to win, backed by the lure of the prizes, prize money, fame and sponsorship, can bring out the cheats. We all have probably heard the litany of skullduggery that goes on during competitions:
- Catching fish before the competition and putting them in underwater pens, to be retrieved for the weigh-in.
- Stuffing fish with baitfish.
- Having a number of boats entered in a heaviest aggregate competition, but by pre-arrangement, and money paid out, the biggest aggregate weight weighed in by one boat. Sometimes this cheat is achieved by having a number of boats not in the tournament supplying the big fish.
- Fishing before or after competition times, or have un-entered boats fishing outside competition fishing times.
Cheating does not just happen in salt water.
Many fly-fishing guides will know occasions when their client confronted by a really big trout, say they have not got the skills to catch it, and ask the guide to have a go.
If the guide lands the fish, the client is very keen to have a photo taken of him holding the fish. (Just a quick note, it is really not a good idea for the cheating client to stick the photo up on the internet, or use it in a a magazine article, captioned as his 'kill'.)
Some cheats buy trophy fish from another angler that actually caught the fish. The mount may look great on the wall, but I wonder how many times the cheat tells the story of catching it before conscience finally pricks too hard.
Using bait in fly-fishing competitions still attracts a few cheats, as it does for those seeking big fish for the wall, regardless of the ethics of the trout's capture.
So how do we stamp out cheating?
Give up on trying to stamp it out completely, but continue with efforts to catch as many cheats as possible. Cheats, rogues and rascals have been around too long, and sadly may always be around.
We are faced with continually refining and strengthening our detection methods.
As prize-money goes up competition organisers have been forced to introduce stronger controls, like the use of observers on all boats, on the water and airborne observation, and the like.
But these methods are unlikely to stop all cheating, so is there one thing that might?
The answer is of course no. But we can think on this; in any cheating activity, where any more than one person is involved in that activity, it is a conspiracy. Any conspiracy is only as strong as its weakest link. Any more than two people involved and the strength of the conspiracy weakens exponentially as more people are added.
There are no end to stories of revealed cheats by disgruntled crew members, unseen observers, fights over prize money, and outbreaks of remorse and honesty, often fuelled by booze, by one or some of the conspirators.
I prefer to believe that the vast majority of fishermen do not cheat. But the cheats might lend an ear to that old but very true adage: "It is a bloody big wheel that does not turn full circle."
As for the rest of us - as William Sherwood Fox said: "Of all the liars among mankind, the fisherman is the most trustworthy"