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As do many of my fellow anglers, I loathe and detest all so-called fishing tournaments, rodeos, derbies, contests—or whatever they may be called—in which prizes of money or merchandise are offered.
I don't mean to condemn everyone who fishes in big-prize tournaments. In every such tournament you will find some people who would be fishing just as enthusiastically if the top prize were a suspender button, or even if there were no prizes at all but simply a slightly better than usual excuse to go fishing. And I certainly don't mean that a man's skill at fishing should not be recognized. Nor do I mean that an angler who is both lucky and facile enough to catch a 60-pound striped bass or a six-pound brook trout or a 600-pound blue marlin isn't deserving of some sort of trophy or memento.
What I do feel is that in putting up prizes of great value the promoters are trying, successfully in many cases, to shift the emphasis in angling from sport to spoils. They are transforming what has always been essentially a noncompetitive sport—or one in which competition has always been of only incidental importance—into a competitive contest. Under such conditions, sport and all of the other traditional values associated with fishing, become secondary to the winning of money.
Most fishing tournaments, by their very nature, encourage the more venal, larcenous and weak-willed entrants (and this is the type most attracted by big-prize contests) to lie, swindle, bribe, embezzle, perjure and otherwise cheat to whatever extent is necessary to win. This is not theory. It is the experience of every big-money fishing tournament of which I have direct or indirect knowledge. Nor should it dumfound anyone: x% of men will cheat when the stakes are 50� a hole at golf. When the prize is a $4,000 station wagon or a $10,000 cabin cruiser, x soars. In fact, even when the prize is merely a small portion of prestige there will be a shocking amount of cheating.
Philip Wylie, a member of the executive committee of the purely amateur International Game Fish Association, recently wrote an article for Sports Afield in which he denounced the so-called sportsmen who violate, in letter, spirit, or both, the IGFA rules governing world-record catches. He also took a well-aimed swipe at those who connive with corruptible boatmen to falsify affidavits, merely to have their names included in the IGFA lists of world-record holders.
Miss Francesca LaMonte, an ichthyologist who was for many years secretary of the association, has told me of the fraudulent lengths to which some anglers have gone in their efforts to make the list. These attempts are, I think, largely the fault—however inadvertent—of the IGFA. By issuing lists of catches, with separate records for men and women in many different line tests, the IGFA has established 14 world records for each species of salt-water game fish. I am convinced that this policy must encourage the salt-water fisherman to think in terms of records rather than in terms of sport.
The instances of fishing fraud are numerous. Ernest Lyons, editor of The Stuart News and one of Florida's leading crusaders against big-prize contests, wrote in his column of a black bass caught illegally on a line tied to a floating jug, then stuffed with lead sinkers and entered in a contest—in which it won $500. He has also reported attempts to enter a number of net-caught sea trout in other Florida tournaments.
I recall a scandal that broke during a west-coast-of-Florida tarpon tournament. It seems that several of the prizewinning fish had been caught well outside the limits of the area and rushed by speedboat to the weighing-in station, where false affidavits were sworn out.
At a one-day salmon derby on Lummi Island in Puget Sound in 1956, a marine sergeant entered a 28-pound spring salmon and was about to walk off with the top prize when a bystander commented on the spring's "funny look." The fish was opened and found to be still frozen inside. The prize then went to a fresh-caught 22-pounder. TIME recently reported the confessions of four men who had won brand-new automobiles in the annual Seattle Times Salmon Derby; the four fish they entered had been bought from an Indian fish trapper some time before and hidden until D-day.