“There’s still a gentleman’s code within this sport that golf has, that tennis has,” says Bassmaster Elite Series Pro Mark Menendez. “Our code of honor is not to run in on somebody that you know is catching them in a certain place. Our code of honor is giving way to the leader of the tournament, and giving him an opportunity to win that tournament if you don’t have a chance.”
Menendez grew up watching the code play out time after time in those 1980s televised Bassmaster tournaments—the ones with Ray Scott and Harold Sharp at the helm; the ones that sometimes hosted future (though now former) U.S. Presidents. In the early 90s, Menendez would watch the code in person as he began a 25 year long climb into the Bassmaster millionaires’ club: a feat he managed just this month at the 2015 Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship at Sturgeon Bay, Wis.
But lately, Menendez says the Angler’s Code is being forgotten, being brushed aside like a broken set of guidelines.
“It’s going away in the younger generations,” Menendez notes. “People don’t do the right thing anymore. It’s important to do the right thing.”
Earlier this month, Menendez did a painfully right thing. He disqualified himself from a potential spot in the 2016 Bassmaster Classic.
As the final minutes ticked down on the last day of the Sturgeon Bay tournament, the veteran angler hooked a fish that would secure an 11th place finish, and crucially, a near lock on a berth in the 2016 Classic. It seemed like a miracle, something too good to be true.
Due to a regulation in Wisconsin law which states a fish must be hooked in the mouth to be considered a legal catch, Menendez’s catch—which had initially been hooked on a KVD jerkbait (featuring three hooks) in the mouth—had shaken itself free of the lead hook. The first hook, the one inside of its mouth, popped out, leaving the fish attached to the two remaining hooks by its side and back. It was technically an illegal catch.
Caught up in the excitement of the waning moments of the tourney, having just landed a fish he knew he needed to have a shot at fishing’s grandest stage, Menendez weighed the fish in. Later that night, at about 1:30 a.m., the Angler’s Code caught up with him. He snapped awake in his Wisconsin hotel room, and he stayed awake for much of the night: he realized the fish was illegal, that his shot at the Bassmaster Classic was gone. He knew he had to make a phone call to B.A.S.S. at first light and crush his own dream.
How many young anglers come into your store dreaming of a tournament like the Bassmaster Classic? How many of those young bucks—a precious commodity in our industry—then go out and blast onto an already occupied fishing hole? How many might not report an illegal catch in a tournament? Maybe it’s a bass tournament, maybe it’s a saltwater event or a fly fishing championship. And maybe you should be the one telling them not to do it.
There is still a code of honor amongst anglers. It’s not gone yet. Menendez isn’t the only one “doing the right thing.” Still, there should be more. Young anglers can learn more than how to catch a fish in your store—they can learn how to do the right thing, too.