Bass anglers, did you have a good time at the 2003 Bassmasters Classic in New Orleans? Did you enjoy learning how the best fishermen in the world fared on waters that are accessible to you every day? Did you have fun seeing the new boats, tackle and gear at the accompanying trade show in the Superdome?I hope so, because it’s probably the last one you’ll ever see here. Louisiana, I predict, will never again host the Bassmasters Classic, and the state’s bass fans have one man to thank — Plaquemines Parish district attorney Darryl Bubrig.
Since its inception, the Bass Anglers Sportsman Association has been fanatical about safety. For years, the organization maintained a 150-horsepower maximum on any boats fishing its tournaments, and only increased the regulation after bass boats were made much safer. Participants have always been required to wear life jackets whenever their outboards are running, and “blast-offs” are staggered to keep anglers a safe distance from each other.
BASS has instituted these regulations, it says, because it cares about its tournament fishermen. That’s probably true, but what’s also true is that an accident resulting in injury or worse would be horrible PR for BASS, and like every business, BASS lives and dies by its public image.
As most every angler knows by now, one of the pros fishing the Classic, Gary Klein, was allegedly shot at by a man named Dale Silbernagel, who objected when Klein allegedly ran his boat too fast past Silbernagel’s camp. The incident made world-wide news, and it presented Louisiana unfavorably, to say the least.
But there was hope Louisiana could recover. If Silbernagel had been arrested and fairly tried, the world would have seen that our state takes such acts seriously. Even if Silbernagel had been acquitted by a judge or jury, at least he would have been adjudicated in a system set up by the state of Louisiana and approved by the U.S. government.
But we’ll never know if Silbernagel would have been tossed in the clink or set free because Bubrig decided last month to drop the charges. The move obviously was met with outrage from bass fans around the world and, more importantly, officials within BASS.
“The authorities have made their decision, and while we certainly respect that, this is about someone firing a loaded gun in the direction of another person, no more no less,” BASS communications director George McNeilly told bassfan.com. “To suggest that there might be any mitigating circumstances that in some way justify this behavior (McNeilly was referring to the support the accused had gotten from locals) is very troubling to BASS. The decision gives us great pause.”
Imagine if BASS were to hold another Classic here, and one of the contenders, this time, gets shot rather than shot at. The public would rightly blast BASS for failing to ensure the safety of its tournament fishermen. Precedent had already been set in Louisiana, and yet BASS chose to hold another event here? Bass fishing fans would be furious.
McNeilly was diplomatic when asked if BASS would ever return here, but if you read between the lines, it’s clear they now won’t touch Louisiana with a 7-foot flipping stick.
“While we do view the shooting incident as both isolated and unfortunate, when we choose a location for our events, the first criterion is our ability to ensure the safety of all concerned,” he said. “That includes the anglers, our employees, volunteers, fans, the working media and everyone who in some way touches the event.”
Bye, bye BASS. Thanks for the memories.