The Yak4It Tournament of Champions held its third annual event November 5-6 and the event, while a great success, also saw a few anglers with some hard lessons learned.
Day One of the Championship progressed as normal and saw 122 anglers take to Lake Fork in hopes of winning the $11,500 in cash and prizes up for First Place.
The top seven places after Day One were separated by less than 10 inches with Aaron Spry and Nathan Henthorn leading the pack with 91 inches each. In order to win, Spry and Henthorn would have to stave off the field and post another big total on Day Two.
As Day Two started about 20 anglers were still within striking distance of the coveted top prize. At initial glance of the unofficial standings it appeared that Guillermo Gonzales had made a big move to claim the title with a Day Two total of 105.5 inches. Ron Champion also made a big surge with an unofficial 100 inch stringer on Day Two.
Day One leader Aaron Spry muscled up 89 inches for Day Two and was sitting squarely in third. And then it happened.
As the judges were finalizing results to make them official it was noticed that in one of the pictures that Champion had submitted, one of the identifiers was not completely visible and was unable to be verified as meeting the criteria set forth in the rules. It was ruled that the fish did not meet all the criteria and was disqualified moving Champion’s Day Two total from 100 inches to 79 inches. The rules also state that an angler may only submit 5 fish pictures on an SD card so a substitute fish is not allowable.
A recap of the day between two anglers also brought to light a potential infraction that they had both committed while on the water. Late during Day Two of the Tournament of Champions, while still on the water during fishing time, Joseph Sanderson, who on Day One had 65.25 inches, called his long time buddy and fishing partner to check on him and see how his day was going. The fishing buddy was Guillermo Gonzales. Gonzales was at that moment the unofficial winner.
Gonzales and Sanderson reported the call to Tournament of Champions Tournament Director and Yak4It owner Cody Prather. Prather went through the rules with them and verified it was indeed a violation to place a phone call.
Rule 8: The use of mobile communication devices, including, but not limited to, cell phones, marine radios, walkie-talkies, CBs, etc., to communicate between contestants during tournament hours is strictly prohibited.
Prather then disqualified all of the Day Two fish by both Sanderson and Gonzalez. A simple misstep cost Gonzalez a First Place finish and Sanderson a Sixth Place finish in the Tournament of Champions.
All three men agreed while unfortunate, the integrity of the tournament, the rules, and the sport needed to be upheld. The disqualification of the day’s fish needed to happen.
Spry was able to take home several prize packages and cash winnings totaling $11,500 for his top finish in the Tournament of Champions.
Champion finished Fourth, Gonzalez 23rd and Sanderson 34th.
All of the men with rules violations took to Facebook to describe their experience.
Gonzalez said, ” It’s bittersweet.
Yesterday, I put up the best tournament performance of my life; on one of the biggest stages in Kayak Bass Fishing in the United States. Not only did I catch the biggest tournament bag of my life at 105.5″ but I caught what was probably the biggest bass I’ve ever caught and my first Lake Fork over at 25.25″. The level of excitement I felt at the time was unparalleled to anything I’ve ever felt.
I was disqualified and my 2nd days catch didn’t count.
My best friend Joseph had a 4 mile paddle back to the ramp and called me around 2pm. The excitement of my days catch was flowing through my veins, and not thinking anything of it, I picked up. An hour later, once the excitement wore off, I realized what I had done. Upon returning to Lake Fork Marina Joseph and I discussed what we had done and agreed it was only right to inform the tournament directors. It was clear that they were heartbroken, but they made the right decision and disqualified the both of us. As difficult as this was for me, I believe this speaks volumes about the Yak4it and KFL organization, upholding every angler to the highest standard.
I want to thank my family, friends, and sponsors for all their support. The people I am surrounded with are truly a gift from God above and I give Him the glory.
Sanderson said, ” What a whirlwind of a weekend. I went from catching ’em the best I have ever caught ’em before in practice, to not catching a limit on day 1 of the tournament, to coming back to finish in 6th overall with a solid limit on day 2, to DQing myself. Guillermo González stuck it to them and had the win in the bag, until he DQed himself as well because of a phone call from me to see how his day was going that he answered. Although it was harmless, it was against the rules and you have to do the right thing. “
Champion said, ” I had my best tournament day ever on the water, I caught some Giants and I will make a separate post for that.. I came in with 10 keeper fish on my SD Card and my best 5 was 100 Inches with a 22 inch Bass being the biggest.. Issue was my sleeve was covering one of the 2 identifiers. I thought you could see enough of the silver armband outlining the sleeve but after everything was said and done it was ruled a no and my 22 inch fish was disqualified. So after that I went from a 2nd Place Finish to a 4th Place.. I had 5 other fish I could have used in its place and came in with 93 inches guaranteed but we could only turn in 5 photos (one for each fish). “
Having been in the Tournament Director’s shoes when tough calls have to be made, I don’t envy it but can say that showing competitors and future competitors that rules have to be upheld is a strong move that shows a dedication to excellence and growth. If the instances were allowed to slide, on a big stage like this, it could have been the slippery slope that opens the door for appeals on everything and questioning of inconsistency. That questioning could have been the downfall of the Tournament of Champions. Instead, the importance of reading the rules and understanding them, has been brought to the forefront. It is a reminder for all of us who fish tournaments that you have to know all the rules going in. Actually read them before signing waivers that state you have, and keep that game on point until the check is in your hands.
Congrats to all those involved for showing the integrity that permeates our sport.