After a comprehensive investigation into alleged rule violations at Bass Pro Tour Stage Five on Cayuga Lake, Major League Fishing has disqualified Arkansas pro Spencer Shuffield for intentionally removing a hook in a bass that was caught while sight-fishing before his MLF official could verify that the fish was hooked inside the mouth.
Shuffield will forfeit his Cayuga winnings, points and weight, including a fish weight toward Heavy Hitters 2024 qualification. Some anglers will receive additional winnings and points following the adjustments in the results of Stage Five.
The investigation began after livestream video indicated the possibility that some anglers may have weighed fish while sight-fishing that were not verified by MLF officials as being hooked inside the mouth, and that some anglers may have caught the same bass twice while visibly targeting it. These actions are violations of Bass Pro Tour Rules 9 (d) and 9 (e).
MLF’s Rules Infraction Committee conducts a thorough investigation whenever an alleged violation occurs. Standard procedures include interviewing MLF officials, competitors and any other individuals with potential knowledge of alleged violations. In addition, the committee examines SCORETRACKER® weight, time and GPS-location data, and reviews photos and video from both MLF livestream cameras and the POV/action cameras required by rule on each angler’s boat. A polygraph is administered whenever evidence is inconclusive. MLF’s licensed polygrapher has administered more than 5,000 polygraphs and has extensive knowledge and experience with tournament bass fishing.
As a result of the investigation, several anglers were selected for polygraphs. The anglers selected were the only competitors who could have possibly scored the same bass twice in the same day while sight-fishing, or who had the opportunity to manipulate hook placement in a fish that was caught while sight-fishing before their MLF official could verify that the bass was hooked inside the mouth. MLF could not rule out a possible violation among these anglers based solely on physical evidence, data or MLF official interviews.
The anglers were asked the following polygraph questions:
- During Bass Pro Tour Stage Five competition hours on Cayuga Lake, did you manipulate hook placement in a bass that you caught while visibly targeting it?
- During Bass Pro Tour Stage Five competition hours on Cayuga Lake, did you intentionally conceal a bass from your MLF official or camera operator so that you could manipulate hook placement in the bass?
- Did you visibly target, catch and score the same bass twice in the same day during Bass Pro Tour Stage Five competition on Cayuga Lake?
- Did you visibly see a bass at any point while in the act of fishing for it and subsequently scoring it a second time on the same day of Bass Pro Tour Stage Five competition on Cayuga Lake?
All of the anglers, except Shuffield, passed the polygraph and have been exonerated. Shuffield failed both questions about hook manipulation. This result was consistent with video evidence from the tournament.
MLF has also updated Bass Pro Tour Rules 9 (d) and 9 (e) in consultation with the MLF Anglers Association starting with Stage Six so that once a bass is located visually, it can only be caught one time per day. The updated rules also more explicitly require anglers to immediately present any bass caught while sight-fishing to their MLF official, who will provide visual verification that the bass is hooked inside the mouth.
- Rule 9 (d): When a bass is caught while sight-fishing, it must be verified immediately by the MLF official that it has been hooked on the inside of the mouth before removal of any hooks to be counted in the daily weight.
- Rule 9 (e): When sight-fishing (visibly targeting bass), anglers cannot weigh the same bass more than once per day. Catching the same bass while sight fishing more than once per day (and weighing it more than once per day) may result in loss of weight, loss of fishing time, a fine or any other penalty as outlined in 3A as determined by the Tournament Director.
- Rule 9 (d): All bass caught while sight-fishing (visually locating a bed or bass) must be hooked inside the mouth and immediately shown to your MLF official for verification before removal of any hooks to be counted in your daily weight. Inside the mouth is defined as when the bass’s mouth is closed in its natural position, it will cover the entry point of the hook.
- Rule 9 (e): Once a bass is located visually (sight-fishing), it can only be caught and weighed one time per day, per angler. No angler may intentionally catch the same fish twice in the same day. Violation of this rule may result in loss of weight, loss of fishing time, a fine or any other penalty as outlined in 3A as determined by the Tournament Director.
Unrelated to the investigation, Bass Pro Tour angler Todd Faircloth’s Stage Five finish, points and winnings were adjusted to reflect an error in a fish weight entered into SCORETRACKER® at that event. Faircloth self-reported the entry error.