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Tournament angling is a one-person sport

On the Water
Angler and a marshal smiling in a bass boat

But the pros are never alone

Tournament bass fishing at the professional level is not a team sport.

Tournament fishing is about winning and — like golfers, wrestlers, rodeo cowboys and other one-person franchises — the success of a pro angler hinges on today's performance. To be sure, these contestants have buddies, traveling partners and even respected opponents on the circuit, but relationships disappear at the predawn launch of every event. With jaws set, the anglers focus intensely on their job — only winners will sleep well that night.

So, if all that is accurate – if this is truly a one-person sport – who is that nondescript, semi-invisible other person in the boat with the pro angler? In every contestant’s boat is what looks suspiciously like a passenger along for the ride.

That’s no passenger. That’s “the marshal,” who is there to do what all marshals do: uphold the law.

“It’s very clear in our training,” said Rick Moore, a retired California cop and expert angler who volunteers as a marshal at B.A.S.S. Elite events. “We are an extra set of eyes that are on that boat to ensure the integrity of the sport. These anglers are good people and have plenty of integrity, but we’re there to remove any cloud of doubt.”

So … what does a marshal's job on the water entail?

According to B.A.S.S., a marshal’s first assignment is to be the angler’s official observer. A marshal also serves as the crucial link in BASSTrakk, Bassmaster’s electronic catch-reporting system that tells fans on shore what’s happening on the water. Every time a Classic angler boats a fish, the marshal will log the catch on a pre-programmed device.

The benefits that accompany the responsibilities are self-evident. For starters, a marshal sits just a few feet from the pro contestant, which means the marshal has better than a bird’s-eye view of the action and a perspective that no one – with the exception of other marshals – can have. The marshals literally have front-row seats to catches or missed catches that can win or lose a tournament title. Some of those catches make the broadcast, but all of them are witnessed by a marshal.

“When I retired 10 years ago, I decided to get back into bass fishing and everything that comes with it – boats, gear, all of that – but everything had changed,” said Moore, who lives in Monterey County. “Everything was better, and I loved it. I volunteered to marshal at an event on Lake Havasu and discovered I love watching the best anglers in the world do what they do best. It was ‘exponentially accelerated’ learning," he said.

“I’m a tackle junkie and an electronics junkie, and marshalling allows me to compare all the brands and see all the newest baits. I get to watch these pros succeed or fail based on the decisions they make. Then the next day I get to watch another pro face similar situations and make different decisions that determine success or failure. It’s a great way to learn,” Moore added.

In addition to fulfilling his duties as marshal, Moore has also learned to respond accordingly to the personality, temperament and even the mood of the pro he accompanies.

“I’m not a person who gets star-struck,” he said. “Each spring I’m in charge of security at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am (PGA) golf tournament (near Carmel, California), so I’m used to working with celebrities. In B.A.S.S. tournaments, I respect what the pros are doing, and I simply try to make it a good day for them. Some like to talk, some don’t, and I simply follow their lead. I’m there to learn and do my job.”

Moore retired as deputy chief after 31 years with the Salinas (California) Police Department, not far from Pebble Beach. It’s one of the most famous golf tournaments in the world, but fishing remains Moore’s most pleasurable distraction in life. He’s quick to mention he’s deeply into the gear and equipment that has changed the life and strategy of the tournament angler.

“In law enforcement, technology was painful; I always pushed to get the latest technologies, but that was tough,” said Moore. “Now I’m able to indulge myself on my own boats and learn from the best in the world.”

Moore recently marshalled at the 2019 Bassmaster Classic on the Tennessee River near Knoxville. It was his third Classic, in addition to six or seven regular-season tournaments he works annually.

Asked if he’d ever seen an angler go overboard during event, Moore said, “No, but I’ve fallen in myself. Now my nickname with a few of them is ‘Splash.’

“But I’ve also seen and experienced some exciting moments, like when I was with (B.A.S.S. Pro) Brandon Palaniuk on the St. Lawrence River. That was an adventure. He was in the lead for Angler of the Year and was working hard and pushing the clock. But he didn’t know that Saturday on the St. Lawrence River is nothing like Friday on the St. Lawrence River. There were Yachts everywhere creating huge waves, and there was no way to hit them all like we should. He kept going as fast as he could, and kept asking me, “Are you OK?” I would nod my head and he would keep going.

“We beat the time to the docks by a minute and a half. But, you know what, it was a fun ride and I loved it … if that makes any sense.”

Moore is also a photographer, and he often takes photos of anglers, fish and boats during tournaments.

“One of the coolest shots I own came from my trip with Palaniuk,” he said. “Before he started, he told me he would be running around the boat turning on Go Pro cameras, and he wasn’t lying. One of the shots from a Go Pro was a photo of me taking a photo of Brandon landing a big fish. It’s one of my favorite photos.”

Like most of us, Moore will mix business with pleasure when he can, including his trips to marshal tournaments.

“My wife goes to about half the B.A.S.S. events with me,” he said. “We love to travel, and the marshalling jobs take us to places in the U.S. we wouldn’t visit otherwise. We’ve seen a lot of wonderful parts of the country.

“During the past five years I’ve also made some great friends who are also marshals, and sometimes we’ll stay a few extra days after the tournament and fish the same great lakes the pros just fished.”

Moore has marshalled with many of the best pros, but he’s never been paired with Kevin VanDam, the acknowledged king of bass fishing.

“But I’ve met him and he’s just as nice as they say he is,” said Moore. “He’s a legend and he’s the authority on the sport because of his success and the way he treats people.

“These pros are a lot like the pros at Pebble Beach. There are a handful of stars in each sport, and there are 100 others right behind them, trying to become them. And golfers and anglers typically have strong family connections. They’re out there week after week, tournament after tournament, and they have to learn how to handle those away days. They’re a tight-knit bunch.”

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