By ERICA GOODE NYTimes
A bill that would make it a misdemeanor — and in some cases a felony — to misrepresent the size, weight or provenance of a fish in a fishing tournament arrived on Gov. Rick Perry’s desk on Wednesday, after passing the State Senate in a unanimous vote on Monday.
Senator Glenn Hegar, a Republican who sponsored the bill, said it was intended to address cheating in high-level bass fishing tournaments, some of which offer tens of thousands of dollars in prizes. In one notorious case in 2009, an angler who entered the Bud Light Trail Big Bass Tournament on Lake Ray Hubbard, east of Dallas, put a one-pound lead weight inside the stomach of the 10.49-pound bass he had entered to win the grand prize, a $55,000 fishing boat.
“Some people are literally taking scissors and cutting off the tail of a fish to make it fit into a certain category,” Mr. Hegar said. “Unfortunately, they’re not playing by the rules.”
He said he had taken his share of ribbing from colleagues, who suggested he was sponsoring the bill because he had lost out in a fishing tournament. “The harassment has been pretty deep over this one,” he said, adding that he fishes only recreationally.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Perry, Katherine Cessinger, said the governor would make a decision about signing the legislation “as soon as he reviews it in its final form.”
Many anglers are happy with the bill, which extends existing fishing laws to include saltwater as well as freshwater tournaments and adds the provisions about misrepresentation. A violation would be a Class A misdemeanor, unless the tournament prize offered was more than $10,000, in which case it would be a third-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Tommy Hagler, a fishing guide who operates out of Abilene, said cheating in tournaments had “gotten out of hand” because of the large prizes and a difficult economy.
“I think it’s just people who are trying anything to get through this tough time, and trying to survive,” he said.
Mr. Hagler, who said he is known as Tommy the Hag, said he himself never lied about the size of a fish — his largest catch was a 11.62-pounder, he said — and in fact, once shorted himself by two pounds.
“In this business, you’ve got to tell the truth the whole time and all the time tell the truth,” he said.
But Steve Schmidt, another fishing guide who works on Richland Chambers Reservoir, south of Dallas, said that tall fish tales told by tourists, who were not involved with tournaments, were probably acceptable.
“Everybody is just telling stories, that’s fishing,” he said. “But to cheat, that’s another thing. That’s just not right.”