Three weeks after the scandal involving Mike Hart, the pro bass fisherman who admitted to cheating during last month's WON Bass U.S. Open at Lake Mead, a cloud of suspicion still hovers over the many anglers Hart had been paired with over the years.
Whether any of them were complicit if Hart had cheated during previous competitions might never be known.
But at least one of Hart's past partners -- Bill Siemantal of Castaic, Calif. -- volunteered recently to participate in a polygraph test offered by officials with the Western Outdoor News bass-fishing circuit.Harvey Naslund, director of WON Bass, said Sunday that Siemantal, who last year was inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, passed the test "with flying colors." Naslund, however, added that Siemantal so far is the only pro to have accepted the offer by WON Bass to take a similar test and "clear their name."
Hart, who lives in the Southern California community of Winnetka, was banned from future WON Bass competitions and likely witnessed the end of his career after he was found to have stuffed lead weights into several bass he caught during the $100,000 U.S. Open at the sprawling reservoir on the Colorado River near Las Vegas.
Officials discovered some of the weights early in the three-day tournament -- inside the few dead fish Hart had weighed in -- but waited until the final day to confront Hart. All five of the fish Hart checked in after the final day contained weights. Naslund said Hart, who has made more than $200,000 during his career, admitted to cheating.
Hart had been paired with a different lower-tier Triple-A partner during each day of the Open. They fished from the stern while Hart made casts from the bow while driving and steering with a foot-controlled trolling motor.
Naslund said Hart's partners, who were questioned after the event, told officials they were asked at various times by Hart to trade places so he could rig tackle and check on the fish kept in a live-well used to keep them healthy until they could be released after the weigh-in. Neither of his partners were implicated in the scandal.
Polygraph tests are used on a limited basis to guard against cheating after some competitions, including the prestigious Bassmaster Elite Series. Because of the episode involving Hart, pros on regional circuits such as the WON Bass tour probably can expect their use to become more widespread.
-- Pete Thomas
Photos: Mike Hart (top, center) during the final-day weigh-in at the U.S. Open. Bottom photo shows one of the lead sinkers removed from a bass caught by Mike Hart during the prestigious tournament at Lake Mead. Credit: WON Bass