HR Policy Lessons From a Fishing Tournament

Warren Workman 06/20/2023

Disclaimer: I feel it is important to disclose that Ashley Bleau, the owner of the Sensation, is a fraternity brother of mine. Although we attended college at different times, we met a few years back and I hold him in high regard. I wanted to be transparent about my preconceived biases.

This past weekend, the Big Rock Fishing Tournament, one of the largest fishing tournaments in the country, took place. The tournament concluded amidst controversy, garnering coverage from major news outlets such as CNN, Fox News, The Washington Post, and ESPN. Here’s the TLDR version:

After a grueling six-hour fight with a massive Blue Marlin and a several-hour journey back to the dock, Ashley’s boat, the Sensation, weighed in their catch at 619.4 pounds. At first glance, it appeared to be the clear winner. However, there was a twist. The fish caught by the Sensation had been bitten twice by sharks during the process of reeling it in, leading to its disqualification from the tournament. Had the fish not been disqualified, Ashley, his captain, crew, and the angler would have secured a $3.5 million prize. This comprised $2.77 million for winning the tournament and an additional amount for bringing in the first blue marlin weighing over 500 pounds. The fish that was declared the winner of the tournament weighed 135 pounds less than the Sensation’s fish.

According to the tournament’s rule, “The following situations will disqualify a catch: Mutilation to the fish, prior to landing or boating the catch, caused by sharks, other fish, mammals, or propellers that remove or penetrate the flesh.”

At first glance, this rule appears straightforward and easily comprehensible. However, I’ve identified two issues with this rule:

  1. The use of the word “mutilation” the rule refers to mutilation as “…caused by sharks, other fish, mammals, or propellers that remove or penetrate the flesh.” However, Merriam-Webster defines mutilation as an act of destroying, removing, or severely damaging a limb or body part of a person or animal. By the tournament definition, even a minor injury like skinning one’s elbow could be considered mutilation. It is evident that the dictionary definition and the intended meaning of the term within the rule do not align.
  2. Inconsistent application of the rule: Another concern arises from how the tournament officials applied this rule. A comparison of the fish that won the tournament in 2019 and the Sensation’s disqualified fish from 2023 clearly highlights the disparity. This inconsistency in application raises questions about fairness and undermines the trust of participants.
This image shows the mutilation of the 2019 winning catch


This image shows the 2023 catch by the Sensation which was disqualified due to mutilation

As HR professionals, we can draw valuable lessons from these issues:

First, it is crucial to use clear and easily understandable language in our policies. Avoid using common words and terms that have dictionary meanings inconsistent with the policy’s intent. In this case, the term “mutilation” led to confusion and misinterpretation. Ensuring policy terms align with their intended meaning reduces potential ambiguity.

Second, consistency in policy application is vital. Inconsistent application of policies, particularly when it disproportionately impacts specific groups, can expose employers to legal risks. To avoid this, HR departments should apply policies consistently across the organization. If there are discrepancies, it is essential to reassess and rectify them promptly.

I recently discussed a situation with my daughter, who is a first-time people manager, seeking guidance on a policy issue. I advised her to review the handbook and consult with the HR department, emphasizing the importance of understanding how policies are applied in practice.

HR professionals should take a closer look at their policies. Begin by examining policies that are inconsistently enforced. For example, if there is a policy prohibiting athletic/tennis shoes, but members of the C-suite regularly wear them, enforcement becomes challenging. In such cases, it may be necessary to reassess the policy and consider revising or removing it altogether.

Additionally, I cannot recommended highly enough to collaborate with an attorney when writing and revising handbooks. But don’t just hand it off to them and say “do it.” Engage in discussions regarding word selection and policy intent. An attorney can provide valuable guidance in crafting policies that are legally compliant, enforceable, and aligned with your organization’s needs.

Remember, your employees may attempt to exploit any loopholes or inconsistencies in policies, akin to sharks taking bites out of your prize-winning fish. Ensure your policies are clear, consistently enforced, and protect your organization from potential legal challenges.

As for my friend Ashley, he is currently undergoing the appeal process, and many of us are rooting for the Sensation Sportsfishing team.

(Note: This blog post does not contain any sponsored content, but if you’re interested in a once-in-a-lifetime fishing adventure, I encourage you to check out and book with Ashley and the Sensation Sportfishing team at

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