Big Bass Mania tournament director arrested

aabassbady1It took some time, but the law finally caught up with one bass tournament director.

Texas Game Wardens have arrested Michael Shane McCloud of Florida (formerly of Bryan-College Station) for theft related to a fishing tournament.

Following his arrest, the 44-year-old McCloud was booked into the Jasper County Jail. No bond has been set.

The investigation that culminated in his arrest began in June 2012 after authorities received numerous complaints related to fishing tournament prize payouts that allegedly did not occur. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Game Wardens and investigators with other law enforcement agencies spent more than a year looking into the practices and methods McCloud used to promote a bass tournament on Lake Sam Rayburn in June 2012.

After an extensive, multi-jurisdictional investigation in which numerous tournament participants and sponsors in several states were interviewed, a sealed indictment naming McCloud was returned by a Jasper County grand jury.  Ultimately, an arrest warrant was issued for McCloud on the theft charge, a state jail felony punishable by a $1,500 to $20,000 fine and from 180 days to two years in jail.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Department law enforcement officers assisted Texas Game Wardens in locating McCloud. After being notified to the indictment pending against him, he turned himself in to authorities.

“Due to good police work, collaboration and teamwork this case is now ready to be put in the hands of the court,” said Lt. Col. Danny Shaw,deputy division director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Law Enforcement Division. “Texas Game Wardens intend to remain focused on protecting our resources as well as the citizens of Texas from those who wish to exploit either. Fishing tournaments in Texas are a fabric of many communities and reservoirs and Game Wardens will continue to play a role in ensuring they are conducted in a manner consistent with the law.”

McCloud’s arrest marks the first time a fishing tournament director has been arrested in Texas.

Read more about this developing story in the next issue of LSON, out Sept. 13.

Here is the backstory as reported by LSON in June, 2012:

What happens when a bass tournament guarantees the biggest amateur payout in the history of the state of Texas, hourly payouts for big fish, proceeds going to help wounded veterans, and then delivers on none of it?

You get a lot of hacked off anglers.

That is what Michael McCloud, director of Big Bass Mania, is facing after his tournament guaranteeing $125,000 in cash to the winner failed to meet expectations June 8-10 on Sam Rayburn Reservoir.

McCloud began advertising his tournament on the Web and with several Texas publications earlier this year. But as the event got closer to fruition, rules began to change and the guaranteed payout began to look shaky.

“I fished the tournament,” said Hunstville angler Clint Wade. “I saw the advertisements about a year ago, and about 60 days out I signed up. As we got to 30 days out, a new deal came up on their Web site saying the tournament now required 700 entries to hit the $125,000 threshold.

“About two weeks out, it really started to go south.”

Wade said he decided to call McCloud.

“I could tell by talking to him that he was an amateur (in running tournaments),” Wade said. “He just didn’t speak the lingo. He told me they had to have 700 entries, but it would pay out depending on the number of entries. He said if they got 400, it would still pay $45,000 to the winner.

“On their Web site, they had a counter of people who had registered, and it said 589 the day before the tournament.”

When Wade arrived at the tournament check-in the night before the tournament, he said McCloud told him a little over 400 anglers had signed up.

“I asked him, ‘What happened to 589?’ He said that many had registered, but they hadn’t paid. To my knowledge, there was no way to register without paying.

“He said he still thought at least 300 anglers would show up.”

A total of 91 anglers eventually fished the tournament, leading many anglers to feel they had been misled by McCloud.

McCloud said he would certainly do some things differently, but he never meant to not deliver on his payouts and he blamed a group of anglers on Texas fishing forums for slandering his tournament. He also said 589 anglers did sign up for the tournament, but the Web site did give an option for anglers to pay at the tournament, so many that registered did not show up after the negative comments surfaced.

“They slandered us before the tournament,” McCloud said. “The only thing we tried to do was give anglers a chance to win something besides an inflated boat or truck. We didn’t draw near what we thought we would because of the people on the forums.”

McCloud said even after two unsuccessful tournaments on Amistad Reservoir (22 anglers) and in Florida (11 anglers) earlier this year, he still felt like the Rayburn tournament would be a success. He said advertising and tournament costs made him lose money.

“We didn’t walk away with anywhere close to what we spent,” he said. “It was a no-win for us — a dead loss.”

Because of the low turnout, McCloud said they had to cancel the hourly payouts after the event had begun.

Wade said he caught a nice bass during the first hour of the Sam Rayburn tournament, but when he went to check in for the hourly prize, he was told there might not be any hourly payouts.

“I was told they didn’t have the number of entries they expected and they didn’t know (what the payout amounts would be),” Wade said. “Just before 3 p.m., I caught another nice fish that I took to get weighed. I asked Michael how much the hourly payout would be and he said it wouldn’t pay very much. I didn’t catch a good fish on Saturday, but I got the weigh-in at 3:00 and asked again about the hourly payouts.

“I was told they weren’t paying any hourly because they only had 91 anglers.”

The tournament paid $5,000 in cash to the winner at the final weigh-in. The top 10 spots received cash prizes. McCloud said the event paid out like they had 100 paid entries, even though they only had 82 paid contestants because of free entry fees given away in promotions leading up to the tournament.

Anglers also complained that nothing would go to help veterans.

“The MC at the final weigh-in told the crowd that the tournament was established to fund wounded warriors, but they lost a lot of money and, therefore, no money could be donated,” Wade said. “That made a lot of people mad.”

McCloud said he would never would promote something for wounded veterans and then purposefully mislead people.

“My dad is a disabled vet from Vietnam,” McCloud said. “We just didn’t have any money leftover. I spent all of this extra money that I wouldn’t have spent if I had known that less than 100 people would show up.”

Anglers weren’t the only people disappointed in the low turnout.

Sponsors such as Advantage Bait Company said nothing that was promised to them by McCloud occurred.

“We’re embarrassed to be associated with this,” said Jason Schwartz, owner. “Our sponsorship was to donate 10 spinner baits to the pro staff members in return for getting our names on tournament jerseys and banners. Well, the jerseys never got done and there were no banners. Michael always had an excuse that it was never his fault.”

Following the tournament, the Big Bass Mania Web site and Facebook pages were removed. McCloud said the pages haven’t been removed, just “hidden” on the advice of his attorney until the negative comments stop.

“It was never our intention to scam someone, and we definitely never used soldiers to scam anyone” McCloud said. “We aren’t the guilty ones. We made mistakes; we’re human. We just want the badmouthing to stop.

“And if it doesn’t stop, we’ll put an end to it ourselves.”