Imagine finding out that you had been selected to be a referee in the Super Bowl. In the world of bass fishing, that is pretty much what has happened to Mark Fabrizi of Hector, New York.
A lifelong angler, Mark is a passionate supporter of bass fishing. He and wife Coleen have restored a 1988 Ranger bass boat and have spent countless hours on the lakes and waterways throughout New York. Following the professional circuit three years ago, Mark threw his hat into the ring to be considered as a Bassmaster Marshal for a tournament on Cayuga Lake.
“It was close to home and I figured, ‘Why not?’” Mark remembers.
A Bassmaster Marshal is a tournament monitor who rides along with the competing professional to ensure that all the rules of the sport are followed. As longtime tournament director Trip Weldon says, they are “our eyes and ears on the water.” Each boat has a marshal, selected by lottery in Bassmaster’s Elite Series events, of which there are about ten a year. Mark has been a marshal three times now, twice on Cayuga and once on the St. Lawrence River.
But the granddaddy of them all is the Bassmaster Classic, the World Series of bass fishing. This year, the annual event takes place on Lake Conroe, near Houston, Texas. Mark had no idea he was in the running to be a marshal. Wife Coleen had submitted his name, and the registration fee, to be considered. An email informed Mark that he was expected in Texas on the last weekend in March.
At this level, marshals are selected by a combination of past performance and lottery. Each day of the four-day tournament, he will be assigned to a different professional. “I am really looking forward to this,” says Mark.
Like any sport, bass fishing has rules. Among them, the fish must be hooked in the mouth, which Mark says can be tricky. “Sometimes, he gets close to the hook, then twists away from it and gets snagged at mid-body.” Those catches cannot be counted towards the day’s weigh-in. There is a minimum length to consider, in most states around twelve inches. A contestant submits his top five catches to be weighed, and the fisherman with the highest weight total wins the tournament.
Being a marshal doesn’t involve a lot of penalty calling, Mark says. “These professionals are very trustworthy, and 99.9 percent of the time they will self-report a violation. It’s rare that a marshal has to penalize the contestant.” That leaves time for some of the other marshal duties, which can include helping to launch the boat and taking photos and videos for the many media outlets that cover bass fishing.
One of the aspects of the sport Mark admires most is the conservation of fish. “The industry works hard to save 100 percent of the bass caught in a tournament. Each boat has a live well onboard and, after weigh-in, the fish are treated for any shock and returned to the water. Bass fishing is always catch and release.”
That connection to the sport was born in Mark on his seventh birthday. “My birthday is on the fourth of July, and my Dad took me fishing off Long Island. I caught a blue fish, my first, and I remember Dad holding the fish and me up to show a neighboring boat and announcing my catch. That was the beginning.”
Mark spent a lot of time on lakes and rivers with his father; hours he counts among his happiest. When he and Coleen married in 1981 and relocated to upstate New York, he shared his love of fishing with her.
“One of the greatest gifts he has given me is to teach me to bass fish,” she says. That restored Ranger is admired at tournaments, a point of pride for both husband and wife.
Back to his stint as a marshal, Mark says the chance to watch the pros up close makes all the travel and expense worth it. “These guys have so much integrity in their sport. Their temperaments and work ethics are really amazing. The focus and concentration that is needed for casting, over and over again, thousands of times, is incredible.”
Talent and experience aside, some aspects of snagging a good bass are simply in the lap of the fishing gods. “I’ve seen a pro lose a trophy fish, the hook just sets wrong or something and away it goes. These guys are so calm and patient with a $300,000 first prize on the line. I’m not sure I could keep my temper in check like they do.” He learns with every ride.
Mark and Coleen are excited about the wrap-around events in Texas. “There are clinics and demonstrations, kid’s activities, and a huge product show. There will be a lot to see,” he says.
The love of the sport has been instilled in the next generation of Fabrizis, with Mark and Coleen’s two children and seven grandchildren plying the waters. Patience, integrity, and love of nature all come from fishing, Mark says, and the world is a little short of its limit in those areas.
“I think the world needs more kids walking to the pond with a pole on their shoulder.”