Billy Eubanks: A Day in the Life of a MLF Boat Official
By Lynn Burkhead
May 9, 2017
Since Major League Fishing began on the waters of Lake Amistad, there have been a number of changes; Rules have evolved, sponsors have changed and a few anglers have come and gone in the process.
But the one thing that has remained constant from the beginning to right now is the presence of the MLF boat officials.
In fact, in many ways, the boat officials are the heart and soul of the MLF organization, the worker bees that keep the organizational hive humming with steady activity to make sure that a week of filming and competition goes off as planned.
Because of that, I took some time at a recent event to ask longtime MLF boat official Billy Eubanks exactly what the job of a boat official actually entails from start to finish.
And the answer is a lot of hard work, work that begins weeks and months before an event like the MLF GEICO Challenge Cup Select event is contested in Alpena, Mich.
"The boats are prepared (weeks in advance) in Tulsa," Eubanks said. "Your wraps and sponsorship logos are put on there and we help with the transport and such."
Then, there are meetings and training sessions before an event begins so that people like MLF Commissioner Don Rucks and others can go over rule changes, procedural changes and other pertinent information with the year's boat officials.
"We get plenty of training (each year)," Eubanks said. "The new guys go into a little bit more in-depth training than the older guys do, those who have done this for awhile, but we all get trained."
Then there's the event itself, a long and tiring process that sees the boat officials pull the MLF rigs across the country to a competition site. Once they arrive on site, signage is assembled, equipment is laid out and the boats are prepared for the anglers to use.
That last item might be the most time consuming of all as officials go to work in the boat yard to make sure that all of the MLF boats - the regular tournament boats, the back-up rigs and a camera boat or two - are all in tip-top condition and running smoothly.
"We have to start off cleaning the boats for each round of competition," Eubanks said. "We've got to make sure that everything is working right, we've got to work with the fish locators and make sure that all of the batteries and electronics are all charged up."
Once the work in the boat yard is complete, there are oftentimes last second meetings that take place to discuss various topics that have surfaced as an event gets ready to begin.
"We've got pre-tournament meetings to go to and then we pair up with the anglers that we have each day," Eubanks said.
Over time, Eubanks said that the boat officials have gotten to know the various anglers better and better. And with the passage of each event, officials have gained deeper insight into the on-the-water and off-the-water personas of the best bass fishing pros on the planet.
"Some of them talk and some of them don't speak when you're in the boat," Eubanks said. "When it comes to actual fishing, some of them are like artists with rods and reels in their hands, able to put a jig or a frog on a dime at 40-yards."
While Eubanks and the other boat officials enjoy watching the pros play the MLF game, it's always against the backdrop of them having to do their job as the sport's on-the-water officiating crew, a group that is out there to enforce the rules and provide for a level playing field each day.
If there's one thing that Eubanks and the others get to see up close and personal, it's the way that the various MLF pros handle pressure as it mounts during the day.
"They normally start out the day visiting and relaxed," Eubanks said. "But when the day starts, with some, you can see the nerves start kicking in."
Eubanks said that's especially true when the SCORETRACKER LIVE! leaderboard starts lighting up, something that causes a variety of different reactions from the various anglers in the field.
That can range from a Pro clamming up in the boat to another becoming quite chatty and opining out loud about various topics and what certain anglers in the field may or may not doing.
In other words, they all experience pressure and they all handle it in different ways, ranging from a barely noticeable blip on the emotional radar to an all-out on-the-water mental meltdown and competitive spinout.
Either way, such reactions oftentimes come with a penalty or two being committed in the heat of battle, something that Eubanks has to coolly and calmly enforce no matter how much he likes the angler on the front deck.
Aside from weighing in a fish in front of the Outdoor Channel TV cameras, that's the point where most MLF fans actually get to see the boat officials in action, when they call a rules infraction, assess a penalty and put the angler into the fishing version of ice hockey's so-called "Sin Bin" penalty box.
Just ask MLF boat official Billy Eubanks and his pals. Because they've had a front row seat from the very beginning up until now.
And like so many others, they like what they see.