Bass tournaments big business in northern New York

(B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito)

The Bassmaster Elite Series has been visiting New York waters for over a decade, and two recent northern New York tournaments gave anglers and spectators alike practically everything they wanted.

As part of its Northern swing, the Elite Series dropped in on the St. Lawrence River with headquarters in Waddington for a four-day tournament from July 20-23. Waddington owns the attendance record for Elite Series events, which was set at over 33,000 in 2013. They did well again in 2015 and I was told that this year’s tournament ranks No. 3.

Kevin VanDam, the sports’s most visible angler, used his knowledge of river currents and finessed drop-shot rigs to fish around obstacles and boated 90 pounds, 3 ounces to win the tournament. Among those was his lunker of the tournament at 6 pounds, 5 ounces.

It should be noted that the Bassmaster Classic was held on the St. Lawrence River out of Alexandria Bay in 1980. The Elites will be back in Waddington Aug. 23-26, 2018.

The week after Waddington the trail moved over to Lake Champlain, where the Elites have not held a tournament since 2007. The first day of the tournament was cancelled due to high winds and resumed on Friday. Typically in a four-day tournament, the final day features a cut of the top 12 anglers, but because of the cancelation, it was the cut was 51.

That allowed Aaron Martens to come from 19 spots back to win the tournament. On the final day he brought in a weight of 23-05, which put him out of reach of the rest of the field. His comeback from so far down set an Elite Series tournament record.

Martens also used a drop-shot rig throughout the tournament, throwing a red Roboworm. After two days in 20-30 feet of water he moved in shallower, to 10-20 feet, and caught his tournament-winning bag.

Newport, N.Y. (near Utica) resident Jamie Hartman is living a dream as a rookie on the Elite trail. Formerly a truck driver, Hartman said he self-taught himself everything he knows about bass fishing. He picked up a check at both northern New York tournaments, finishing seventh at Waddington and 38th at Champlain. Still, he stressed that he doesn’t have the home-field advantage, especially on Champlain.

“I don’t have a lot of experience this time of year here,” said Hartman after the Champlain tournament. “We always fished them early and fished late. I think I’ve fished one tournament during the summer and that was out of Ticonderoga. I really have to go and learn this stuff out here.”

Hartman has a chance to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic, which will be held at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina, March 16-18, 2018. We’ll be keeping tabs on his progress.

Meanwhile, all who reap the benefits of these large-scale tournaments and all the fanfare that comes with them taking place in northern New York should be popping a cork. That includes bass anglers everywhere, fans, municipalities and even the folks in Albany.

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