Pro anglers visit rivers to prep in Pittsburgh

By Deborah Weisberg Contributing Writer

Pittsburgh — The world’s best bass anglers plied western
Pennsylvania rivers late last month in a wet run for the upcoming
CITGO Bassmaster Classic.

It was a first fishing trip to Pitts-burgh for most of the 42
pros and five Federation (club) anglers who will fish the big,
three-day tournament on the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio that
begins July 29. Among them are Pennsylvanians Dave Wolak, of
Warrior Run, and Ed Cowan, this year’s BASS Federation (club)
champion, who lives near Scranton.

It will be Cowan’s second trip to the Classic in a 30-year
tournament career. For Wolak, 28, BASS’s Rookie of the Year, it
could be a bang-up ending to a stellar first season. “I’ve never
been in a Classic setting, with all the fanfare and excitement,”
said Wolak, who turned pro last fall and will be competing against
the likes of Larry Nixon, a veteran of 24 Classics, including 1984,
which he won. “Winning could mean the difference between living in
a two-bedroom apartment and a nice house where you’re set for the
rest of your life,” said Wolak. “But I’ll fish it like I fish every
other tournament.”

Wolak has been to Pittsburgh but had never fished the rivers
until the five-day practice at the end of June. Cowan, who has been
to the Classic before, fished the Ohio River years ago in a
Federation tournament, although it is just one of three waters
he’ll be tackling in the Classic.

The Allegheny and Monongahela that merge to form the Ohio in
Downtown Pittsburgh are distinctly different waters, presenting
Classic anglers with a unique challenge. Though smallmouth bass
easily dominate each, habitats vary, and the Ohio River has
slightly more spotted bass (9 percent of total population) than the
other two, while the Mon has a few more largemouths (6 percent of
total population).

All three have a lock and dam system and heavy barge traffic,
which is a serious consideration for anglers up against the
clock.

“Efficiency is a big thing in fishing tournaments. I eliminate
all luck by being efficient, by finding what has potential, by
alternating my plan on any given day and taking advantage of every
opportunity, ” said Wolak, who indicated he would try to get barge
schedules in advance of the Classic.

The time it takes to lock through — and whether it is necessary
to get to good fish –was another focus during last month’s
practice. “Every moment counts,” Mike Iaconelli, the 2003 Classic
champ, had said last November, when he spent a week scouting the
three rivers, and timing lock-throughs at various places. Having
grown up near Philadelphia, where he fished the Delaware River,
Iaconelli, now of Voorhees, N.J., said he feels a certain comfort
level with big industrial water.

Whether that will give him a distinct advantage in the Classic
remains to be seen. He began his homework months ago, meeting with
local anglers, including Jim Adams, a Mount Pleasant boat shop
owner and chair of BASS Federation District 5, which represents 25
Pennsylvania tournament clubs. “I was impressed,” said Adams. “He
had a map marked off on his own, and had crossed off spots we knew
were no good.”

Most Classic hopefuls start preparing even as they are working
to qualify for the Classic through Bassmaster or Federation
tournaments, scouring the Internet and networking with locals to
try to cull information. As of March 1, Classic waters were
off-limits except for last month’s official pre-fish. So were
fly-overs, which some anglers utilize to get a good look at a river
system.

The Classic will encompass 100 total miles, since the boundaries
run to lock 3 on the Allegheny, lock 4 on the Mon, and the
Montgomery Dam on the Ohio, plus the Youghiogheny and the Beaver
rivers. As of June 27, anglers could no longer talk with local
anglers, or go into on-line chat rooms to ask advice about fishing
Classic waters. They can still download public information off the
Internet and secure map and weather data, according to Trip Weldon,
BASS’s tournament director. “It’s really an attempt to level the
playing field.”

Cowan said he finds satellite photos available on-line. And
while he is thorough in his research of the environment he’ll be
fishing, he sees angling as “more art than science.”

Wolak, too, places a big value on instinct. “I go by what my gut
tells me. If I have to start writing things down, I may as well
work in an office,” he said. “Nature doesn’t always go by what you
write down.”

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