Pittsburgh — There was a lot of surprise back when it was announced that Pittsburgh was hosting the 2005 Bassmaster Classic.
This was the Steel City, after all, a town of mills surrounded by hills full of coal mines, with streams and rivers that as a result were even more filthy than you could imagine.
As the city showed then, though, the rivers have come back and are again full of fish. That brought the Forrest Wood Cup, FLW Outdoors’ world championship bass tournament, to the city in 2009. And it’s bringing a pro-am bass and walleye tournament this year.
From Sept. 27-29, Pittsburgh will host the Marcellus Shale Coalition 3 Rivers Challenge. It’s a made-for-television bass and walleye tournament featuring 14 of the top pros from FLW Outdoors’ tours.
The event will start with a watershed festival, evolve into a pro-am tournament featuring pros and celebrities, then conclude with a full-on competition among the pros.
The tournament will be filmed by FLW and be broadcast nationally on NBC Sports Network on Oct. 28.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity to showcase our rivers and the area itself on national television,” said Michael Dongilli, senior vice president of ISM/USA, the group that puts on the Three Rivers Regatta and is managing this one, too.
“I think it’s going to be a tremendous event. When you figure in the number of boat registrations that come out of this area and the number of fishing licenses sold locally, there could be a phenomenal turnout among fans.”
The Shale Coalition does a lot of work with conservation and sportsmen’s groups as a result of drilling activity carried out by member companies, said Robert Petrilli, senior vice president of the group. Companies are required by law to mitigate drilling sites, so they often work with sportsmen to decide what kinds of grasses to plant and what kinds of habitat to create at well pads, for example.
When the coalition decided it wanted to do more, though, and started asking for ideas, the concept of another fishing tournament came up, he added.
Pittsburgh is the perfect place to host such an event, given its sports traditions, its large base of outdoorsmen and sportsmen’s clubs, and especially its rivers, Petrilli pointed out.
“Our rivers are our treasures. The three rivers are what identify us and make us who we are,” he said. “So we’re really trying to create a special event.”
Fans will certainly have plenty to do. The tournament will feature a mini outdoors show, a family fishing event that will give out free fishing rods to the first 300 children and more, all during the Pirates’ final – and potentially important – homestand of the season, with the Cincinnati Reds in town.
“It’s going to be interesting, and all of it is free to fans, so people can show up to watch,” said Denny Tubbs, outreach coordinator in the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission’s southwest region office.
“The fishing’s going to be over before the Pirates game each night, too, so people can come down, watch the weigh-ins and then go to a baseball game.”
Visitors might potentially see some nice fish brought in, too.
That wasn’t the case so much in 2005; Kevin Van Dam won the Bassmaster Classic with the lowest total weight ever.
Things went a little better in 2009, when Greg Hackney won the Forrest Wood Cup with half again as much weight.
But this time around there should be smallmouth bass up to 4 pounds from the 2005 spawn, the largest ever recorded on the rivers, and walleyes up to 9 pounds or more, Tubbs said.
So even though the pros will be fishing during the heat of midday, there’s potential for big fish, he said.
In fact, he’s hoping the walleye anglers will do well enough that FLW Outdoors will consider bringing its walleye tour championship to Pittsburgh at some point.
It’s much too early to speculate about that, said Chad Gay, communications director for FLW Outdoors. And there is no direct connection between this pro-am event and any regular tour stop.
But that’s not to say it couldn’t happen either, he added.
As for the 3 Rivers Challenge – details of which can be found at www.msc3riverschallenge-.com – the list of amateurs and pros that will be competing has yet to be finalized.
John Arway, executive director of the Fish & Boat Commission, is expected to participate, and Gov. Tom Corbett, a Pittsburgh native, has been invited to do the same.
On the pro side, fishermen should expect to see some familiar names, though they won’t be announced before mid-August, when local tournament organizers really ramp up promotions for the event, Gay said.
“We do a lot of tournament events in a year, 191 in fact, so it’s pretty hard to find time in the calendar to do a lot of these events.
But whenever we get a chance to give back to a community or a charity, we’re glad to do it,” Gay said.
There is indeed a charitable arm to this event.
The Shale Coalition is going to be awarding grants to a number of yet-to-be-named conservation groups, Petrilli said. As of right now, all are river-based in one fashion or another, he said.
All in all, things are shaping up for a fun few days, Dongilli said.
“It’s an opportunity to bring pro fishing back into the area in a big way and benefit some conservation groups and make it all worthwhile,” Dongilli said.
“It’s pretty exciting.”