Lake Ontario salmon tourney headed for 30 years in 2014

Bill HiltsThe Niagara County version of the Lake Ontario Pro-Am Salmon Team Tournament has been around for 29 years. In 2014, it will be its 30th annual event – quite a milestone in the world of fishing.

The event has been the epitome of what a salmon and trout fishing tournament should be. The two-day tourney, based on 10 points per fish and a point per pound, allows for teams to compete against one another on as level as a playing field as tournament organizers can muster.

The first consideration is the fact that in the Trophy and Classic divisions (formerly referred to as the Professional and Amateur divisions) an observer (who cannot assist the opposing team in any fashion) from one team is placed onto the boat of another team to make sure all the rules are followed. An observer is truly a team member because he can also gauge how another team is doing first-hand and also see where they are fishing and what they are using to take their fish.

For two days, a team has to be on their A-game and figure out what the fish want or where they may be moving to from day to day. Mother Nature plays a huge role each time around as to who is successful … and who’s not.

The tournament really is conservation-oriented, too. In the early years, 10 percent of all entry fee money was dedicated to some type of natural resource enhancement project, and the Niagara County event raised thousands of dollars. Through the help of the Niagara County Fisheries Development Board and the Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Association, an artificial reef was constructed off Hopkins Creek (between Wilson and Olcott) thanks to proceeds from the tournament. In addition, a recirculating pump was purchased for DEC for the Salmon River Fish Hatchery; funding was supplied for a sturgeon video project; and money was used to help start up the Olcott pen rearing project that is now run by LOTSA.

The tournament also has special restrictions on size and limits. No more than 12 fish can be caught each day and there is no culling of tournament-legal fish. Minimum length is 18 inches for most salmon and trout, with the exception of steelhead and Atlantic salmon, which are 21.5 and 25.5 inches, respectively. No more than one lake trout can be boated per team per day.

The most impressive thing from a competitor’s standpoint is that the tournament pays back 100 percent of the entry fee money. Any product that is received from a sponsor goes right back to the teams in the way of prizes – it’s not raffled off or used for other things. Who could ask for anything more? This year, the Niagara and Orleans tournaments dished out over $105,000 in cash and another $10,000 in product to angling teams in the winner’s circle. Pretty impressive!

Despite all these positives, the angling community will still single out the Pro-Am Series and criticize the efforts on Internet message boards and chat rooms. Communication is always an issue, with the Pro-Am Series allowing for open communications because of the enforcement factor. Tournament officials feel that it’s an unenforceable rule and very difficult to police. With today’s technological breakthroughs on communications, why tempt the teams?

As an experiment in 2013, Oswego County returned to an older Pro-Am format that returned to the pro- and amateur-style of an event with closed communications. At the time of this writing, the tournament numbers were at an all-time low. Communications wasn’t the determining factor after all.

A relatively new section to the Pro-Am umbrella is the Recreational Open Division. There is no observer and very few rules to adhere to. It’s based on three fish, but using the 10 points per fish and a point per pound formula. It’s becoming the “farm club” of the parent Pro-Am or Trophy/Classic divisions. Each event (day) is a separate contest, paying out 100 percent of the entry fee cash and a long list of products.

If you’d like to find out more about the Lake Ontario Pro-Am Salmon Team Tournaments along Lake Ontario, check out www.lakeontarioproam.net.

Categories: New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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