FLW officials impressed with Buffalo facilities – and the fishing

Before the Costa Series Northern Division bass tournament even started July 26-28 out of Buffalo, FLW officials were extremely impressed with the new Safe Harbor Marina facility and the support of the local angling community.

“I have to say that Buffalo is one of the best places we’ve ever fished at,” said Ron Lappin, director of tournament operations for FLW. “The support from the Erie County Fisheries Advisory Board and the Buffalo Sports Commission has been excellent. The Safe Harbor Marina is outstanding.”

That will likely set the stage for a return trip somewhere down the road. Before that, though, they may need further discussion on how to handle Lake Erie, a body of water that presents an entirely different set of challenges from other bodies of water they fish.

While the fishery is, without question, one of the finest smallmouth bass fisheries in the world, it is big-water fishing. If you are not familiar with the Great Lakes, you can’t run full-bore in a traditional bass boat with 5-foot waves. And if you don’t encounter rough conditions during the practice days, you really don’t know what you’re up against once the tournament is under way and the winds kick up.

That’s exactly what happened this year, when relatively calm practice days allowed anglers to run and gun to different spots and log them into their GPS units. For local anglers who fish Lake Erie regularly, having too many spots in their GPS could force them to over-think a strategy and cause them to run around too much. However, when the tournament started, the wind became the biggest factor.

Based on the order of release for the 169 boats competing, the earlier your release, the better off you were. Those anglers could get to the prime spots first. The bite was good right off the bat on drop-shot rigs and tubes. But as the day wore on, the wind picked up and the waves continued to build. Fishing became more difficult later, especially as it related to running from spot to spot. By the end of the day, some contestants claimed 6-foot waves. They were probably legitimate 4- to 5-footers, but boaters unfamiliar with these waters had to be intimidated by the breaking water.

The next day, a front blew through, with the Coast Guard alerting boaters to a small-craft advisory and, ultimately, the tournament was cancelled – the prospects didn’t look good for Saturday, especially later in the day. The decision was made that if they could get out, they would start an earlier weigh-in at 11 a.m. instead of 2 p.m. Tournament officials physically went out before 5 a.m. to inspect the conditions and they observed 5-foot waves at the breakwall. The tournament was called at that point and a quick awards presentation was held in the parking lot to let participants from all over the country get on their way back home.

Many of the anglers who fish the Great Lakes regularly were disappointed. They truly believed they could have fished under those conditions, equipped with deep-V boats that can handle the tough conditions. Some of those fishermen, who also guide for a living, said they would have been on the water fishing for hire that day if they didn’t have a tournament. Those who finished out of the money had hoped to get back out there one more time to make up for lost time and fish. Competitors who finished in the money had hoped to improve their standing, too.

The top 44 pros all had bass bags of 20 pounds or more; the top 43 cashed a check. Only one ounce separated Neil Farlow, of St. Catharines, Ontario, and Ben Wright, of Peru, N.Y. Farlow’s catch of 24 pounds, 4 ounces was bolstered by the pro division’s big fish, a 6-pound, 6-ounce smallie. One more day of fishing, even if it was just a few hours, would have made a difference. The guys who started late day one would be starting earlier and given a jump start. But it’s only speculation now.

Sakae Ushio of Tonawanda set the pace in the co-angler division with 23 pounds, 7 ounces, just one ounce better than Christopher Benninger of Grand Island with 23 pounds, 6 ounces. Big bass for the co-anglers was Colton Sowers, also with a 6-pound, 6-ounce smallmouth.

A total of 141 limits came to the scales on the pro side. Of the 783 bass that were weighed, 659 fish were kept alive and released back into the lake for an 84.1 percent survival rate. For the co-anglers, 110 limits were registered by the tournament. A total of 704 bass were weighed and 584 bass were kept alive and returned back into the lake, a survival percentage of 82.9 percent. Combining the two divisions together, the survival percentage was 83.6 percent – at least that’s what they saw when they let them go.

I would personally like to see that survival percentage go up. There’s a couple of ways that they could do that. One would be to educate the anglers on the importance of taking care of those fish when dealing with summer conditions in Lake Erie. Fizzing fish when caught from deeper water should help ensure a better survival rate.

Also, take a harder look at the schedule and make decisions based on location for when events are actually held. Rather than head to Lake Champlain in June, maybe they should have slotted Lake Erie for that time frame. Lake Champlain in July may have been better for the fish. At least that’s the sentiment of several of the pros. We should try and protect the resource as best we can and help to stave off any potential criticisms of tournament fishing.

Categories: Bass, Blog Content, New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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