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Published: July 18, 2009 09:48 pm     

HILTS: Anglers catch a cure with BassEye event

By Bill Hilts Jr.
Greater Niagara Newspapers

Western New York, the Greater Niagara Region of the Empire State that carries a reputation for some serious snow, four straight Super Bowl losses and that infamous “no goal” in the Stanley Cup finals, is gaining a positive reputation in a different type of arena — this one in the outdoors.

The area surrounding Buffalo is becoming one of the top freshwater sportfisheries on the planet for a diverse selection of fish species, from bass and walleye to salmon and trout, swimming around in the waters of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the Niagara River.

Last week, the warm water fish received the spotlight during the eighth annual Greater Niagara BassEye Celebrity Challenge, which was held July 9-10 out of the Buffalo Boat Harbor.

Focusing on smallmouth bass and walleye, this popular fishing fundraiser saw some 35 boats fishing near-perfect conditions on Lake Erie and the upper Niagara River. Spearheaded by the Western New York Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the BassEye Celebrity Challenge is part of the Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series started up by Gary and Susan Ellis in 1988.

The fundraising idea came as a result of the Ellis family finding out that their newborn daughter, Nicole, was diagnosed with CF back in 1984. Their efforts have made a huge difference in creating a better awareness for the disease, while raising millions of dollars in funds for research.

“In the Greater Niagara event alone, a total of $950,000 has been raised to benefit CF in the eight years we’ve been running this contest,” said Bob Rich, Jr., chairperson for the event since its inception. “We’ll be over the $1 million mark next year!” All told for 2009, $112,300 was raised by tournament organizers and participants — fishing for a cure.

Based on a unique scoring system of 50 points for a bass, 100 points for a walleye and 150 bonus points for a BassEye (bass and walleye caught by the same angler), the overall Grand Champion Angler was Greg Zaefpel of Clarence, who totaled 900 points.

To achieve that feat, he reeled in eight bass, two walleye and recorded two “BassEye” bonus scores. He was fishing with Capt. Jim Rores of Grand Island. With 2,150 points overall, the Grand Champion Team was DeLorenzo Electric, whose members included P.J. Griffin of Angola, Gary Fitzner of Darien Center, and Mark Fleming.

Capt. Chris Cinelli of Grand Island led the team to 28 bass, three walleye and three BassEye totals. The Grand Champion Female was Brenda Smith of Collegeville, Pa. She caught six bass for a total of 300 points while fishing with Capt. Terry Jones of Tonawanda. For more information on how you can participate in a future BassEye event, log on to www.basseye.org. There are no losers in this event, and CF is the big winner as these anglers continue to “Cast for a Cure.” For more information on the local sportfishery, contact www.niagara-usa.com.

TK wins Oswego’s weather-shortened tourney

In Oswego’s 15th Annual Lake Ontario Pro-Am Salmon Team Tournament last weekend, it was the T-K team led by Capt. Bob Pultorak of New York Mills winning the Professional Division of the weather-shortened event; Liquid Plumber, led by Del Casterline of Mountain Top, Pa., paced the Amateurs.

Saturday was highlighted by a little thunderstorm action. Fortunately, it was near the end of the fishing for the day. Sunday, high winds kept boats off the water as Lake Ontario tossed up 6- and 7-foot waves at competitors, so the Saturday results stuck.

T-K targeted big salmon, and they managed to catch eight of a possible 12 fish limit. Their strategy worked as they caught 99.18 pounds of fish. Using the scoring system for the tournament of 10 points per fish and a point per pound, their team total was 179.18 points.

Runner-up was Cold Steel/A-tom-Mik/Fat Nancy’s, with 143.10 points. They weighed in six nice fish, but not nice enough. Third place went to the Orca team with five fish and a total of 128.28 points.

In the Amateur Division, it was Liquid Plumber with the only limit catch of the tournament. For amateurs, that was a nine fish catch with a total weight of 116.06 pounds and total score of 206.06 points. Had they been fishing the Professional Division, their paycheck would have more than doubled. Second place went to Hook-N-Up with a score of 130.88 points, followed by Oh Baby with a score of 118.19.

The tournament series turned to Sodus Bay and Wayne County this weekend for the final event Saturday and today.

Not only is it the final tournament in the series, which started right here in Niagara, but it’s also the culmination of the Lake Ontario Challenge Cup Series of all four events along the lake. It’s also the end of the Lake Ontario Counties Trout and Salmon Summer Derby on Sunday.

NRAA bass contest is next Saturday

The Niagara River Anglers Association will be holding their bass contest next Saturday out of Fort Niagara. Eligible waters are the lower Niagara River, Lake Ontario and its tributaries. Only two fish per entrant are allowed, and all people on board the boat must be entered into the contest.

The actual fishing contest runs from sunrise to 2 p.m., with the scales closing at 3 p.m. sharp. Entry fee is $20; $35 with an NRAA membership. This is also a live fish contest. Dead fish will be disqualified. After expenses, 75 percent of the money will go to first place; 25 percent for second.

A special prize will be awarded to third place. An awards and shore picnic with hamburgers and hot dogs will take place following the weigh in at the park. An optional $5 for Big Bass is also available. For more information, contact Steve Drabczyk at 754-2949 or 807-6248.

Musky seminar and tournament

There will be a musky fishing seminar and tournament next weekend at Chautauqua Lake out of The Happy Hookers in Lakewood. The seminar will feature Musky Hunter Magazine writer Jim Bortz on Friday at The Happy Hookers.

The cash musky tournament will be on Saturday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Entry fee for the catch-and-release tournament will be $20. The biggest musky caught and released will get the entire kitty, but it must be over 40 inches long — legal for the lake. You must have a witness for the release.

If no fish over 40 inches are caught, the prize money will be given out through two drawings — 50 percent each.

The Prendergast Boat Launch will be the base of operations for the picnic afterwards or for sign-ups the morning of the event. There will be a raffle to raise funds to help feed the muskies at the Prendergast Musky Hatchery.