July 24, 2015
WADDINGTON, N.Y. — After making stops on some of the finest largemouth bass fisheries in the United States, the Bassmaster Elite Series is shifting to a fishery known for its hefty smallmouth population for the Evan Williams Bourbon Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River.
Thanks to the continued growth of a foreign forage species — the round goby — the Elites should find the St. Lawrence smallmouth healthier than ever.
“The smallmouth bass in that region have grown so much because of the goby invasion,” said Russ McCullough, regional fisheries biologist for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. “Studies have shown that gobies now make up about 80 percent of the diet for smallmouth. While they can be problematic in some ways, gobies are great forage for all of our predators, including bass.”
Gobies — a fish species with a maximum length of about 10 inches — were first identified in the St. Lawrence River during the late 1990s. Their population has exploded since then, giving bass an extra food source and tournament bass anglers something else to imitate while fishing.
It is believed gobies made their way into the St. Lawrence through ballast water introductions by ships using the river as a navigation corridor from Asia, Europe and other destinations around the world.
“Large ships often carry millions of gallons of ballast water that is taken from coastal ports and transported to next port of call,” McCullough said. “So at some point, it’s likely one of them exchanged their ballast water into the system somewhere, and those fish were in there.”
The last time the Bassmaster Elite Series visited Waddington, N.Y., in August 2013, a few of the pros made round-trip boat rides of more than 200 miles each day to the vast and sometimes turbulent waters of Lake Ontario. Idaho angler Brandon Palaniuk was among those who committed to the long daily run, and he won the event with a four-day weight of 88 pounds, 12 ounces. The 2013 event also set the all-time attendance record for an Elite Series event with more than 34,000 people in attendance.
This time, many of the areas that helped determine the winner of the 2013 event will be off-limits.
Tournament waters will include the St. Lawrence River and all rivers, creeks and canals connecting to the river and Lake Ontario. Boundaries will be the Moses-Saunders Power Dam to the east, the mouth of Lake Ontario to the west and the Tibbett Point Association Boat Ramp to the southwest.
“Having the off-limits and not being able to go out into Lake Ontario will make it a lot more controllable and more competitive for everybody,” said Alabama angler and 2014 Bassmaster Classic champion Randy Howell. “The St. Lawrence River is huge, and there’s plenty of fish from one end of the river all the way to the lake. That’ll make it the kind of tournament anybody can win.”
Howell said the rule will also make the tournament safer.
“I’m glad we have the off-limits rule because the lake is so rough and dangerous,” Howell said. “With all of us having marshals in the boat, you never know what could happen. This will be a better format.”
Wherever anglers go on the massive fishery, staying in the area of the gobies will be crucial. Gobies are found most often around rockpiles, shoals and dropoffs in depths of 20 to 50 feet.
“The last time we were there, two years ago, the place was just flooded with gobies everywhere,” Howell said. “You can tell that’s what makes the smallmouth stay big and fat and healthy, and that seemed to be the key to success in finding the big ones. Find the gobies, and you’ll find fish.”
Howell said even those anglers who don’t find enough fish to win will have a blast catching big smallmouth, and everyone should learn something before the week is over.
“It’ll be a great tournament for catching fish and for building confidence and learning about smallmouth,” Howell said. “We only get to fish good smallmouth fisheries every couple of years, and a tournament like this helps us all get better.”
Competition will be held Thursday through Sunday, July 30-Aug. 2, with daily takeoffs at 6:15 a.m. ET from Whittaker Park Boat Launch and weigh-ins back at the park each day at 3:15 p.m.
The Elite Series Expo will have B.A.S.S. sponsor representatives onsite throughout the weekend with activities, games and prizes for attendees. All of the family-friendly activities planned throughout the weekend are free and open to the public.