Tournaments are for Families, too.

By Spider Rybaak

Kids love competition, too.
A lot of people think fishing tournaments are a lot like the playoffs in college basketball. And while some of these contests fit this format, staging numerous eliminations to determine the field that’ll vie for the top prize–the Bass Masters comes to mind—others like the Lake Ontario Pro-Am are open to everyone who doesn’t mind paying a small fee to indulge in a day of competition.

One of the nicest things about being an outdoor writer is that I get to go to new places and experience things in Oswego County’s great big back yard. Although I’ve been fishing for almost 60 years, and writing for more than half that time, I’ve never fished a tournament. So when my boss asked me if I’d be interested in competing in the Recreational Open Division in the Oswego County Pro/Am, I jumped at the chance like a steelhead going for wooly bugger.

Next thing you know I’m on the Green Dock at Wrights Landing asking Captain Bill VanWormer for permission to board his craft, the Lucky Dutchman II.

“Permission granted,” replied the good captain with a smile as big as the rising sun. I found a spot for my cooler among the stuff my four teammates brought along and settled down for the fierce competition I was sure awaited us just beyond the Oswego lighthouse.

I never met any of these guys before. But we were embarking on a challenge that brought us together like family. It was heartwarming for this old man to watch five strangers (the captain included), grown men, no less, put away their petty little concerns and concentrate on cooperating in achieving a common goal. Watching these young men enthusiastically contribute their efforts for the good of the group convinced me America’s future was in good hands.

Captain Bill effortlessly motored us beyond the breakwalls into the open lake. Having chartered for over 25 years, and competed in more tournaments than he can remember, he put us at ease with his angling skills, vast knowledge of fishing open waters beyond the sight of land and marvelous wit.

No one else on board knew much about fishing three miles out in over 300 feet of water (talk about feeling insignificant). I’d been here before but never as a contestant in a competitive event. The other men had some experience in ice fishing contests, events that at least offered them the comfort of solid footing.

But the captain was sure footed even in the early morning swells. He stood at the stern and set more rods than a smart man can count on one hand, all the while steering the ship by remote control. He set some few baits over 100 feet deep, several about 80 feet down on Dipseys, and flatlined a couple lead core lines off planer boards; all without veering more than a couple degrees off course…and even then only for a second or two.

When the first rod tripped, the guy closest to it grabbed it and the fight was on. Unfortunately, the fish got off but the DipsyDiver never released so the fellow had a good workout bringing it in. At the boat, the reality of the situation etched disappointment on his face but playful ribbing from the rest of us helped him see the humor in what just happened.

The next rod that went off met with collective patience. Everyone wanted to grab it but no one dared for fear of looking selfish. The fish got off.

That was the last time that happened. Every time the rod went up after that, someone was on it like a fly on rot.

At day’s end we managed to land a short steelhead and king. Not through any fault of our own. It was just one of those days when the fish seemed to have lockjaw. We did manage to bring in two, and, if you go by my philosophy that every fish is a good fish, we succeeded wonderfully.

Most of all, however, we had a lot of fun. Not just in giving one another moral support during the battle with fish and the playful ribbing that followed, but also by learning intricacies of fishing for salmonids in this freshwater sea, and that in the world of open fishing tournaments, everyone has an equal chance at the big bucks and the accompanying glory.

Numerous tournaments take place on the tiniest Great Lake each year. Two to consider are:

Fall LOC Derby, stretching from August 17 through September 3;

A-Tom-Mik Invitational, Aug 11, 2012;

Competitive angling is a great way to get the family involved in a common goal steeped in collective excitement…and, if you’re lucky, showered with the winnings.

For more information, contact Oswego County Tourism: ; 800-248-4FUN.

Waiting for a bite: “It’s got’a be out there somewhere.”
Everyone jumps into action when there’s a fish on.