The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s BassEye fundraising competition has become a gauge of the summer’s bass and walleye fishing prospects for the Buffalo and Eastern Basin waters of Lake Erie for the last dozen years.
Results for the 13th Annual BassEye Challenge held on June 27 could mean yet another year of good prospects for bass and outstanding walleye harvests.
Before entrants checked in at 2 p.m. that Friday afternoon, stat keepers Spencer Schofield, Joe Jemiolo and Joe Fischer manned the records table facing the cleaning station at Buffalo Small Boat Harbor and watched lines of anglers bring in and clean limit catches of walleye.
Ideal conditions faced anglers aboard the 35 boats entered. Old rolling waves from winds the day before and a light breeze with occasional cloud cover began the day. Boaters could take runs to Dunkirk and beyond or just fish the headwaters of the Niagara River. Winning fish entries came from everywhere on the lake in the upper river that day.
Our crew, Capt. Terry Jones, Rod Watson, Buffalo News assistant city editor, Beth Grieshober, accountant with Rich Products, and I caught fish from the first walleye at 7:35 a.m. to the last bass at 1:58 p.m. Watson took credit for both the start and finishing catches. He also caught and released a dozen bass and boated another three walleye, but the competition did not include a Media Award.
For the erratic record, I caught and released more than a half dozen big bass, all well before they reached the boat gunwales.
But Beth Brieshober brought in the only honors aboard Capt. Jones’ boat, capturing the Grand Champion Female Angler trophy.
Brieshober took some time before boating an ‘eye at 10:32 a.m., but when Jones had us switch to bass-catching tackle at about 11 a.m., she logged a half dozen smallmouths caught and released for the leading individual woman’s total of 300 points.
The top team squeaked a tie-breaking victory with 3,500 points. Matt Yablonsky checked in his team of Mike Keller, Fred Saia and Jim Schmit before Capt. Jim Hanley logged his 3,500 points. Both teams amassed solid numbers of both bass and walleye.
Yablonsky, winner of many top tourney slots, most recently in the Lake Ontario Counties tourney, put his team onto both big and numerous smallies and walleyes. Look for his Wet Net Charter Service at getthenetwet.com.
This year’s championship honors, finally, went to Capt. Jim Hanley, volunteer charter captain in all 13 Cystic Fibrosis fundraiser competitions. Before this year’s contest, Hanley had not had a prize entry in any category while chartering mainly for Bob Rich Jr., Rich family members and Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly.
Kelly’s recuperation from cancer treatment resulted in him missing the fishing for the first time in BassEye contest history. But the Rich family, including company staffers, placed many a winning total in individual and team events and most were aboard Hanley’s vessel this year.
Rich’s grandson Connor Lupkin, 12, took Runner-up Grand Champion Angler while fishing with Hanley. He caught and released six walleye that day. Also, Hanley’s team of Rich Jr., Lupkin and Fishing Niagara bait store owner Dennis Kreze of Fort Erie totaled top points of 3,500 and arrived just after the winning team’s totals to take the Runner-up Grand Champion Team award.
Add to all that, Bob Rich Jr. took honors for Most Bass Releases with a 23-fish count.
Grand Champion Angler Paul Billoni, of Colvin Cleaners in Kenmore, fished with Capt. Chris Cinelli, whose teams won top honors in 2007 and 2010. Cinelli is one of a dozen captains who have fished the BassEye each of its 13 years. Cinelli did all of his fishing in the Niagara River and head of the river for impressive numbers and sizes of everything from bass to walleye to sheepshead.
When the contest ended, Billoni finished with five walleye and 18 bass boated and measured.
Biggest fish honors went to Jeff Thiele for a 30.5-inch walleye caught while fishing with Capt. Don Ruppert of Wave Tamer Sport Fishing. Mark Halter took the top bass, a 21-incher, on board with Mike Mogensen.
During the awards luncheon/dinner John Dandes, director of Rich Products baseball operations, announced that to date the BassEye Challenge auction and Competition has collected more than $1.5 million to benefit Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Western New York efforts.
For details on the BassEye event and more information about Cystic Fibrosis Foundation projects and outcomes, go to basseye.com.