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Strong cast greets fishing tournament

As the Bassmaster Elite Series makes its way to Buffalo next weekend, the fish in Lake Erie should be bracing for an invasion. With 108 of the world's best anglers settling into their waters, the bass will have quite a few visitors.

The ninth of 11 Bassmaster events this year, the Empire Chase tournament hits Buffalo from July 19-22, launching from the NFTA Boat Harbor.

"There are a lot of local fishing tournaments in this area but none of them at this professional level," said Chuck Giglia, national sales manager of the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Those tournaments are all good, but this is, as far as national exposure and level of angler, this is probably the only time something like this will come to this area."

Included in the slew of pros will be two local fishermen: Varysburg native Darrin Schwenkbeck and Batavia's Matt Sphar, a rookie on the Elite Series, who are both in the thick of the competition this weekend in the Champions Choice tournament on Lake Champlain.

Schwenkbeck, the more seasoned angler of the two, is looking to take full advantage of Lake Erie to bring home a big check.

"Being it's my home lake I know I can probably go make a check pretty easily by running the river but I know I've got to try win that one at home," Schwenkbeck said. "That means I'm going to have to take it to Lake Erie out in the big nasty stuff."

Schwenkbeck will have some stiff competition with top anglers like Kevin VanDam, currently leading the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings and Mike Iaconelli, last year's Angler of the Year.

Also joining the field is 2004 Bassmaster Open winner Frank Scalish. The Bassmaster Opens are equivalent to the minor leagues of fishing and Scalish took home his win on Lake Erie.

While the focus is on fishing, the festivities along shore will not disappoint eager fans.

The Buffalo Niagara CVB has a full schedule planned for fans heading down to the waterfront starting with "Angler Alley" -- a one-on-one meet and greet for fans Wednesday night in the parking lot of Hamburg High School.

Friday through Sunday the NFTA Boat Harbor will host a number of events ranging from DockDogs, kids fishing contests, a boat giveaway, live music as well as the daily excitement of weigh-ins starting at 3 p.m. every day.

"I think everybody loves to be near the water even if they're not a fisherman and having exposure to the waterfront as our natural asset is great," Giglia said. "Having this tournament and the events around it is an added benefit. We're expecting 3,000-5,000 spectators throughout the weekend."

And Schwenkbeck and Sphar will be expecting those fans to help give them a true home team advantage.

"I'm super-excited to come home," Sphar said. "I'm going to have so many friends and family coming out to weigh in and I'm excited about that. It's hard for them to realize what I really do and they can come out and see all the pros come and they can see how big of a deal it really is."

"It's going to be awesome," Schwenkbeck added. "I've got a lot of friends and family and a lot of support at home and it'll be good to be there especially after a rough tournament here [on Champlain] this weekend."


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