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Waves challenge charitable anglers

Lake Erie and upper Niagara waters have gained a reputation for great smallmouth bass and walleye fishing.

Stories run in national magazines and TV programs about ways to find abundant smallies and 'eyes in and around Buffalo.

For the sixth summer fishing season, those fish have helped gather funds to find a cure for cystic fibrosis with the staging of Greater Niagara BassEye Celebrity Challenges.

Added to the major celebrity list of Linda Pellegrino and Jim Kelly this year was the appearance of Cory Wells, founding member of the famed rock group Three Dog Night.

His momma may or may not have told him not to come, but he did and later sang "Joy to the Fishes" during the award ceremony held inside an amphitheater-style tent the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF) set up at Buffalo (NFTA) Small Boat Harbor for this event.

Turns out, Wells is a one-man band when it comes to singing praises for all of Western New York's fisheries.

"I love to fish the lower river," he said of the peak seasonal runs of trout and salmon.

Wells, with relatives in the area, has a handle on all area fishing and gladly participated to help assure "The Show Must Go On" during the sixth annual CFF Celebrity Challenge.

As with other celebrities, and with charter captains and with supporting anglers, Wells noted the difficulty of catching good numbers of both bass and walleye on the same day. Added to the challenge, a stiff southwesterly breeze kicked up shortly after the 20 competition boats departed from the harbor at 7 a.m. Thursday.

For weeks, the Seneca Shoals to Myers Reef area had been the walleye way station for drifters and trollers around deeper edges, with bass hugging bottom in shallower waters of the shoals and reef.

Not so Thursday. High winds and 4- to 6-foot waves had most boaters working inside the harbor breakwaters by mid-morning. By early afternoon, 8-footers gushed over Donnelly's Wall and harbor breakwaters.

Capt. Don Barber took on a crew of Rich Products folk and, due to a late cancellation, added an M&T Bank trio. Urmas Lupkin of Hamburg, Jeff Wellington of Buffalo and Robert Kush of the Town of Tonawanda had the good fortune to board Barber's boat and fish the day.

Barber, along with his daughter and first mate Amy, 21, man a 42-foot Pacemaker charter boat out of Dunkirk Harbor. Lupkin, Wellington and Kush fished hard until the 2 p.m. end of competition, bucking waves and breezes that had big and smaller boats drifting faster than they should to keep baits close feeding fish near bottom.

Don Barber, who suffered a nasty fall the night before (six stitches to the right eyebrow), had able assistance from his daughter, who has fished with dad since early childhood and has handled rigging and piloting chores for about six years.

Amy will soon be chartering her own life's course; she is to be wed Aug. 4.

But wedding good catches of walleye and bass turned out to be more challenging than ceremonial on this day. Charter captains who could pull 15 to 20 walleye on less tempestuous waters had difficulty logging an 'eye or two on Thursday.

Same could be said for bass specialists. Bigger smallmouth bass, in general, had moved out to 30-foot depths and deeper, areas where high winds and waves made things difficult if not dangerous for bass catching.

In the end, good sizes rather than huge numbers impressed all at the awards presentations.

Fred Saia of Angola, fishing with charter captain John "Chugger" Held, recorded the largest walleye at 31-plus inches.

The chartering team of Dave "Woody" Woodward and Aaron Wentlent amassed the most walleye, five fish.

Gary Hall, out with Capt. Frank Campbell, took home two honors. Hall had the largest bass, at 22 inches, and the most measured and released, nine smallmouths.

Capt. Chris Cinelli's group from Williamsville took Grand Champion Team honors. Ron George and the father-son duo of Jim and Greg Zaepfel totaled 12 bass and four walleye, all taken at the head of the river.

Greg Zaepfel won the Grand Champion Angler award with his individual numbers, two walleye and six bass.

Cinelli said afterwards, "We had a steady program of worm harnesses for walleye and live minnows for bass. It worked."

Geoff Klass of Buffalo took a decorous trophy for the most unusual catch of the day, a 33-inch northern pike.

As always, fish caught during the BassEye are photographed on a measuring board and then immediately released to bite another day.

All award recipients in all categories will be posted on a special CFF Web site in a week or so. To check on winners and other CFF efforts, visit:


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