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International Fishing Congress invades Niagara Falls

For those of us that live in Western New York, we know in our hearts (and our fishing rods) that we have a world-class sport fishery – for both diversity and the quality for each one of those species that swim in our waters. We have something special. The time has come to share it with the rest of the planet.

This week, Niagara Falls USA will be hosting the Confederation Internationale de la Peche Sportive (CIPS), the 39th Annual Congress for a group that has been around for 65 years. CIPS is the governing body that currently oversees 144 National Federations from 77 countries. Add up the numbers of members that they represent and the total is more than 50 million anglers from around the globe.

Don’t worry. They won’t all be coming to fish here in our little part of the Great Lakes. When the Congress convenes May 10-13, though, there will be plenty of opportunities to showcase our angling wheelhouse. From Lake Erie to Lake Ontario and from the Upper Niagara River to the lower section below the mighty cataracts, people will be sampling our waters for a WNY experience. We want them to have a good time and catch fish. After all, this is the first time that this Congress will be held on U.S. soil … and water.

First impressions are everything. For many of the attendees, this is the first time that they’ve been to America. Their expectations are what they have heard second and third hand, seen on the Internet or soaked in through social media. It’s important to greet them with open arms. Fingers are crossed for the fishing, and the weather to be as good as it can be.

These fish seem to know when there’s a camera around, and they tend to show off a little bit. A good case in point was the Greater Niagara Outdoor Media Event last week. Smallmouth bass weighing 7 pounds, walleye tipping the scales near 13 pounds, 45-inch muskellunge, 10-pound steelhead and 15-pound lake trout made for daily photo sessions. We’re looking for a repeat performance this week.

The host organization is the U.S. Angling Confederation. “It’s a great honor to be chosen to host our first Congress,” said Joel McDearmon, president of USAC. “We welcome all nations to Niagara Falls USA.”

Last year the Congress was held in Prague in the Czech Republic.

To help kick things off on Thursday, a CIPS Congress Symposium is being offered to delegates that will help to showcase the area, as well as the rest of the country. Dr. Dimitry Gorsky with the Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be giving a presentation on lake sturgeon as they relate to the Great Lakes and the Lower Niagara River.

Immediately following that, Kathy Fennel, president of Fishing League Worldwide (FLW), will discuss the expansion of International Bass Fishing and FLW’s support of CIPS Olympic recognition effort. Yes, there are many who feel that fishing should be an Olympic sport and a great discussion point for this gathering.

Last year, the 2017 USA Bass team competed in the Bass World Championship in South Africa Oct. 2-9, 2017. Members of the team were Scott Canterbury, Fred Roumbanis, Lionel Botha, team captain Scott Martin, Mark Rose, David Dudley, David Fritts and James Watson. The team placed second, receiving the silver medal. That was a stepping stone for U.S. Angling, making the push to have bass fishing part of the Summer Olympic Games as part of a much larger effort through CIPS.

The final item on the Thursday agenda will be a presentation from Ben Jelsema, president of the Boy Scouts of America Fishing Committee, with a discussion on youth angling and angling instructor recruitment in America. At the 2017 Boy Scout Jamboree, the big fishing event there involved 6,300 youth where a total of 12,300 fish were caught. Getting the next generation involved with fishing is critical for the future of the sport

That’s a perfect segue into the opening ceremony on Thursday night with CIPS, led by CIPS president Ferenc Szalay of France. “Our Confederation is a worldwide and universal organization,” said Szalay. “The decision of the CIPS Congress to hold this assembly in the U.S. confirms and emphasizes the fact that sport fishing is developing all over the world, providing more possibilities for the universality of our outdoor sport, for the environment safeguard and the health of future generations.”

Of course, in the middle of all this pulling the strings is Destination Niagara USA. International Sales Director Elizabeth Davis has been working on this since 2014. “CIPS delegates will be able to see first-hand what our fishing is all about. We hope it will set the stage for hosting future world fishing championships as well.”

We should be able to share some of the fish photos of the Congress activities in The News' online Catch of the Week gallery. There will be plenty of opportunities. Wednesday is bass fishing on Lake Erie, Buffalo Harbor and lower river trout action. Thursday is Lake Ontario salmon and trout trolling and Friday was designed to be a teaser for the group on the upper Niagara River.

The May 11 upper river plans were to have lunch at 12:30 p.m. at the 4 Points by Sheraton in Niagara Falls. In the morning, one wave of international guests would cast for pike and bass. Everyone would convene for lunch. That would be followed with another wave of anglers casting the waters. At least, that was the original plan. As of right now, we need a few boats between 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., as well as a couple vessels from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Boats would pick up our guests at the 4 Points and head out from there. If you think you can help, send me an email at billhiltsjr@gmail.com.

Yes, it’s time to show off our natural resources. Not just Niagara Falls, but also the many fishes that swim in these waters that surround us. Welcome to Western New York. Catch a big one.

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