THADDEUS SKARBECK of Cheektowaga edged Tony Orsini of Springville on the last day of the Southtowns Walleye Derby to win the $3,500 first prize.
Orsini, who pulled in a 10.34-pound fish on June 19, led the event through June 23, when Skarbeck tipped the digital scales with his 10.43-pound walleye, sliding Orsini into a second-place finish worth $1,000.
"We paid out $20,000 in all," said club president Dick Smith of Hamburg. "But the winner was some story: He went out on Saturday -- during all that wind and rough water -- and picked up his fish off Donelly's Wall, right in Buffalo Harbor."
Third-place ($500) went to James Kaczanowski of Cheektowaga, with a 10.07-pound fish. Another 197 winners took home $100 and $200 prizes, the smallest money fish being a 7.48-pounder.
On the plus side, the tourney was bigger than ever, with 2,537 entrants, and the chapter has spurted to a record 3,085 members. That makes it the biggest fishing club in Western New York and, perhaps, the biggest in the state.
"But we have a problem with illegal fishing," Smith said.
On the weekend of June 16-17, when his derby began, 17 persons were cited for having too many rods out. State law says no one may use more than two fishing rods and or may troll more than 15 "points."
Since a typical trolling lure caries two or three treble hooks (each with three hook points), having two rods rigged with two lures each could exceed legality.
Three rods would definitely break the law, and the Department of Environmental Conservation has been issuing tickets to anyone seen trolling with more than two rods per angler.
"If any club member is found guilty of breaking state angling laws, I plan to have them expelled," Smith said.
"And, if they were money winners, they'll have to refund their prize, too. That's in the contest rules. If fishing clubs don't support the DEC in enforcing game laws, we're all in trouble."
Most of us have too much tackle and usually drag it around to no great effect.
The recent Red Man tournament taught some valuable lessons about paring down tackle -- and catching more fish.
Competitors were limited to a two-sided tackle box provided by Browning (a sponsor) measuring 5 inches deep, 10 inches high and 14 inches long.
It was about half the size of the giant Plano "Phantom" that holds my bass gear, and after the first day of practice, I realized that topwater fishing was just not "on," and the Jitterbugs, the "walk-the-dog" type stickbaits, the "sputterbaits" and Scum Frogs that clutter about a third of that box were unnecessary.
A hairpin-type spinnerbait would do the trick if surface fishing became necessary.
That lure (with one or two spinners on one arm and a lead jig dressed with a rubber skirt on the other arm of the hairpin) proved its versatility during the event: Crank it fast and it sputters across the top of the water. Crank it slowly and it flashes and rattles at any depth you choose. Let it fall, and it will "helicopter" down alongside a piling into a deep hole.
They work on panfish and other game species besides bass as well.
Deep-diving crankbaits worked fine, too, and Lance Perticone (the only New Yorker in the event) discovered Niagara River smallmouths love a number 9 Countdown Rapala (green/black) pulled over the rocky bottom.
But the big news was how well the cheap "Mister Twister" or Gitzit-type plastic grubs worked. They were especially effective in Lake Erie.
Champion Joe Thomas said after the first day of practice when he learned chartreuse was the best color, he spent the night painting all his 1/4 -ounce jigheads the same shade as the plastic grubs.
"It's better than twice the strikes if the lead jig is painted the same color as the tail," he said. "Think about it: We try to pick a color that attracts and looks natural to the fish, we worry about using line thin enough so we don't spook the fish -- then we have this big, shiny metal-colored jig out there."