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Elite anglers to meet in WNY

Next month, one of North America's best freshwater fishing destinations will play host to more than 200 of the country's finest anglers when the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament "Empire Chase," one of two events in the Bassmaster Northern Run, rolls into town.

The four-day tournament, highlights of which will be aired during a one-hour special on ESPN2, will launch from Buffalo Small Boat Harbor July 19-22.

"This is a championship event for elite fishermen from around the country and it will attract the best bass fishermen in the country," Richard Geiger, president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Wednesday. "On top of the athletes and their families, we're expecting over 5,000 spectators throughout the weekend all totaling an economic impact of about $1 million on our community."

The Bassmaster Elite is an 11-event series that runs from March to September featuring the top 100 bass fishermen in the country. The series carries a total purse of roughly $11 million, $500,000 of which will be doled out in Buffalo. The winner will receive $100,000.

Spectators heading down to the waterfront will be able to cheer for a hometown boy in Darrin Schwenkbeck. A native Western New Yorker who now resides in Maryland, Schwenkbeck fished in his first Bassmaster Open on Lake Erie and had five top-50 finishes in last year's Elite Series.

Schwenkbeck and the other pros will join with roughly 100 amateur fishermen to make for about 200 anglers in the competition.

The tournament hasn't been launched from Buffalo since 2004.

"We didn't go after it in 2006 because of the [county] budget crisis and the cuts to the visitor budget," Geiger said.

Throughout the tournament there will be a number of events along the waterfront. The 2007 Watersport Expo will visit the Small Boat Harbor July 20-22 and at 3 p.m. on Sunday fans can watch the weigh-in of the fish from the final 12 competitors. The town of Hamburg will also host a free meet-and-greet for fans on Wednesday afternoon before the competition begins. All of the events are free to the public.

"These types of events down in our harbor and on our water help us show the national public that we are a Great Lake city," Geiger said. "That's going to help us as we try to redevelop our waterfront. Events like this will help promote that and get people thinking of Buffalo as a water destination."

e-mail: acomak@buffnews.com

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