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Tourneys get anglers hooked on WNY fishing

John Voyles leaned against his boat, his fist resting against his cheek, and thought about the one that got away.

"It was a big one -- at least 5 pounds," said Voyles, a professional angler from Indiana. "But it just came off. It's one of those things when you're fishing -- you're not going to get all of them."

Voyles may not have had his best day fishing Saturday, but it was a pretty good day for the Buffalo region. Buffalo played host to two major fishing tournaments Saturday.

Some 200 pro and amateur anglers from the U.S. and Canada took part in a three-day tournament on Lake Erie sponsored by FLW Outdoors, the largest tournament-fishing organization in the world.

The organization also sponsored a one-day collegiate tournament Saturday, bringing in two-person teams from 40 colleges around the Northeast. The tournament served as a good reminder of the economic boost the region receives from its area waterways.

Tournament anglers pumped nearly $1 million into the local economy -- staying in hotels, eating out and buying fuel for their boats, said Ron Lappin, tournament director for FLW Outdoors.

"There's a lot of opportunity here," Lappin said.

The tournament, which last came to Buffalo in 2006, also is a reminder that the region has some pretty darn good fishing.

"I've been doing this for over 25 years, and this is absolutely my favorite place to fish," said John Murray, a top pro angler.

"Living in Arizona, you don't see lakes like this -- you don't see small-mouth [bass] like this."

No one knows that better than Frank Campbell.

"No matter who you talk to or where they're from, Lake Erie -- especially the eastern part -- is looked at as the small-mouth capital of the world," said Campbell, a local charter captain who fished in this week's tournament.

"When these anglers come in, and are really successful, they want to come back."

While there are concerns with the health of Lake Erie and the introduction of invasive species, the small-mouth bass have adapted well, Campbell said.

In fact, Campbell said, small-mouth bass are thriving in Lake Erie right now, as they feed off the gobies, an invasive species of small fish.

"We're getting greater numbers of big fish," Campbell said.

The anglers, some of whom have been here several days practicing for the tournament, launched from the NFTA boat harbor on Fuhrmann Boulevard at 6:30 a.m. each of the past three days.

They could fish anywhere, as long as they were back in eight hours to weigh in their five biggest catches of the day. The field was pared down to 10 pros and 10 amateurs on the last day of the tournament Saturday.

"You got to fish with all the pros you see on TV," said James Dixon, a Buffalo native now living in suburban Detroit. "I had a great time."

Voyles, the angler from Indiana, was in third place coming into Saturday but ended up in fifth.

"I've learned in the sport when it's your time, it's your time," Voyles said. "The first two days, I could do no wrong. Today, I just didn't get any good bites."

The tournament's winner was Lawrence Mazur, a pro angler from Lancaster, whose three-day total of 15 bass weighed in at a whopping 64 pounds, 8 ounces.

It was Mazur's first big win in his 12-year pro career, and for his victory, the hometown boy won almost $27,000 in cash, as well as a new Ranger boat with a 200-horsepower outboard motor valued at more than $40,000.

The win helped take away all those years of fishing frustration for Mazur, who wore a huge grin after Saturday's weigh-in at the Walmart parking lot in Hamburg.

"I'm speechless," Mazur said. "This has been a long time coming."