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Fish Odyssey journey ends with some last-minute heroics

On a weekend that saw fishing competitions that extended from Dunkirk to Waddington (and many points in between), the 42nd running of the Greater Niagara Fish Odyssey Derby came to a close on Sunday with a little bit of last-minute heroics and a surprise finish of sorts.

The derby, focusing on the counties of Erie, Niagara and Orleans, offers anglers young and old the chance to compete for cash and merchandise prizes – all culminating with an awards ceremony that determines the Grand Prize by drawing from the first-place winners in each of six species categories in the Adult and Junior Divisions.

For those entered in the Odyssey contest, let’s talk smallmouth bass first. The smallest of the species included in the adult derby is the least likely fish for the biggest prize. When Robert Geiger of Lackawanna reeled in his 5-1/2-pound bass from Lake Erie, he knew he had beaten his brother-in-law Dave Stahura Jr. of Lackawanna by 1 ounce. He didn’t think it would hold up for the remainder of the event.

“We were fishing out near the international line in 55-60 feet of water, trying to target isolated rock piles we had found,” Geiger said at the awards ceremony in Newfane.  “Our best bait was a green and gold speckled ISG tube and we caught the first- and second-place bass from there.” Robert’s daughter Gabriella also was part of the mix as she reeled in a 5-pound, 1-ounce bass to place first in the Junior Division.

As luck would have it, the bass division was selected to receive the $3,000 adult grand prize. It was a nice change for a fishing contest dominated by much bigger fish. Anyone can win the grand prize.

Gabby Hovak of North Tonawanda caught this 13-pound, 7-ounce steelhead off Olcott to win the Youth Trout Division and take over the lead in the Fall LOC Derby.

Speaking of big fish, Chris Taylor of Grand Island had a great story to share with the crowd at the Newfane Community Center. “The last time I fished in this derby was 22 years ago,” he said. “I was in the Junior Division. This time I was fishing as an adult with Mike Mongan and Walt Zebker, and on the final day of the derby we decided to try the Niagara Bar. At 10 a.m., we hit a big fish. We ran into Creek Road Bait and Tackle in Lewiston to weigh it in.” (Find out how they caught it in The Fishing Beat.)

When they hoisted it up on the scale, it hit 29 pounds, 7 ounces to take over the lead in the Salmon Division for the Fish Odyssey. Not only did they take the $500 first-place prize, they were all members of the Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Association (LOTSA), earning another $700 in bonus cash. The trio is currently in first place in the Salmon Division of the Lake Ontario Counties (LOC) Trout and Salmon Derby that continues to Labor Day, as well. Should that hold, it will be worth an additional $5,000. That proves the old saying that you have to be in it to win it.

On a side note, Kyle Kraft of Ohio and a friend were hoping to get out and fish the Odyssey in Lake Ontario, but it was rough when they arrived from Ohio. Capt. Frank Campbell of Niagara Region Charters suggested that they target bass in the Niagara River and they agreed. However, when things started calming down in the lake, they decided to try for salmon. Enter a twist of fate.

As they put out their salmon baits, one of the rods produced a hook-up. Thirty minutes later, Campbell netted a beautiful 32-pound king for Kraft. One thing we forgot to mention – everyone on the boat has to be in the derby and one person was not, the friend of Kraft. Everyone thought he was. They would have won the Salmon Division in the Odyssey and they would be leading for the $25,000 grand prize in the LOC contest.

In the Junior Division of the Fish Odyssey, Alex Heath of Newfane made it back-to-back wins. Fishing out in front of Olcott with his dad and grandfather, he hauled in a 22-pound, 10-ounce king salmon in the final hour of the derby to win the division.

The biggest fish caught during the entire nine-day competition was a 35-pound, 3-ounce carp reeled in by Junior Division fisherman Ethan Bronschidle of Newfane. It was appropriate that his impressive feat was recognized by being selected for the Junior Division grand prize – a Gander Outdoors gift card, rod and reel, tackle pack, journal and a trophy from Scirto Awards.

The kids had a good showing all the way around. Gabby Hovak, 10, of North Tonawanda, was fishing with her father Kyle east of Olcott over 400 feet of water earlier in the week to catch a 13-pound, 7-ounce steelhead. The lucky lure was a white and purple Finn Tackle spoon. It was her biggest steelhead ever, bigger than her dad’s personal best. That same fish was also in the LOC Derby, and she is leading the Steelhead Division for all participants.

Tom Milleville of Sanborn also was fishing with Hovak the past week and he managed to catch a 12-pound, 7-ounce steelhead east of Olcott, but this one was over 500 feet of water. He won the Rainbow/Brown Division of the Odyssey, and he’sin fourth place in the LOC Derby.

Some big walleye came to the scales, too. Eric Majka of Niagara Falls turns to the Niagara River when he’s looking for a big fish. The mighty waterway didn’t disappoint as it produced an 11-pound, 1-ounce 'eye for the Southtowns Walleye Association member.  It’s important to note that because it doubled his prize money with a $500 stipend for the largest walleye caught by a SWA member.  In the Junior Division, Ethan Brolinski of Lewiston topped all youngsters with a 10-pound, 6-ounce lower Niagara yellow taken on a Berkley Flicker Shad.

Erie Majka of Niagara Falls won the walleye division with an 11 pound, 1 ounce fish caught on the Niagara Bar. He place first in the Odyssey and won the special award from Southtowns Walleye.

In the battle of two Great Lakes, Lake Erie came out on top for the Lake Trout Division with a 22-pound, 14-ounce laker taken by Jerry Bielicki of Akron. While fishing the Con Club tournament in early August, they hit some nice lake trout fishing for walleye and decided to return and actually target lake trout. It worked.

Jason Henning of Machias took top honors in the Adult Carp Division with a 23-pound, 4-ounce fish from Lake Alice, taken on corn.

In the Junior Division, Abigail McGrath of Niagara Falls caught a 10-ounce rock bass from Lake Erie to win the Panfish category. For a complete rundown of all the winners, check out

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