WADDINGTON -- Officials of the Bassmaster Elite Series are warning that the high water levels on the St. Lawrence River could have an effect at their contest based in Waddington July 20 to 23.
After competing on the St. Lawrence in two of the past four years, many of the anglers were starting to feel like they knew the fishery fairly well, according to the officials.
But when they arrive for next week’s competition, they could find a different world — one with a lot more water than usual.
Record-high water levels on the river this summer have caused major headaches for the multibillion-dollar shipping industry that uses the river, and they could create some issues for the Elite Series anglers as well.
But the truth is they won’t know until they get there.
“I spent an hour the other night trying to get information on what’s going on with the water right now, and I didn’t have too much luck,” said Josh Bertrand, an Elite Series angler from Arizona. “It’s a huge area — and a great fishing area — but it’s kind of on the edge of the earth. It’s not like the Tennessee River where you can literally find up-to-the-minute data on what’s going on with the water.
“The three days we have to practice before the tournament starts are going to be huge,” he said.
Bertrand said past information that anglers have gathered on the river might not help with the water up so high. “Everything could be completely different,” he said.
But he also believes there’s a chance the interesting conditions could actually make the fishing better than it’s been during past tournaments, such as the 2015 event that featured an Edwin Evers victory with 77 pounds, 10 ounces of bass.
“It’s a river where the current rips and the water is pretty clear,” Bertrand said. “If it’s just ripping a little harder than usual, it won’t be like it went from flat and smooth to ripping. We don’t know if that will make them bite better or worse — maybe it’ll be better.”
Virginia angler Jacob Powroznik doesn’t believe the high water will affect the tournament much because most anglers don’t get into the nearshore areas that will be most changed anyway.
“You have to be really brave to run within 150 feet of those banks up there,” Powroznik said. “Those rocks mean business. So, I think people would have mostly been staying out of those areas, regardless.
“I really expect the creeks and inlets to be about the same as they always are.”
For safety and for the sake of waterfront property owners, a 5 mph no-wake restriction has been implemented for vessels traveling within 600 feet of shore on all New York waters of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Boaters are also being warned about floating debris and rocks and other stationary objects that could be hidden just under the surface.
Of highest concern to anglers like Bertrand and Powroznik is the situation with the lock at Iroquois Dam that allows anglers to access good fishing downriver from Waddington.
“It’s always been open in the past where you just get off pad and idle right through,” Bertrand said. “Right now, I think it’s closed and you actually have to lock through. It could take you a while.”
In a message to Elite anglers Thursday, Tournament Director Trip Weldon said operators of the dam have agreed to set aside an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon during which the anglers and other recreational boaters can go through the locks. Commercial vessels, which take much longer to go through, will not be able to use the locks between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m., and 2:15 and 3:15 p.m.
Without that arrangement, Bertrand said, the complexion of the event might have been changed.
“There are a lot of really big fish above the dam,” he said. “But it would just make the whole tournament fish really small. A lot of guys might be crowded in together.”
The St. Lawrence event is the seventh of nine regular-season Elite tournaments this season, and it begins the “northern swing” during which smallmouth specialists hope to enhance — or, in some cases, salvage — their seasons.
Daily starts will be held at 6:15 a.m. from the Whittaker Park Boat Launch. Weigh-ins will be held back at the park at 3:15 p.m. All events are free and open to the public.
The tournament will feature a full field of 109 anglers for the first two days, with only the Top 51 advancing to third round. During the fourth and final round, only the Top 12 will battle for the $100,000 top prize.
The event is hosted by the Village of Waddington.