At midnight on May 11, the entry deadline for Lake Ontario Pro-Am Salmon Team Tournament online registrations will be closing â€“ the easiest way for teams to register in the Niagara County events. The website for the tournament has all of the information at www.lakeontarioproam.net, including rules, registration, past performances and other guidelines to follow. This yearâ€™s tournament celebration is something special. In fact, thereâ€™s over $40,000 in guaranteed cash prizes for teams fishing in both Niagara events May 24-25 and May 31-June 1.
This year is the 30th Anniversary of the Pro-Am fishing tournament in Niagara USA. In the early years, Lowrance Electronics was the mover and shaker to get things accomplished, bringing in other big name sponsors like Eppinger Lures, Big Jon and Cannon to get the ball rolling. The first 10 years the focus was on conservation, with 10 percent of all the entry fees going to natural resource enhancement. A sister tournament was created on Lake Michigan out of Manistee and Ludington, at the same time that the Niagara County event was established out of Wilson and Olcott.
Thanks to the Niagara County Fisheries Development Board for making the Lowrance selection easy in New York. Natural resource enhancement projects were already in place with others being talked about. One vision was to create an expanded artificial reef in Lake Ontario that would serve as an attractor reef for lake trout. The guys involved in those early years included the likes of Skip Hartman as chair of the Fisheries Board; Pinky Robinson; Red Douglas; Bob Stratton; Elbert Benton; Jan Gertz; Rod Hedley; Ken Sprenger; Don Johannes; Dick Robinson; and others. Many of them are no longer with us, to share in this celebration of three decades.
On the Lowrance side of things, it was Mark Ames, Thayne Smith and a young Mark McQuown who stepped forward to run the show. Olcott held its firemanâ€™s field days and held a parade; Wilson started up its 5K Salmon Run and also had special events associated with the tournament. Today, itâ€™s all about the fishing.
After 10 years, the tournament changed formats to include a Pro Division and an Amateur Division â€“ an attempt to level the playing field for different levels of competitors. A Challenge Cup was established, with the first expansion being in Oswego, 20 years ago this year. Other ports were added and subtracted along the way â€“ Rochester, Sodus, Point Breeze. Now itâ€™s back to just Niagara and Oswego. While it worked for a while, the format was revamped once again in 2012 to create a five fish Trophy Division and a 12 fish Classic Division over two days. In addition, the Recreational Open Division was born.
The Recreational Open Division is the minor leagues for the bigger tournament picture. The rules are as simple as can be â€“ go fishing in the morning of each event any time you want out of any port and catch three fish. You just have to be in line by 12:30 pm at Krull Park in Olcott. No observer is required like it is in the Trophy and Classic divisions. There are some minimum lengths like an 18 inch minimum size for salmon, lakers and browns; a 21-1/2 inch minimum for steelhead and a 25-1/2 inch minimum for Atlantics. Only one lake trout per team can be weighed in each day. You can only bring three fish to the scales. Thatâ€™s it! Since every day is treated as a single event, new this year is a chance to win the LOC Derby Cup â€“ a trophy and an extra $500 in cash for the best TWO scores from the four possible Open events this year: May 24-25 and May 31-June 1. Fish two or fish all four and pick your best two scores. Not bad to get a feel for the tournament atmosphere. The deadline for walk-on Open registrations is actually May 19 for the first weekend; May 26 for the second weekend â€“ cash only. You can do that at The Slippery Sinker or The Boat Doctors in Olcott.
Donâ€™t delay! Get registered and join in on some of the fun. Hereâ€™s a quick link to the registration site: https://www.niagara-usa.biz/ProAmRegistration/proam_Registration.asp
Bill Hilts, Jr. Director, Outdoor Promotions