You never know what you might see on a fishing trip, though it’s a safe bet you’ll not witness a helicopter invasion.
But against all odds, Austintown muskie angler Chris DePaola saw pretty much the equivalent of a chopper assault recently while on a fishing vacation at western New York’s Lake Chautauqua.
The 17,000-acre lake bisected by Interstate 86 is an annual destination for DePaola. He’s attracted by the excellent opportunity to tangle with fish topping 40 inches. Much to his surprise, however, DePaola found himself smack dab in the midst of an invading force of professional bass anglers.
Twenty-four bass pros were there Aug. 27 through Sept. 1 to compete in Jack Link’s Major League Fishing’s Summit Cup, with a full television production crew recording all of the on-the-water action.
Helicopters buzzed the lake as the bass pros set out from Prendergast Point boat launch and hovered over the hot spots to tape the fishing. The pros, competing in bass boats wrapped in Major League Fishing sponsors’ logos, learned of the location only two days before competition and were prohibited from using any user-generated GPS waypoints. They essentially fished Chautauqua sight-unseen.
“It was amazing to see all of the helicopters flying around and the pros how they attacked the lake,” DePaola said. “Once I realized we were in the middle of a pretty big TV production, it was interesting to check it all out.”
He visited with the pros after their fishing while they milled round their boats at Prendergast launch. From there, they were shuttled to the Chautauqua Institution for lodging and meals.
“I had a pretty good talk with Denny Brauer, Shaw Grigsby and Jeff Kreit,” he said. “They weren’t able to tell me about their results, but they did say they caught fish.”
DePaola also saw on-the-water action.
“I was in the marina at Long Point the first morning and Greg Hackney came in to fish the docks. I told him I wouldn’t move my boat until he’d fished past me, and he said he appreciated that. Then he caught one over 3 pounds from one of the docks. It was pretty cool, and he thanked me again for being quiet while he fished that area.”
Major League Fishing’s format includes a judge with a hand-held scale to weigh fish and a videographer in each boat. When a competitor catches a bass, the judge weighs the fish and records the weight on a mobile app. The anglers are able to see how they are performing against the others in real time.
But despite all of the hubbub, no one outside the inner circle of the TV production knows the outcome. The winner will be known only when the made-for-TV Summit Cup coverage airs. The first five rounds will be broadcast on the Outdoor Channel beginning Jan. 1. The championship round will air on NBC Feb. 9.
Back to the muskie fishing. He said the lake was low due to the dry summer and the weeds were matted over in many locations.
“We ended up with 18 fish over 40 inches, which is a good week,” he said. “We caught most of them on the deep weed lines, and even hooked up with a couple of really decent smallmouths on muskie jerkbaits. I’m guessing there will be some muskie action shown during the TV coverage.”
He said the bass pros warmed up to his interest in their fishing.
“I told Denny Brauer I was more a muskie guy than a bass guy, and he said, ‘That’s OK, there’s always room for one more.’”