It's an extremely rare occurrence for lightning to strike the same location twice. It happened last weekend in Niagara County when the 2015 Lake Ontario Pro-Am Salmon Team Tournament held its second and final contest June 6-7 out of the ports of Wilson and Olcott. Overall in the event, more than 50 different teams were competing for over $100,000 in cash and prizes. After dealing with difficult weather conditions and some tough fishing as a result, it was Team Thrillseeker led by Capt. Vince Pierleoni of Newfane and 5 More Minutes led by Tony Chatt of West Monroe, NY who tied for the Niagara USA Classic Cup for Best in the West, splitting $30,000 for the prestigious honor. Capt. Jerry Felluca of Hilton and the Runnin' Rebel squad was third place for the Classic Cup and won a check for $5,000. The weekend tournament and awards ceremony was held out of Bootleggers Cove Marina on Wilson Harbor.
In the Niagara USA Trophy Cup, representative of the best five fish in both tournaments each day, Capt. Richard Hajecki of Rochester and the Yankee Troller team reclaimed the Cup they earned in 2013 - winning a check for $4,000 this time around. In that whole "lightning strikes twice" scenario, there was a second place tie between the Oh Baby team led by Matt Leclair of Plattsburgh and Instigator/Renegade captained by Alan Sauerland of Olcott. They split $2,500. There has never been a tie before, but there were two this year!
For the Recreational Open Cup, it was Tom Pearse of Grand Island and the Summer School team who put the best two single day scores together over the two weekends to win the cup and a check for $500. "The cup means more to me than the money," said Pearse at the awards gathering.
The tournament did not start off on a good note June 6. A Small Craft Advisory was put into place the evening before and it was supposed to carry through noon on Saturday. Weather conditions improved in the morning and the warning was lifted by 8 am. This resulted in some quick planning to get the teams out on the water by 9:30 am and fishing by 10 am. After a hard blow out of the northeast, though, fishing conditions are normally unstable. In the Classic Division, it was Dirty Goose and Capt. Tom Burke of Altmar who jumped out to the early lead with the only 12-fish limit of the day and a score of 198.49 points based on 10 points per fish and a point per pound. In the Trophy Division, Dirty Goose had the upper hand to place first with a score of 96.52 points. For the Recreational Open Division, Mike Lavenia of New Haven, NY and Blue-eyed Lady was the top team with a score of 38.79 points. They caught just two fish ... under tough conditions. They earned a check for $750, a Scotty Downrigger, spoons from Dreamweaver and Michigan stinger, as well as a subscription to NY Outdoor News. Big fish was a 15.32-lb. king salmon weighed in by Brandon Poole of Newfane and the Balls Deep III team. They won a Fish Hawk electronics unit.
On the final day, the weather was much more manageable for the teams. Strategy was the key. Do you head east, west or north? There's "never been any reason" for teams to head east until Sunday and it paid off big time for the eventual winners. Chatt's 5 More Minutes brought in a limit catch to score a two day total of 346.11 points to win the Classic Division and a check for $5,000. They motored east past Point Breeze to find their fish. This set the stage for the Classic Cup tie with Pierleoni and company. Rounding out the Top 7 in the money for the Classic purse was: Dirty Goose, Tom Burke, Altmar with 326.06 points ($2,650); Big Cat, Greg Catrabone of Pennsylvania with 325.35 points ($2,100); Runnin' Rebel, Jerry Felluca of Hilton with 316.23 points ($1,650); Maverick, Chris LoPresti of Spencerport with 315.62 points ($1,400); Thrillseeker II, Vince Pierleoni of Newfane with 308.78 points ($1,200); and Shark Tank, Greg Gehrig of Oswego with 304.52 points ($1,000).
In the Trophy Division, it was Leclair's Oh Baby team who came back from third place to overtake the Goose with a total two-day score of 218.39 points, earning a check for $2,500. Rounding out the top seven teams were: Instigator/Renegade, Alan Sauerland of Olcott with 190.73 points ($1,200); Maverick, Chris LoPresti of Spencerport with 182.78 points ($1,000); Runnin' Rebel, Jerry Felluca of Hilton with 182.31 points ($900); Tough Duty II, Tim Sylvester of North Tonawanda with 182.27 points ($700); Shark Tank, Greg Gehrig of Oswego with 180.59 points ($500); and Dirty Goose, Tom Burke of Altmar with 175.15 points ($400). It was a close battle.
Big fish for the tournament was a 21.90-lb. king salmon reeled in by the Tough Duty team on the final day of the tournaments. They earned a nice prize package that included a $50 check from ITO Flies, a night's stay at Milly's Inn in Wilson, dinner for two at the Sunset Grill on Wilson Harbor and a special Lake Ontario Outdoors Big Fish Prize Package that included cash and subscriptions.
In the Recreational Open Division on Sunday, fishing improved considerably as seven different teams caught three-fish limits. The top point getter was Salmon Obsession II led by Mike Hnat of Kent, Ohio with a total score of 63.70 points. They earned a check for $775, a Scotty Downrigger, spoons from Dreamweaver and Michigan stinger, as well as a subscription to NY Outdoor News. Big fish was a 16.12-lb. king salmon hauled in by Leviathan led by Marlowe Beis of Grand Island. They, too, won a nice prize package that included a Fish Hawk electronics unit, an ITO Flies package and a check for $50.
Total payout for the two weekend events was $96,825 plus $10,000 in merchandise prizes. Check out lakeontarioproam.net for a complete leaderboard of the tournament.
Sponsors for the tournament included: Seneca Niagara Casino and Resort; Bootleggers Cove Marina; Sunset Grill; Chopped Lovin' Deer Processing; Sevenson Environmental; Apollo Steel; Lawta Farms; Lone Wolf Sportfishing; Robert M. Cinelli, Inc.; Town of Newfane; Niagara County; Scotty Downriggers; Great Lakes Tackle Shop; Lake Ontario United; Runnin' Rebel Fishing Charters; Moor Electronics; Fish Hawk; Dreamweaver; Michigan Stinger; ITO Flies; Milly's Inn; Newfane Family Chiropractic; Lake Ontario Outdoors New York Outdoor News; Great Lakes Angler; Lighthouse Grill and Spirits; Bayside Guest House; Wilson No. 1 Fire Hall; and Niagara County Fisheries Development Board.
2015 Pro-Am Top Ten Money Winners
1) Team Thrillseeker, Capt. Vince Pierleoni = $23,500
2) 5 More Minutes, Tony Chatt = $21,250
3) Runnin' Rebel, Capt. Jerry Felluca = $9,650
4) Yankee Troller, Capt. Richard Hajecki = $6,500
5) Maverick, Capt. Chris LoPresti = $3,850
6) Oh Baby, Matt Leclair = $3,750
7) Vision Quest, Capt. Pete Alex = $3,200
8) Dirty Goose, Capt. Tom Burke = $3,050
9) Instigator-Renegade, Capt. Alan Sauerland = $2,450
10) Shark Tank, Capt. Greg Gehrig = $2,200