We had a dream, a dream to show the nation what we have to offer in St. Lawrence County and that 'they' will come. This is what it felt like to sit among the FISHCAP board members two years ago when I first became involved with the organization. I sat with a group of highly motivated professionals that had a great vision most might not be able to see. This group of professionals are a diverse group from all over the county, which made for a great team. There have been plenty of meetings that turned into arguments, red faces and members being upset. I always looked at these meetings in a positive way because the passion of how they feel is what the root of any issue and that we had the best, most compassionate people who were looking to bring tourism and more economic stability to the North Country. It was going to be just a matter of if we could hold on long enough to reach our goal, FISHCAP~the fishing capital of the world, St. Lawrence County.
Each of us involved in FISHCAP have our fish types that we are enthusiastic about, and as you now know, mine is bass. I was beyond thrilled to hear about the Elite Series coming to the St. Lawrence River. I have traveled all over fishing professionally for the last two years and I have had some awesome experiences in my travels and it has mostly been in the south. The hospitality there is always top notch and I think that is what I love the most about my travels. I did feel some concern leading up to the event if the North Country could even compare to the Southern hospitality I have grown to love. I am not saying people of the North Country are mean or anything but I am from here and feel the southern culture is receiving of the bass fishing anglers in a way I was not sure 'we' could pull off.
I spent the first day of the event below the Robert Moses Power Dam fishing with Governor Cuomo and his daughter, Mariah, for a few hours. This was an incredible experience that will require its very own article which I will share in time. I was able to make it back to Waddington in time for Day 1 weigh-in and was shocked at the crowd that had arrived on a Thursday! The crowd was excited and people were everywhere and it was at that point I realized this event had already succeeded and it was now going to be just how much over the top the North Country could take it. The anglers came in with bags of fish that did not disappoint. Every one of the anglers had something great to say about the river. The only complaint from some anglers, they wanted to get rid of the “chamber of commerce weather”, which meant the clear and sunny skies were not usually conducive to good fishing. As an angler I often hope for a slight breeze with overcast skies which usually helps with the bite. What the southern boys did not know was our fish were willing to cooperate in the sunny weather!!
Friday I was able to get set up in the arena with my boat and truck and give away items from my sponsors and talk fishing with whoever wanted to stop in and chat. I was astonished at the number of people that came through our area. I had a great time speaking with people, signing autographs and taking photos. I wish the naysayers of this event could have sat with me for the day at my booth. I don’t think I have ever been around so many smiling kids and parents at one time. The kids sitting in my boat 'driving', getting photos, autographs and talking with me were priceless memories that will stay with me forever. I was truly amazed at the amount of local support and following that I have developed and want to thank everyone that stopped by to say hi and speak with me. I also ask that you visit my website and drop me an email of any question you may have in the future!
Friday afternoon Day 2 weigh~in came with larger crowds and more excitement in the air. The crowds cheered as each angler crossed the stage. The common factor at this point, big bags of fish and anglers which were more delighted than the fans in the crowd. Every angler that spoke could not say enough good things about the people in the North Country and how well they were treated. The hospitality, support and welcome the residents of the North Country gave to these anglers and their families are something we should all take great pride in. I know the organization and anglers were apprehensive about what it was going to be like going to a small town rural area and if they would be accepted with open arms. I think those worries were quickly put to rest and we showed everyone what North Country pride is all about and for that we should all take a bow. There, my biggest concern, eliminated!
Saturday morning came and my goal was to arrive early and see some booths, get some photos and do some networking with some of the vendors, as I had been so busy in the arena. I pulled into Waddington at 9 am and was shocked to already see vehicles lining both sides of the roadway. My wife and I ventured into the main part of the vending area to see plenty of people already walking around. We had our GSP Garrett in tow as he often goes with us to shows as a great assistant as he loves children and has a relaxed way about him that just gives comfort to people who may not know how to stop and chat. My wife and I were wearing our tournament Jerseys and so we didn't get far in the walk around before we were stopped and questioned about the tournament. I began to notice the amount of people who did not know about tournament fishing. It occurred to me that people were at the event and they don't even like fishing, but they are curious. As I explained the structure of tournament fishing, and answered questions I saw interest and excitement in people’s eyes as they began to understand what an event of this caliber could do for our area in terms of tourism and economic development. As my wife and I headed in to set up our booth for the day I told her, today we are going to be put on the map because we are going to be breaking records. As the day progressed I could see my vision was right, the crowds flowed in like the gates to a dam opened up. As Day 3 weigh~in arrived I saw a packed field of excited fans and an even happier group of anglers with huge fish to show off crossing the stage, and there were stories of other species besides bass that the anglers were getting to experience out on our beautiful river.
By the time Saturday evening came to a close, I was out of all of my free items I was giving away. I arrived with 300 packages of Poor Boys bait sample packs, of which one of the top finishers, Chad Pipkens, remember the one with the great hair, used to make his final day cut. TJ Toyota of Potsdam had provided me with over 500 items as well. With all my goodies gone, I decided to pull out of the arena and see if I could locate the leader of the event Brandon Palaniuk fishing on the final day. My wife and I did locate Brandon and that will also require a story of its own in the near future. I have some great pictures and a video to go along with that one!
The final day weigh-in came with what I felt was the biggest crowd yet. In preparation for the weigh in, an announcement was made by B.A.S.S that Waddington, NY had broken their attendance record on Saturday just as I had predicted to my wife. The previous record of 11,000 people was crushed with a new record of 14,000 people showing up on Saturday! And with this announcement, the crowd went crazy!! It was truly amazing.
My wife and I stood in a prime spot right where the trucks and boats would be passing and the anglers were pulling their fish out of their live wells to place them in the weigh-in bags. We were able to get some great photos. Two women standing on the other side of my wife caught my attention. They were giggling saying hi and speaking with the anglers and taking pictures as they passed by. Once the first few passed we overheard them speaking with each other trying to figure out the anglers names. It was puzzling to me at first, and then I realized they did not follow fishing and they were caught up in the excitement and display that B.A.S.S. had brought to the North Country. My wife began speaking with them and telling them who each angler was and a little bit about them and the women were now even more excited. This just shows what B.A.S.S and its staff have created. I am sure after arriving in the North Country and putting on that display they have gained fishing fans that they never would have gained without a live showing.
The weigh-in came and went and Brandon Palaniuk again dominated the day and took the win home and put himself into the 2014 Bassmaster classic. Congratulations to him, he is a true sportsman with an amazing attitude and should be recognized for how well he represents the sport. The fact that he is only 25 years old is telling of his family and they must be very proud.
As I reflect back on the event I see a huge accomplishment for B.A.S.S and the North Country. There is nowhere near enough room in this paper for me to say thank you to everyone involved, you all know who you are and should take a moment sit back and relish what you accomplished. Plenty of people doubted us and may continue to doubt us. The fact is we stayed focused on our goals, dreams and aspirations at what we could do for this area and we succeeded. Everyone involved and the residents of the North Country should be proud and stand tall at how we represented ourselves! And finally a special thanks to the St. Lawrence River and all her glorious fish that she produced for the fishermen of this tournament and for the North Country to show the nation on 8/18/13!
I have plenty more articles and behind the scene slide shows to come so be sure to check back at my website http://chrisflintfishing.com to see some more exciting action from the event.
Don’t chase your dreams…catch them!!!