LACONIA — Just minutes after sunup yesterday a flotilla of 48 bass boats, each with two anglers on board, left Paugus Bay Marinia and took to the waters of Lake Winnipesaukee to open The Bass Federation's Eastern Division Championship tournament, which serves as a qualifying round for the national championship next spring.
The Eastern Division consists of the six New England states, New York and the province of Ontario, each represented by a dozen anglers paired on six boats, who will fish the lake for three days. Each angler has a daily creel limit of five fish, either large-mouth or small-mouth bass measuring at least 12 inches in length. Each day at 3 p.m. the catch is weighed and angers are ranked by the cumulative weight of their catch during the three days. The top two finishers from each of the seven states and one province in the division will qualify for the national championships, joining competitors from six other divisions.
"I drove all night to get here," said Dan Murphy of Wharton, New Jersey, who last weekend landed the biggest fish — a 5.75 pound small-mouth bass — at the "Fishing for Freedom" tournament at Alexandria Bay on Lake Ontario.
With less than a third of anglers weighed in here on Wednesday, Murphy and Mark Anthony of Wolfeboro were among the leaders, but Matthew Allen of Hanover, Massachusetts claimed both the largest catch of five fish together weighing 16 pounds, 11 ounces and the biggest fish, a five pound, two ounce small-mouth bass.
As they checked in, anglers intent on keeping their catch alive and returning their fish to the lake had no time for small talk. They held their catch in bags dipped into tanks of fresh water while waiting for it to be checked and weighed. First the fish were pronounced alive, sparing anglers penalties, then measured, counted and returned to water before weighing. Once weighed the catch was again put into water and promptly returned to the lake.
Kevin Keenan of Paugus Bay Marina said the tournament was a significant event for the region, noting that many of the competitors have spent the entire week in the city to take advantage of the three permitted practice days in advance of the competition.
Amy Perry of Killingworth, Connecticut, whose husband was among the competitors, was keeping a close tally at the weigh-in. When Keenan remarked on her proficiency at handling the truck, trailer and boat — "I'd hire her in a minute" — she replied "I love it. It's a week of fishing, not working! And I do cheer for Connecticut."
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