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ESPN personality looks forward to bass tournament

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Mark C. Zona, host of Outdoor Channel network’s Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show and co-host of the ESPN 2 network’s The Bassmasters, has seen many of the country’s best fishing spots, but none, he says, compare to those in upstate New York.

“It’s some of the most beautiful country,” he said in a phone interview. “Michigan, where I’m from, is gorgeous. But I am always stunned when I come to upstate New York. It’s full of breathtaking scenery.”

He said his most favorite place to fish in the north country is the St. Lawrence River. Mr. Zona, 40, said has been fishing the river since he was 19. Each year, he also films a show on a different spot along the river. Last year, he filmed an episode in the Akwasasne area.

“In a nutshell, the St. Lawrence River is one of the most magical places for bass,” Mr. Zona said. “There a number of places in the country where you can catch both small- and large-mouth bass. But there are very few places where they are both world class.”

Mr. Zona said he is excited to return to the area for the Bassmaster Elite Series Tournament: St. Lawrence River Showdown which will be headquartered in Waddington from Aug. 8 to 11.

“I am absolutely looking forward to come up there,” he said. “The nice thing about the St. Lawrence is it has gigantic schools of bass. Coming from Michigan to the north, chasing small- and large-mouth bass hits close to home. A lot of people will be surprised to find what is swimming out there.”

He said the size of the fish in the St. Lawrence has improved in the last two decades, with an increase in the round goby population. He said gobies are a protein-rich food source for bass.

“Not just throughout the St. Lawrence River, in all of our Great Lakes,” he said. “In the early 90s, the average size you needed to win events was 3 pounds. Now, if you don’t have at least 4.5 to 5 pounds, you are going to sent walking. That’s a dramatic leap in 20 years.”

An increase in the number of zebra mussels, which add to water clarity, has also made it possible for the bass to live up to 35 to 60 feet below the water.

“The tournament will be won on fish caught between 35 and 50 feet of water,” he said. “I bet my house on it. That’s unusual. Many tournaments are won in 10 inches.”

He said the biggest dictating factor in the competition will be weather.

“If we have heavy winds out of the southwest, it will limit the anglers’ radius in which they can run,” Mr. Zona said. “If that is the case, the tournament will run very close together and close to headquarters. But this tournament will be very spread out of weather permits.”

Mr. Zona said he will also be looking forward to returning to witness the impact the tournament has made on the area.

“I think it’s awesome to show the rest of the country what the St. Lawrence has to offer,” he said. “It’s about time it gets the notoriety that it so deserves. The impact will be astonishing. These tournaments help bring in outdoorsman. Those are the people you want to come to your town because they will appreciate what the land has to offer.”

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