By COURTNEY LEWIS
PLATTSBURGH — Jason Bezio would love to be a professional bass fisherman some day, but for now he’s busy at home and he can’t just quit his job to fish.
So he’s excited to be competing as a co-angler on Lake Champlain this week.
“I wish I had more time, but this is the one big tournament I wanted to do this year,” Bezio said. “So it’s great to be out there. It’s awesome, actually.”
The Plattsburgh resident will be one of 126 co-anglers fishing along side 126 pros during the Walmart FLW Tour event that starts today and continues through Sunday. The professionals will be vying for a top prize of up to $125,000 as well as qualifying points for the 2012 Forrest Wood Cup. The co-anglers will compete for up to $25,000. The top 60 finishers in both divisions receive a payout.
The anglers will take off from Dock Street Landing at 6:30 a.m. each day. The field will be cut to the top 20 from each division after Friday’s competition. The co-angler champion will be crowned Saturday, and the top 10 pros will return Sunday.
Bezio has fished in lower-level FLW tournaments on Lake Champlain, but today will mark his first appearance in this one. He was a casual angler until a friend introduced him to tournament fishing. He said he used to compete in 10 to 15 tournaments at various levels each year, but now that he has three young children he’s had to cut way back.
He entered in December for a chance to be a co-angler this week and found out in early spring that he’d been accepted. The entry fee for co-anglers is $700, and professionals pay $4,000 to get in.
Bezio said he’d love to make a career out of his hobby someday if he could find sponsorship. If he does well this week, he said he may enter one other tournament on Lake Champlain this summer.
“My goal is to make the top 50. Preferably the top 10, but top 50 in this tournament would be a huge accomplishment,” he said.
Bezio said being paired with a pro is a great chance to learn.
“It’s exciting. They’ve been doing it for years and they’ve spent so much time on the water, it’s just a learning experience to see what they’re doing and have them share knowledge,” he said. “I’ve yet to meet a top-level competitor that’s not friendly or doesn’t want to share and help a co-angler out. Everybody so far has been very nice and helpful.”
One of the top pros who will be out there this week is Scott Martin, who represents Team Evinrude. Martin won the Forrest Wood Cup — bass fishing’s world championship — last year and claimed the Lake Champlain tournament in 2009.
Martin said it’s hard to predict which anglers might do well this week because both smallmouth and largemouth bass are plentiful and because the lake has two distinct areas. The Clewiston, Fla. native said while the southern end features mostly smallmouth, he’ll head north to try to find both species.
“I personally like the north end of the lake better,” he said. “That’s where I’ve always done most of my damage. I’ll stick with that plan, stay north and see what happens.
“It’s such a beautiful lake and beautiful area; I just fish with a lot of enthusiasm up here.”
Martin, a 13-year veteran of the FLW Tour, has been joined on the circuit this season by his father, Hall of Famer Roland Martin. The elder Martin returned after an 11-year absence from the Tour.
Scott said the two have been together more this year than they had in the previous 10 years combined.
“It’s been a great opportunity to spend time with him and a great opportunity to learn for from him,” Scott said. “He knows so much about fishing.”
Scott added that his dad is mostly just trying to have fun, but there’s still some father-son competition.
“We always try to edge each other out,” he said. “That’s part of the fun of fishing.”
Today: 2:30 p.m., Dock Street Landing
Friday: 2:30 p.m., Dock Street Landing
Saturday: 4 p.m., PSU Field House
Sunday: 4 p.m., PSU Field House
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