By Doug Graham, The Whig-Standard
The anglers took the bait.
When organizers of the Thousand Islands Open decided to move from Rockport to Kingston for the fourth edition of what has been a very successful Renegade Bass Tour live-release tournament, there was some risk involved.
The Thousand Islands Open, developed by Renegade Bass Tour in conjunction with Hookset.com, had been successful from the onset in 2015 in Rockport. Every year the tournament entry of 100 boats and 200 anglers had been filled.
So why mess with a good thing?
“We did make the move with some trepidation. But we recognized in order for it to grow and reach more into the angling community, we needed to be in a bigger centre,” said Matt Massey of Hookset, one of the promotors and organizers of the tournament.
“Kingston is ultimately the jewel at the corner of the big lake and the start of the Thousand Islands. We created this unique event to elevate and showcase the world-class bass fishery.”
The anglers responded hook, line and sinker to the new location.
“We’ve sold out in other years, but this was the fastest year of selling out ever,” Massey said.
The three-day tournament from Aug. 2-4 will be headquartered at the Portsmouth Olympic Harbour. The 200-angler field in past years has featured some of Canada’s top pro anglers, including Peterborough brothers Chris Johnston and Cory Johnston and Burlington’s Bob Izumi. There will be a strong Kingston and area contingent this year, headed by Len Devos, who last year with Jeff Desloges came sixth with a weight of 65.94 pounds. Devos has Kevin VanAsseldonk with him this time. They came third in the 2015 tournament.
Fourteen of the 100-boat entry were from local anglers, including Larry MacPhail of Kingston and partner Carlos Ponte of Harrowsmith, the 2016 Renegade Bass Tour rookie team of the year.
Kingston has seen several tournaments over the years that were run by different organizations. In all of those, not all of the money went to the prize payout, which was a bass boat package. The uniqueness of the Thousand Islands Open, Massey said, is that the tournament is run without a profit.
“The $1,000 per team [entry fee] all goes back to the anglers in the $100,000 cash-back to the top teams,” Massey said.
The other unique aspect is that a Basscat boat and Mercury motor package, valued at $75,000, can be won by any of the anglers in the field.
“The boat giveaway is definitely unique,” Massey said.
Every entrant receives a key, and the one who has the key that works to start up the boat will land the biggest prize of the tournament.
The Johnston brothers, who fish professionally on the Fishing League World championship trail, took the 2017 Thousand Islands Open with a three-day, 15-bass weight of 79.09 pounds. The Johnstons, due to a conflict with the FLW tour championship — Chris is in fourth place on the tour and Cory is in 40th — won’t be back to defend their title. Father Lynn Johnston, who won with son Chris in 2015, is entered.
Massey predicts one trend established since the inaugural Thousand Islands Open will continue.
“The tournament can’t be won by fishing largemouth,” said Massey, in a testament to the size of the smallmouths that are in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River and which are now the chunkier of the bass species, fattened up by dining on the Round Goby, an invasive species that was first detected in the Great Lakes in 1990.
Last year, Andy Kinstler of Ingleside won the big fish prize on the opening day with a smallmouth tipping the scale at 7.29 pounds.