BUFFALO, N.Y. — Among the last of the Bassmaster Elite Series pro anglers to weigh-in on Day One was James Niggemeyer. As a hard rain rolled over the stage on the shore of Lake Erie, Niggemeyer grabbed the microphone for a quick statement to the remaining, hard-core fishing fans who had taken shelter under an expo tent. "The best thing about today," Niggemeyer said, "is that I've still got tomorrow."
Not so fast, James.
Moments before these sore and wave-weary anglers were to blast-off into the rippling water on Day Two of the Empire Chase presented by Mahindra Tractors, BASS tournament director Trip Weldon announced that the day was cancelled. The 5 a.m. weather report had confirmed that conditions were going to be brutal, with a small-craft advisory issued and predictions of 10- to 15-knot winds that had been kicking surf up anywhere between 3 and 5 feet hours before sunrise.
By 6 a.m., an offshore buoy at Port Colborne in nearby Canadian waters was still recording steady 13.6 knot winds with gusts up to 15.5 knots and surf over 3 feet. Plus, with a fast-moving cold front adding a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms, Lake Erie could have been even harder on the anglers and their equipment than the damaging Day One.
Jerry Olegniczak from nearby Penrod's Bait & Tackle could understand the decision.
"Last week, the winds were like this and even the walleye guys couldn't get out into the lake," Olegniczak said. "Like they say, Mother Nature just smacks you in the face when that wind's over 10 mph, and especially out of the west."
Olegniczak admitted that he wouldn't care to be in a bass boat fighting rollers on Lake Erie.
The pros likely will be back on the water Saturday. The National Weather Service is predicting the winds to subside as a mild cold front pushes through the region on Friday. With winds shifting from the west to the north, barometric pressure rising, and waves decreasing to as little as one foot by Sunday, the remainder of the tournament looks to benefit from better weather.
Until then, many anglers could use a break after Day One's adventures on Lake Erie.
"I've never been in waves like that," Arizonan John Murray said, "but it was still fun because it's just unbelievable fishing out there."
Scott Rook didn't even try to fight Day One's surf.
"I chickened out because I didn't want to make any kind of long run out in that water," he said.
Bryan Hudgins, who brought four dead fish among the five in his Day One stringer, was reminded of another fishing experience.
"The last time it was that rough out there," he said, "I was fishing for tarpon."
Buffalo-area bait shops proprietors said these conditions are the norm at this time of year.
"Look, our lake is known for its swells," George Richardson said after looking out the window of his store, Russ's Bait & Tackle. "It doesn't look too bad right now. This is really typical — actually, almost perfect."
The fishing has been good enough this year, in fact, that Richardson no longer allows photos of smallmouths smaller than 4 pounds to grace the corkboard at the bait shop.