Retired live release boat gets second life

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — In the late 1990s B.A.S.S. acquired a small fleet of live release boats for its livery of tournament equipment. The boats crisscrossed the country making stops at events from the pro level to the B.A.S.S. Nation. The idea then and now is to evenly disperse healthy bass throughout a tournament fishery.

The Bassmaster Tournament Trail expanded and so did the boat fleet. As normal wear and tear goes, newer models eventually replaced old boats. Ironically, one of the oldies eventually found a second life doing its former full-time job.

The suitor was the New York B.A.S.S. Nation. It was on the lookout to purchase such a boat after receiving federal funding to assist government agencies in removing problematic aquatic weeds from public water.

The boat search ended when B.A.S.S. co-owner Jerrry McKinnis attended New York’s annual banquet in early 2011.

“We asked Jerry if he could help us with any leads for finding a boat we could use for the weed pull project,” said Paul Hudson. “We needed a big boat to do that job.”

McKinnis connected the group with the tournament staff. Dialogue led to the discovery of a boat resting on its trailer in a storage lot. Everyone agreed it could again set sail while flying the flags of two key agendas for the B.A.S.S. conservation program. Those are addressing invasive aquatic vegetation and promoting catch-and-release.

That boat is a Ranger pontoon christened in 1997 for use on the tournament trail. To do its intended job, the rig was customized with an array of features. Those include holding tanks capable of holding hundreds of gallons and a trap door system to release hundreds of pounds of live bass at a time.

The boat needed a serious facelift after logging thousands of miles across land and sea over the years. Members from three Syracuse area clubs painstakingly replaced the plumbing, pumps and deck. The Port City, Salt City and Good ‘Ol Boys bass clubs work diligently to bring back the boat’s original look.

“I know the location of every screw on that boat,” said Hudson, whose official title is 'fish care director'. “It’s a loose title and more a labor of love than anything else.”

Hudson is the boat’s official caretaker and captain, among his other duties, which include assisting in a very dirty job during the heat of summer.

For nine days in August, club members use heavy garden rakes to uproot water chestnut plants during the peak of the growing season. The plants are harmful to the ecosystem because they crowd out native vegetation beneficial to the food chain.

Last year the club members removed nearly two tons of plants from popular bass fisheries like Oneida Lake. The plants are bagged up and hauled to shore inside the very same livewells used to save bass.

“The boat is a great public relations tool,” noted Hudson. “People are impressed when they see bass anglers out on a lake pulling up weeds instead of fishing.”

The boat sees its share of internal public relations benefits too.

“At weigh-ins, our own tournament anglers are drawn by curiosity to the boat when we’re fizzing fish,” said Hudson. “We end up teaching them the technique.”

And in turn, the training leads to better informed anglers who can do the job themselves.

The oldie but goodie came full circle at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open presented by Allstate. The boat performed its original duties with Hudson at the helm on Lake Champlain.

Hudson proudly moored the boat beside two new models shuttling bass back to the lake.

“It fit right in,” said Hudson.

Indeed, and it still performs a job from its first life just as well.  

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