August 24, 2003 by Jeff Schroeder
Ohio pro lands biggest sack of tournament, successfully defends 2001 EverStart title
PORT CLINTON, Ohio - The last time Vic Vatalaro fished Lake Erie in competition out of northern Ohio, he won the 2001 EverStart Series Northern Division tournament launched out of Sandusky. Saturday, just up the road in Port Clinton, the 34-year-old pro from Kent, Ohio, showed why that first victory was no fluke when he went out and caught the biggest stringer of this year's Northern Division tournament here to win his second EverStart Series trophy.
"I'm pretty excited," he said. "Right now I'm still in a state of shock."
So are the other nine finalists. Vatalaro crushed the rest of the Pro Division Saturday by weighing in five beautiful smallmouth for a total of 23 pounds, 7 ounces. Not only was it the heaviest sack of fish the entire tournament, it defeated second-place Robert Sherry by over 7 1/2 pounds.
Obviously, Vatalaro was on some serious fish throughout the week. He started Wednesday in third place and never looked back, even when the wind shifted to the north on Friday - which he led - and blew a lot of competitors off their fishing holes. In four days of fishing on Lake Erie, Vatalaro weighed in 20 fish for a total of 79 pounds, 7 ounces.
Surprisingly, the winner said he was in desperation mode coming into the event. Having finished a disappointing 105th place at the previous Northern Division tourney out of Michigan's Detroit River - which fishes pretty much the same water - Vatalaro had to shift gears shortly before he arrived in Port Clinton for practice. Instead of mining the usual haunts around Pelee Island just north of Port Clinton - which he fished in the Detroit River tournament - he instead turned east and zeroed in on a spot 50 miles away that he hadn't fished in years.
"I went and practiced at Pelee, but I came back in and said, `Man, the fish are just not good enough out there,'" he said. "So, in desperation, I went to the old stuff. It's a spot that hasn't gotten pounded a lot, and it's what I'd call a sleeper spot. In practice, I caught a 7-pound smallmouth there that I thought I should have put on my wall."
The spot is area an old friend of his told him about years ago. Understandably reluctant to reveal its exact location, Vatalaro described it as a half-mile-wide, horseshoe-shaped rock pile with deep edges. In the middle is a deep hole that is a veritable bronzeback mine full of the 4- and 5-pound smallmouth that filled his livewell every day this week.
Vatalaro wasn't the only EverStart angler on the spot this week, though. Semifinalist Dwayne Horton of Knoxville, Tenn., also found the hole and worked it into a 17th-place finish. But Vatalaro said it wasn't an easy spot to fish.
"The deal is, if you don't fish it right, you won't catch any fish there," he said, adding that he didn't use a drift sock at all, just his trolling motor. "These smallmouth would just pick up the bait, put it down, pick it up, and put it down again. I easily saw 10 other pros come through there and not catch anything. The thing is, you had to hold still and cast to them like you do in the South."
Vatalaro fished pretty much the same rig all week: a green tube with a 5/16-ounce jig head on 10-pound line. Despite pounding 5-foot swells and a couple lost fish, he had a 20-pound limit by 9 o'clock Saturday morning. He eventually culled out to 23-7 even after losing five more fish and breaking his landing net.
"Those rollers almost swept my rods off my deck a couple of times," he said. "I went for broke today."
He collected $10,000 and a new Ranger 519VS Comanche for the win. But which one was sweeter, the first or the second win?
"Definitely, this one," he said, "because it makes it a double."
Sherry scrambles for second
While the incessant waves were trying to wash off the deck of the winner's boat, much of the rest of the field had trouble just reaching their prime fishing spots. Sherry knew the wind and current at his location on the east side of Pelee Island was going to be a tough customer Saturday, so he opted to stay close to home. The pro from Saint Charles, Ill., ran a couple miles just to the other side of Cedar Point and caught five bass weighing 15 pounds, 13 ounces for second place. He collected $10,000.
"I knew I couldn't get out to my original fish, so I went about two miles and just went fishing," he said. "I figured I would get more fishing in than if I tried to go out in the middle."
Dobson claims third
Scott Dobson of Waterford, Mich., did, in fact, make it out to Pelee Island where he and seventh-place pro Joe Balog were sharing a hole, and every fish Dobson weighed in was a solid 3 1/2- to 5-pound smallmouth. Unfortunately for him, he only landed four of them, worth 15 pounds, 5 ounces. He finished in third place and collected $9,000.
"On the way in I tried to stop and catch a little squeaker, but it didn't happen," Dobson said. "But I'm happy with the way things went today."
Liechty gets swamped, still claims fourth
Jim Liechty of Fort Wayne, Ind., burned through two bilge pumps Saturday and ended up fishing out of a half-submerged boat for most of the rough-water day. Fortunately, he was fishing the same area as Sherry and didn't have far to go. Liechty caught five bass weighing 12 pounds, 4 ounces, finished fourth and claimed $8,000.
Also, he pointed out how fortunate he was to be in a Ranger boat.
"A 522 holds a lot of water, I can tell you, and it still floats," he said. "Whatever it holds, about half of that was in my boat today."
Mansky takes fifth with bay bass
Dan Mansky of Youngstown, Ohio, finished in fifth place with a four-bass weight of 7 pounds, 6 ounces. He collected $7,500.
"My fish didn't bite this morning, so I kind of panicked and ran the 25 miles back and caught some in the bay with a spinner bait," he said. "It was rough going out there."
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top-10 finishers in the Pro Division are Don McCulla of New Baltimore, Mich., (sixth place, $6,500) with two bass weighing 4 pounds, 7 ounces; opening-round leader Joe Balog of Independence, Ohio, (seventh, $5,500) with one bass weighing 2-15; Daniel Dyke of Clayton, Ohio, (eighth, $5,000) with one bass weighing 2-10; Mike Trombly of Perrysburg, Ohio, (ninth, $4,500) with zero bass; and Brian Hensley of Edwardsburg, Mich., (10th, $4,000) with zero bass.
The next EverStart Series tournament is the fourth and final Northern Division contest of the season. It will be held at Lake Champlain in Plattsburgh, N.Y., Sept. 24-27.
`Cooksey claims co-angler trophy at Erie'