Smile, Pittsburgh. The region will get another nationally televised close-up when top bass and walleye pros from the FLW circuit launch at the North Shore during the Marcellus Shale Coalition 3Rivers Challenge, Thursday through Saturday.
The festival atmosphere will include two tournaments (celebrity pro-am and professional charity fishing competitions), a demonstration of fish survey techniques and fisheries management strategies, a registration-only family fishing workshop, conservation education stations and concessions. Family Tyes' interactive virtual fly-fishing, an FLW catch-and release trout pond, mounted fish displays, mine reclamation demonstrations and shipboard science and conservation activities are free at the sponsor and exhibit expo.
The Challenge will be televised by cable TV NBC Sports Network and aired nationally Oct. 28, with additional local airings on ROOT Sports and WPXI (schedules to be announced).
"At the end of the day it's a celebration of the rivers, but the 3Rivers Challenge showcases the natural gas industry's respect for environmental stewardship," said Robert Petrilli of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a group of some 300 companies involved in shale drilling. "This is one way of actually demonstrating to the public our interest in environmental education about our waterways."
Coalition members including Consol Energy, Range Resources and Seneca Resources put up the money to fund the Challenge, held in cooperation with the state Fish and Boat Commission. The pro charity event will support children's environmental and aquatic education programs in western Pennsylvania.
Chris Hoover of FLW Outdoors said the Challenge will not offer the million dollar payday or national championship of the 2009 Forrest Wood Cup, held in Pittsburgh. But the tournament sponsor is happy to return to the Three Rivers.
"This is different," he said. "It's seven walleye pros and seven bass pros fishing with VIPs and celebrities from around the area Friday, and a pro charity tournament Saturday. It's not a big money contest; it doesn't count for placement on the circuit. It's a stand-alone charity event -- they're fishing for a trophy for first place and bragging rights."
Anglers in each tournament have about four hours to fish within 3 miles of The Point -- a tight squeeze, said Kentucky-based Dan Morehead, a 17-year FLW bass pro who competed in Pittsburgh during the 2009 championship.
"It's a media tournament," he said. "Putting limits on us is tough. You know us -- we bass fishermen will run 50 miles if you let us."
Last week's rain left the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers high, muddy and littered with floating debris. With no precipitation and cloudy skies predicted for much of this week, the rivers were expected be in good shape for 3Rivers Challenge anglers. Showers predicted for today in Warren County could provide an edge for tournament anglers choosing to fish the Allegheny Friday and Saturday.
"I believe this time of year, you don't have to force feed [the bass]," said Morehead. "If they're around, they'll bite."
In the fall, Morehead looks for bass chasing minnows in shallow water near current breaks, and rock, wood or cement objects.
"When I was in Pittsburgh I saw a lot of walls and industrial structure," he said. "[Bass] use that like they would natural structures like trees, logs and rocks. There was a lot of rubble dropped off those walls when they were loading rubble. I'll spend a lot of time looking at maps, and returning to some places I fished in the Forrest Wood Cup."
Walleye pro John Balla of Bartlett, Ill., said he'll favor bridge pilings and rock and cement structures during his first visit to Pittsburgh.
"Rock holds the temperature more, and in the fall the big fish like to be nearby," he said. "I'll look for rock outcroppings, boulders, walls -- anything with rock. When they put up those bridges they put rock under them to build up the substrate. Those hard bottoms with the warm rocks near a current break attract baitfish."
Those are the spots where Balla says he'll be looking for walleye and saugers, relying on drop-shot rigs with soft plastics on jig heads. In shallow flats he'll troll with crankbaits, and if the water is cloudy he said he'll go to rattle baits.
"The saugers like a little darker water," he said. "They'll move more with the sun, tending to stay in the shaded side of things. Anytime I'm fishing a deep hole, if I go to the deeper side I'll catch saugers."
Deep pools below dams would be ideal, he said, but 3Rivers Challenge rules will keep anglers closer to The Point.
"Three miles kind of limits our areas to fish ... it'll be pretty challenging," said Balla. "If I can find a big ol' barge filled with corn I'll be right at home."