By Billy “Hawkeye” Decoteau

Sunny skies paired with 80-degree temperatures greeted twenty New England Paralyzed Veterans and their Volunteer Boat Captains, arriving at Southwick Massachusetts’s Congamond Lakes for the 2009 Season Opener. Connecticut’s FLW/TBF The Bass Federation’s Secretary Jim Marenzana kept launching operations running smoothly, as he directed each angler to the morning registration tables. (

With the economic crisis throughout the United States, making a major impact on local and regional ‘Food Shelf’ supplies, New England Paralyzed Veteran Anglers and their Volunteer Boat Captains decided to reach out to the local Enfield Food Shelf. “When I suggested that all anglers bring can goods and non-perishable items as a donation to help fill the increasingly empty shelves at the local Enfield Food Shelf, Connecticut TBF Secretary Jim Marenza thought it was an excellent idea,” smiled an elated Karen Rhodes, who volunteers at the Enfield Food Shelf.  Adding, “Jim’s immediate contact efforts will not be forgotten! I can promise you the staff at the Enfield Food Shelf will be overwhelmed when I bring all of these wonderfully donated items.”

Congamond’s State launch is an ideal location for the NEPVA tournament format. It’s completely Handicap accessible facility allows wheelchair anglers to move around the entire area on their own unobstructed. An added bonus for wheelchair anglers interested in fishing from shore is a newly constructed handicap-fishing pier. Extending over 200 feet into the lake, the pier provides excellent fishing opportunities.

As morning registration continued pairing up teams, everyone enjoyed warm Dunkin Donut coffee and Mrs. Murphy’s Homemade Donuts compliments from both Southwick businesses. Dock Talk weight predictions and team razzing kept everyone laughing, before the Morning Prayer and playing of our National Anthem signaled the start of the tournament.

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Angler Productions television camera crews were on hand filming the entire event for one of the “The Bass Bureau…Where the Road meets the Water” cable fishing series. “We always enjoy working with the New England PVA Bass Trail,” replied Chief editor Don Gauvin. Adding, “We have two camera crews on the water working from opposite ends of the lakes, we should be able to get some great footage especially with this beautiful weather? (

Rich Miller, cameraman for Angler Productions was all smiles! “I was assigned the coverage of the very first ‘Trantolo and Trantolo Girls Fish-Off’ competition between Miss Kelly and Miss Missy!” Vincent Trantolo of Trantolo and Trantolo Attorneys at Law has been a dedicated monetary sponsor of the NEPVA Bass Trail for five years, as well as sending his ‘Trantolo Girls’ to assist with the weigh-ins. Trantolo’s Public Relations Manager Norm LaBlanc, says the Trantolo Girls are activity involved in Community Service work involving organizations such as the New England PVA Bass Trail. (

Miss Kelly was paired with Marine USA Pro Staffer John DellaCamera. “I hope John allows me to drive his sleek looking Nitro,” whisperer Kelly. Overhearing her whisper, DellaCamera replied, “Hey Kelly, you might be able to handle a Harley, but this Opti Max Outboard can be overpowering! I’ll have to think about it, but I’m sure we can test your boating skills after we boat a few bass!” (

Miss Missy joined Army Veteran Jay Surreria in his fiberglass Classic Tracker Bass Boat. With her long flowing blonde hair, and a killer smile, this former Green Beret found himself tongue tied. With a wink of her eye Missy responded, “Kelly is in big trouble……….. Today I’m all about catching BASS!”
Venturing into the North Pond section of Congamond Lake, Angler Products Paul Gauvin’s camera managed to catch on the water action, as Boat Captain Brian Schulte and NEPVA Angler Bob Swain battle two largemouth’s to Schulte’s Ranger Bass Boat. “The North Pond’s 46 acres usually warm up first and at times the bass stack-up here like cordwood,” replied Schulte as he placed a huge largemouth into his livewell.

Running the three interconnected ponds of Congamond Lake, it appeared the bass were not co-operating with the NEPVA Anglers. Pulling along side Marine Veteran and Volunteer Boat Captain Joe Kowalski and his New York NEPVA partner Ray Clary, the report wasn’t any better. “These bass are really in a transitional shutdown,” said Kowalski. Explaining, “The weather has jumped to extreme highs and then plummeted to extreme lows all with in a 10-day period. This in turn has made the bass bite either extremely good or as it is today extremely tough.”

With one more trip to the North Pond section before heading to Saunders Marina and the 2:00 PM weigh-in, Angler productions Paul Gauvin’s camera was rolling. Pulling along side reigning 2008 Congamond Champion Boat Captain Chris Blais, he too told of the extremely tough conditions. With a sudden twist of direction, Blais pointed his Grizzly towards an isolated dock, made a quick sidearm cast and simultaneously, called for the net. Landing a beautiful two-pound plus largemouth a smiling Chris Blais said, “I saw that bass cruising towards a group of baitfish, and sure enough he ate my Yamamoto grub. That gives Ken and I three bass, with only thirty minutes before we have to return to the weigh-in.”

Idling out of the North Pond, once more Gauvin managed to secure another team landing a bass. This time it was Marine USA Nitro Pro Staffer Mitch Glick and his NEPVA partner ‘Sizzling’ Joe Slattery the 2008 NEPVA Angler of the Year. Holding up their largemouth for a camera shot, Glick placed their bass into his actively running Z-7 livewell, as Slattery hollered, “we’ll see you ate the weigh-in!”

While Marine ‘Leatherneck’ motorcyclist Maddog Scanlon spearheaded the   unloading of the Paralyzed American Veteran Anglers from their partners’ bass boats, and Southwick, MA Big “Y” Team of Cooks filled the air with the aroma of Big “Y” hotdogs and hamburgers, Connecticut TBF Secetary Jim Marenzana presented the New England PVA Bass Trail a check for $100.00.

Weigh-Master Tiny LaFontaine called the teams to the scales and one-by-one the Leaders Board logged each teams’ results. Not one-team managed to secure a five-bass limit making for an exciting weigh-in. Vietnam New York NEPVA Veteran Ken Ferrari and Tracker Grizzly Boat Captain Chris Blais handed their three-bass to Jim Marino at the check-tank.

With their teams three-bass on the scales, Blais and Ferrari waited for the official weight to be called. “Folks we have a new leader, Blais and Ferrari 3-bass all alive…9.28 lbs,” announced Tournament Director Tiny LaFontaine. With only one more team Captain Joe Kowalski and NEPVA Angler Ray “The Big Indian” Clary to weigh-in their bass, LaFontaine placed their bass on the scales. As the digital readout jumped back and forth, the crowd went wild as it settled at 8.51 lbs. Then somewhere in the crowd roared the words………..”Blais’s Grizzly Growls Again!”

Boat Captain Joe Kowalski and NEPVA season angler New York’s Ray Clary settled for a second place finish. Disclosing their bass were caught on tubes and Bear Paw Bait Plastics. ( Claiming their 2nd Place plaques Kowalski replied, “I am honored to have been able to participate in this NEPVA Bass Tournament once again and spend the day with “The Big Indian”. This event is well ran and organized with enough donated prizes for everyone. I plan on checking my BASS Tournament schedule and hope I have the chance to fish another NEPVA tournament in the future.”  Kowalski and Clary also mentioned they caught two other bass, but they just missed measuring the 12 inch minimum length requirement.

Call it the ‘Luck-of-the-Dog’ or whatever, but returning NEPVA angler Bob Swain assisted by his dog Waldo, drew Boat Captain Brian Schulte, who just happen to choose the North Pond section of Congamond to target their bass. “I missed all of last year due to illness, and the last NEPVA tournament I completed in was at Congamond in the North Pond,” laughed Swain. “This is unbelievable! I didn’t know what to expect when I saw Waldo?” voiced Schulte. However, both anglers agreed Waldo, the Black Lab, was they lucky charm, as the teams total weight of 6.26 lbs claimed 3d Place honors and their 4.9 Largemouth Bass won them additional Lunker trophies and a sweet monetary win.

Tournament Champions NEPVA Angler Ken Ferrari and Boat Captain Chris Blais disclosed they’re wining patterns. “We basically had a ‘One-Two-Punch for Cruising Bass……..Grubs & Senko’s’!”, revealed Blais.
Blais and Ferrari worked white 5″ Yamamoto Senko’s rigged Wacky Weight-less style and white grubs on ¼ oz jig heads. “Our plan was to utilize the Yamamoto Senko’s for suspended bass, and the white Yamamoto single tail grub for cruising bass,” explained the Tracker Grizzly Boat Captain. ( )

Volunteer Boat Captain and Custom Rod designer Jason Kesckes of Pennsylvania presented one of his handmade custom spinning rods to 1st Place NEPVA Angler Ken Ferrari. With the Top-3 Teams having received their winning plaques, names were drawn for additional donated prizes. Handing out the final prize NEPVA Tournament Director Tiny LaFontaine gave thanks to all of the sponsors, reminding everyone to attend the next NEPVA Tournament scheduled for May 23rd on Long Pond in Smithfield, Maine.

The NEPVA Bass Trail would like to thank their Congamond Lake sponsors; Connecticut TBF (, Yankee Bait & Tackle ( Tournament Force Tackle (, Saunders Marina, Northern Bass Supply, Steve Kokai of Harmonic Rods & Reels (, Marine Leather-Neck’s Maddog Scanlon, Trantolo & Trantolo (, Tibby’s Harley Davidson (, Marine USA, Inc., ( Gary Yamamoto Baits (, COSTCO, Jason Kesckes Custom Rods, and a very special thanks to the Big “Y” We Care Program as well as all the individual donations.  (For complete tournament results log
God Bless and Best Bass’n

Bill Decoteau is an outdoor journalist with a strong passion for pursuing the Black Bass. His activities include covering and photographing professional bass trails, the New England Paralyzed Veterans of America Bass Trail, as well as emceeing benefit tournaments such as Maine’s Special Olympics. Bill may also be found on the water filming his television show The Bass Bureau…………Where the Road meets the Water or in the classroom at many of the regional sportsmen shows holding bass seminars, and sharing winning techniques utilized by some of the nationals’ top-bass pros.