By Dan Ladd, Chronicle Outdoors Editor
Anthony DeGregorio, 22, of Queensbury is a college athlete. A student in civil engineering at the University of Buffalo, he has an athletic appearance, but his chosen sport is not baseball, basketball or lacrosse. Nope, DeGregorio is a bass angler.
Competitive bass fishing at the both the high school and college levels has grown substantially in the past decade. B.A.S.S. and FLW, two premiere national organizations, each sanction numerous tournaments at both levels.
DeGregorio and one of his fishing partners, Austin Ocwieja from Webster, recently competed in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series on the St. Lawrence River.
They finished 67th out of 149 boats and didn’t make the cut for the third and final day. A from Sam Houston State won.
Still, DeGregorio and Ocwieja’s creels of 22-11 (pounds-ounces) on the first day and 15-14 on the second day for a total of 38-09 is quite impressive. There isn’t an angler who wouldn’t want to land five bass averaging close to four pounds on a given day.
In early June, DeGregorio fished with a different partner, Noah Weinstein from Jamestown, in the YETI FLW College Fishing National Championship on the Potomac River out of Marbury, Maryland.
They were the first team ever to represent SUNY Buffalo in a championship tournament. They finished 75th out of 148 boats. In two days of fishing their creel was 20-15. A team from Murray State University won the title.
A natural progression
DeGregorio got his start in fishing simply by being fortunate enough to be around water as a youngster. “My grandparents have a house on Brant Lake,” he said. “And that’s what got me into fishing, being out on the lake. I spent all summer up there with my cousins.”
As a teenager he landed a part-time job at Fish307.com near the Log Jam restaurant. It immersed him in all things fishing, from tackle and gear to anglers of all types and levels. “I’ve met a lot of good people there,” he said of his time at Fish307, where he still works, and where a co-worker perked his interest in tournament bass fishing.
“Amber Randall, who used to work at Fish307, she used to fish tournaments with her husband and they got me into fishing the TBF (Bass Federation) when I was in high school,” said DeGregorio.
“Then, when I got out to Buffalo I found out that they had a (bass fishing) team. I didn’t know they had one, I just went there because it was a good school for civil engineering. Last year I became the vice-president of the team. I just kind of jumped into it.”
Club status at college means the fishing teams are not under the guidance of a school’s athletic department, but rather the student association. This mostly affects their budget, which can prove challenging given the expense of tournament fishing. Not everyone in a club that wants to fish a tournament is able to.
“Our club, we don’t have any boats,” said DeGregorio. “If you have a boat you can fish any tournament if you are willing to bring it. To be the co-angler you have to participate and earn club points and that’s how you get your ranking in the club. Whoever has the most points can go fish the tournaments. So if you do all of these events, volunteer, you get club points. So I got really active.”
The tournament experience
DeGregorio’s efforts paid off and he earned the right to be one of the four anglers on two fishing teams for SUNY Buffalo. Then the fun, and hard work, began.
“The first tournament we fished was on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia, that was an FLW qualifier,” he said. “Then we had Cayuga Lake, which is where I qualified for the championship. We got fifth place. Then we fished Lake Erie out of Ohio. The weather was lousy and we couldn’t get out into the main lake.”
He said, “We fished another qualifier up on Black Lake. Me and my partner got third in that tournament. This was a TBF. That qualified us for the championship on Lake George where we got seventh. The TBF are small, about 20 boats, but the FLW are bigger. Then we fished Smith Mountain Lake again this year.”
DeGregorio is in awe of the college tournament experience. He said bigger schools actually offer scholarships to their anglers, and provide them with boats and a budget. At Buffalo, the club is lucky to get a $1,000 budget, so the participants engage in their own fund-raising.
“It’s a little intimidating,” he said. “You’re fishing against those big schools who have multiple boats that are wrapped for their school. So you see those and you’re, like, ‘Wow!’ They’ve got three or four boats at every tournament. But like anything, you’ve just got to put your time into it and figure it out.”
Tournament fishing requires determination, including getting up very early in the morning and spending time on the water no matter the conditions.
“There are long days. When we’re pre-fishing, we’re up at three or four in the morning, go all day and not get to bed until eight or nine. Then get up and do it all over again,” says DeGregorio.
“For a three-day tournament, you’re pre-fishing, then you’re doing the tournament. So it’s a whole week of just waking up before I’d normally get up to go fishing, work or school. I’ve never woken up that early that many days in a row to go fishing.”
Although he’s done a lot of different types of fishing, DeGregorio says he’s learned a lot from his experiences at the tournament level. “No matter how bad of a fishing day it is, just keep grinding,” he says.
“It only takes 30 seconds to catch a fish. When we fished Black Lake, we only had two fish in the boat all day. The last 30 minutes, my partner pounded three, three-pounders with 30 minutes left and we took third place. It was really cool.”
He also has learned a few things about teamwork. “Fishing as a team is really fun,” says DeGregorio. “One day you can be having a bad day and he’s killing it. The next day you could be really hot. I’ll be better at something than he is so we’ll definitely be mixing it up, throwing something different at them. My favorite is drop-shot fishing.”
DeGregorio has two more years of college and intends to keep on fishing, despite the challenge of mixing it up with his schoolwork. “School and a job is coming first because that is what is going to support me in the long run,” he says. “But, I’d like to get a boat. But it’s tough, and expensive.”
As much as DeGregorio likes to bass fish, he also appreciates our region’s trout fishing, which he did earlier this spring.
“We’re blessed with all the trout fishing we have around here,” he said. “I got back (from school) and I went trout fishing. Then I started fishing for bass. Everyone down south, they just fish for bass. So again, we’re blessed to be able to fish for trout.”
DeGregorio will be busy this weekend. This Sunday, July 14, the University of Buffalo is hosting the 2019 College Open on Sodus Bay on Lake Ontario. His partner, Ocwieja, is tournament director.
You can follow the action at www.collegiatebasschampionship.com. And, if you navigate to the 2019 Podcasts menu, you can listen to a podcast of DeGregorio and his SUNY Buffalo teammates. Just as he did with the interview for this article, DeGregorio articulates well on the podcast.
We wish Anthony and all the collegiate anglers luck. Next week, we’ll profile yet another growing aspect on bass fishing tournament circuit. Stay tuned!
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