BUFFALO, N.Y. — BASS official Chuck Harbin appeared relaxed as he monitored the handful of Elite Series anglers tie up to the launch dock during Thursday's Day One launch of the Empire Chase presented by Farmer's Insurance. He had just spoken to the National Weather Service and confirmed the fact conditions looked favorable for a seemingly comfortable and relatively safe first day of tournament action.
But the weatherman's been wrong in the past — and along with Harbin, every angler knows of this reality.
"They said it's about 5-15 (mph) westerly," Harbin said about the wind. "But it'll probably be around 12. No thunderstorms. And around 2-feet. He called them two-footers."
Harbin had spoken to the same meteorologist local Erie guides use to get their forecast throughout the year. And he'll make the same phone call before the 8:00 a.m. take-offs each day to assure angler safety.
"We're going to take it day-by-day," he said. "This is Lake Erie and it's going to be a bumpy ride regardless."
Tournament director Trip Weldon, who monitored the launch activity from the announcer's booth echoed Harbin's sentiment.
"All we can do is caution them," Weldon said. "We give them the best possible information we can."
Even with the best possible information, the anglers know even a calm day on Lake Erie means a body-bruising ride. Guy Eaker, among a number of other anglers, wore two Dramamine patches behind each ear in an effort to avoid sea sickness. Brian Snowden went one step further, arriving to launch in a walleye boat in hopes the vessel's higher gunwales would protect against any one of Erie's rolling whitecaps.
Winding a bungee cord around his trolling motor, Elite Series pro Kurt Dove made extra precautions to secure his equipment.
"No one gets it as bad as here — except on the other side of the lake," Dove said.
Since the weather can change on the shallowest of all the Great Lakes so quickly, pro Fred Roumbanis also prepared for the worst.
"First of all, I made sure every screw was tight," Roumbanis said. "I went around my boat and tightened them up. I added a bilge pump to the floor. I secured two wind socks to the boat cleats."
Once officials have given anglers the all-clear to launch, ultimately it remains up to those competing to decide how much abuse to endure should conditions change during the day.
"Once you're out, you're at the mercy of the lake," Glen Delong said. "If they let us go, you go or you lose. We're professionals. We know where to draw the line."
That subjective 'line' differs between each angler, however. Asked about what would push him to pack it in and head for shore, John Crews looked bewildered.
"When it's time to come in," Crews said after a slight pause. "That's when it's too much."
If the situation on the water should deteriorate over the course of the four-day tournament, BASS officials have made contingency plans. During last year's event, high winds cancelled Day Two. Besides a cancellation, another option would be to limit the field to the Niagara River despite the objections from the field.
"The intent is to never put the full field in the river," Weldon said. "It would just be too crowded. Fifty is not a problem, and obviously, neither would twelve be."
Visit Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Elite Series Empire Chase with weigh-in host Keith Alan, July 31-Aug. 3, 2008. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, daily weigh-ins with live streaming video and real-time leaderboards start at 5:00 p.m. ET. On Saturday, catch "Bassmaster University" at 4:15 p.m. ET before the weigh-in. Then on Sunday, get "Hooked Up" with hosts Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona at 12.00 p.m. and 4:20 p.m. ET, with the final day weigh-in and real-time leaderboard content starting at 5:00 p.m. ET.