- Robert Montgomery
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EAST WINTHROP, Maine Carrie Wess has discovered an innovative way to increase donations to the Maine Special Olympics at an annual team bass tournament sponsored by the Classic Bassmasters.
"Carrie is really good with money," laughed her father Andy. "She doesn't give change back."
Instead, she thanked anglers for participating in the May tournament on Lake Cobbosseecontee with handshakes, hugs and kisses, said Bill Decoteau, who served as master of ceremonies for the 2007 event, which raised $8,500. It is recognized as Maine's largest single-benefit team tournament.
A Special Olympian, Carrie helps regularly with the tournament that Andy and wife Sheree started 18 years ago at their Lakeside Motel and Cabins on Lake Cobbossee. Carrie accepts donations that anglers offer for the free breakfasts and post-competition lunches provided on tournament day. She and her teammates also assist club members and their spouses with meal preparation and serving.
Sixty-eight teams participated in this year's tournament, with $25 of each $125 team entry fee going to the Special Olympics for scholarships to help local athletes attend regional and state competitions. Besides that $1,700 and the donations that Carrie collected through the day, the rest came from sponsors, including the Gardner Savings Institution FSB. Some funds were "quiet donations," given by those desiring to remain anonymous.
"Many of Andy's clients donate if they can't participate," Decoteau said.
Additionally, local businesses and marinas donated prizes and other items, and Maine pro Dave Barnes traveled all the way from South Carolina to attend and give the opening prayer.
"We've had as many as 98 teams before," Andy Wess said. "There are more tournament trails today and only so many fishermen.
"But we have good payback, good publicity, and our donors are steady. We're expecting the tournament to grow."
Weather might be expected to be a concern for a tournament presented on the first Sunday of May in central Maine. But Wess said that it was "great" this year, as it typically has been. "Maybe it's because what we're doing is for a good cause," he said.
Also, the fish cooperated, as they usually seem to do. "When we first started, we had a 10 fish limit and it would take 30 pounds to win," Wess said. "Now we have cut back to 8, and it still takes 30 pounds."
Indeed, Brent Bonefant and Frank Perkins won this year with 32.07 pounds, proving tournament angler Mark Osgood a prophet. He had estimated that more than 32 pounds would be required to win.
The second and third place teams also topped 32 pounds, while 26.66 pounds earned 10th.
The winning team earned $2,700, while $1,350 was awarded for second and $900 for third.
In the lunker category, Mark Osgood and partner Dennis Kinney brought in a 7.17-pound largemouth, while Steve and Scott Harris weighed in a 3.39-pound smallmouth. Each team received $340 for its big fish.
Thirty-one limits were checked in before many in the final flight started releasing their fish at the dock, realizing that they could not catch the leaders. Steve Wilson, president of the Maine B.A.S.S. Federation Nation, was one of those.
"Our bass population is a precious commodity," he said. "Once the Top 10 weights reached 26 pounds, we knew our eight bass limit of 25 pounds wasn't enough to place in the money." Releasing them directly from the livewells, Wilson added, helped remind him of the benefits of catch and release.
Bass were caught on a variety of baits, ranging from jigs and jerkbaits to swimbaits and crankbaits. But winners Bonefant and Perkins would say only that they "caught them on fast moving baits and also on some slow moving baits."
Carrie Wess has discovered an innovative way to increase donations to the Maine Special Olympics at an annual team bass tournament sponsored by the Classic Bassmasters