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  Go back to the News List! Pittsburgh basks in Bassmaster 07/23/2005 Document  
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Pittsburgh basks in Bassmaster
Once a Rust Belt city,it now can brag about its clean waterways
The Bassmaster Classic, with a total purse of $700,000, is expected to pump nearly $30 million into the Pittsburgh economy.

The Bassmaster Classic, with a total purse of $700,000, is expected to pump nearly $30 million into the Pittsburgh economy.
Plenty of years ago, back when steel was king in southwestern Pennsylvania, I remember riding in the back seat of Dad’s black ’51 Ford V8 coupe along the Monongahela River.

We were headed from Cleveland to Dad’s hometown, Monessen, to visit uncles and aunts and cousins. The twisty two-lane snaked along the ridgetops above the river south from Pittsburgh. It was 30 to 35 river-miles, and my brother, Dave, and I kept our noses glued to the window to watch for “paddlewheel boats.”

These sternwheel-powered push-boats shoved bargeloads of coal and ore and other ingredients for cooking steel up and down the long pools that backed up behind the locks and dams.

The river ran red with the pollution of progress — red and dead and devoid of life. It smelled as bad as an outhouse in the July sun until your nose numbed to it.

Smog hung over the valley and the stacks of Pittsburgh Steel belched smoke and stench along the river in downtown Monessen. The odors clung to your clothes. It was embedded in the drapes and carpeting in Aunt Ann and Uncle Steve’s house at 11 Luce Ave., well up the steep hillside. Back then, it was the smell of progress.

The foregoing is offered as a living memory of what once was to illustrate the stark transformation from Rust Belt to Emerald Belt, from red to green, that has occurred in the last half-century.

The Mon, as the river casually is called, now runs clean and green. It joins the south-flowing Allegheny River right in downtown Pittsburgh to form the great Ohio River. Steel City may be the heritage nickname, but Pittsburgh has come a long way, baby.

It has come so far that next week it will be the site of the most prestigious tournament in fishing, the Bassmaster Classic. The Classic’s owner, ESPN, will showcase the city and the three rivers — and their bass — for more than 15 hours of primetime telecasting through next Sunday night.

Forty-seven of the best professional bass fishing competitors in the world will duke it out, cast for cast, over three days in a frantic scramble to take home $200,000 cash for top gun, this out of a total purse of $700,000. The Pittsburgh area itself expects to profit from $29.1 million in spending directly related to this, the 35th Classic.

So this city — the greater metropolitan area numbers 2.4 million — and its fishing have made it to the big time. Even mayflies, a telltale indicator of good water quality, have returned to the once moribund river bottoms.

Whereas in 1955, a state fish survey found just 10 species of fish in the Ohio River in the Pittsburgh area, today there are 55 species in the same waters, including such ancient rarities as the paddlefish.

Whereas in 1955, only a sunfish ranked among the species not considered bottom-feeding “trash fish,” today the three rivers are home to the three principal species of black bass — smallmouth, largemouth, and Ken-tucky, or spotted, bass.

Some 100 miles of the three rivers — lock, stock, and dams — will form the playing field for this flashy, high-octane, NASCAR of professional fishing.

Come Friday morning early-early, screaming 250-HP outboards will slingshot glittering, metal-flaked, low-slung bass boats up and down 14.5 miles of the Allegheny, 41.5 miles of the Mon, and 31.7 miles of the Ohio. The search will be on, big-time, to find, lure, and land a daily limit of five bass, any combination, each at least a foot long — and, anglers hope, a lot longer.

Dozens of other go-fast boats will follow the 47 pros, spectator craft, camera and media boats, and the like. And alongside the tournament, the town is turning itself inside out and upside down with daily outdoor concerts, kids fishing derbies, the ESPN Outdoors Expo at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, fireworks, and more.

Bob Imperata, executive vice president of the Greater Pittsburgh Convention & Visitors Bureau, speaks at length and with pride about the city’s transformation and new image.

“It was a couple-year process that we went through,” Imperata said. “We had great support from a group of [local] Bassmasters.”

The area bass anglers, Imperata noted, included attorneys, physicians, business professionals and plenty of “the average angler.”

Still “we had to convince people that this [the Classic] was a high-end proposition.” Now, Pittsburgh may be the last northern city to host the Classic, based on a recent Bassmaster decision that may have its roots in tougher fishing and smaller-size winning limits in northern venues. That doesn’t play as well on magazine covers or televised, hoopla-hyped weigh-ins.

Two prior Classics on the Ohio River (Cincinnati, 1983, and Louisville, 1987) and one on Lake Michigan (Chicago, 2000) all featured low-weight showings. The big boys want to show off big bass. It’s that simple.

“It probably will never be north of the Mason-Dixon line again,” said Imperata. Nonetheless Pittsburgh has this Classic.

It attracted the Senior Olympics for 16 days in June, which gave the local economy a $35 million booster shot. Baseball’s All-Star Game at PNC Field, home of the Pirates, is coming next summer. In between — next weekend — is the Bassmaster Classic and an expected economic windfall of nearly $30 million. Nowadays, the flow of green is visitor dollars, not just the color of flow in much cleaner rivers.

“We are light-years ahead of where we were five years ago, or even 45, 50 years ago when we were producing steel,” summed Imperata about the new Pittsburgh.

It’s come a long way, baby.

Contact Steve Pollick at:
or 419-724-6068.


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