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Gusciora casting self into pro fishing role

November 09, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

Ben Gusciora is telling a different kind of fish story.

Instead of lamenting about the big one that got away, Gusciora has the good fortune to be able to cast a few lines about the ones he is destined to catch.

It's not bravado. You can call it "bass-vado."

Gusciora, 33, has room to talk without being cocky. He is on the verge of turning what had been a passionate hobby of fishing into the possibility of a lucrative profession when he competes in the 2003 Citgo Bassmaster Open Championship on Toledo Bend Reservoir in Many, La.

"I aspire to fish for a living," said Gusciora, a salesman for Hagerstown Ford, which also sponsors him. "Who doesn't want to get paid for something they love doing ... especially when it's a hobby. It's not what my boss, Rick Kelly, wants to hear, but he supports me. A lot of people give up on their dreams ... Then why do it."

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It's a hobby that changed from dramatically wading near the bank to jumping feet first into the deep end. Gusciora showed a natural talent for the technical side of the sport and used his thirst for knowledge and improvement to work his way up fishing's food chain. In two short years of tournament fishing, Gusciora is casting his way into the ultimate of proving ponds so far.

The Bassmaster Open is a three-day tournament which will be held Dec. 4-6 on the Texas-Louisiana state line, with the top 160 anglers on the tour - the top 20 pros and top 20 amateurs from each of the four regions - in the field. The event will be televised on ESPN2.

Anglers will be eliminated through the first two days, whittling the field to the final six on the last day in the categories of boaters and non-boaters.

The Williamsport resident finished third in the amateur standings with 469 points, just seven less than leader Ken Brodeur of Connecticut. The points are awarded for the weights of a string of fish - bass only.

For Gusciora, who plans to turn pro next season, finishing in the top five would mean $6,000 in prize money - $3,000 in cash and $3,000 in free entry fees for all fishing tournaments in 2004.

"It's the championship for professionals and amateurs," Gusciora said. "I need to make more money and need to get a bigger boat. My consistency will pay off in the end. If I can go out and fish every day and do well, it will all work out for me."

Gusciora's improvement goes upstream against most logic, but like a guy who can pitch left-handed, he has a natural talent for the sport.

Gusciora has been fishing for 15 years, but the last five have been steady involvement.

"I watched those guys on TV. The pros were catching 10-15 pounds of fish a day," Gusciora said. "I said to myself, 'I could do that. I do that all the time.' That got me going."

The final push came from his now-wife Shawn, who convinced Gusciora to take a shot at his dream.

"We were fishing under the I-81 bridge in our first week of dating," Gusciora said. "She saw how well I was doing and told me to go join a club."

Gusciora took his shot and joined the Antietam Bassmasters - one of hundreds of local clubs across the country, including many in Maryland, to be a BASS federation member - in September 2001. He joined to learn all he could about the craft of angling, but something clicked.

"I was doing it for fun. I wanted the guys to teach me," Gusciora said. "I never expected this."

In February 2002, Gusciora bought a small boat. By April 2003, Gusciora was the top angler in the state.

Gusciora won Angler of the Year in his first year with the Antietam club and won Mr. Bass (most points) and Angler of the Year (most weight caught) in 2003, which gives him the opportunity to tryout for the Maryland state Bassmasters team.

Bass tournaments generally consist of eight hours on the water for traveling and fishing. Anglers are required to catch a string - five bass, large-mouth, small-mouth or spotted - to accumulate the most weight. All fish must be kept alive. Any fish, other than bass, are released because they can't be used as part of the string. Points are awarded by the anglers placing. Most tournaments allow 200 anglers, so if a fisherman finishes first, he receives 200 points, second gets 199 and so on.

Whatever the club anglers were teaching Gusciora, he learned well.

Gusciora took his natural feel for what is a more technical sport than is perceived and blended in the lessons from his club mates to quickly improve his position in fishing circles.

"The biggest thing is preparation," Gusciora said. "You only have eight hours on the water and four or five of that goes to fishing, so timing is important. You can't lose time by fumbling around in your tackle box."

But there are other technical factors which are almost instinctual to Gusciora.

Successful anglers can factor in difference nuances which can change how they attack a body of water, like seasons, changes in water temperature and the barometer, water color, depth finder readings and the different lures. And maybe more importantly, the trust of gut feelings.

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