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Two Clarion teens vying to be Bassmaster champs

KITTANNING -- The temperatures are hot and the fishing action will be even hotter as youth from around the nation vie for a place in the Pennsylvania Junior Bassmasters Championship, held for the first time in Armstrong County at Riverfront Park.

Two Pennsylvania youth are among the 96 competitors hoping to haul record-weight bass out of the Allegheny River today. Chad Dolby, son of Gina and Joe Dolby, of Miola, will represent the state in the 15 to 18 year-old category and Adam Grube, son of Douglas Grube and Tammy Johnston of Rimersburg will represent the 11 to 14 age group. Both have previously won Pennsylvania bass fishing titles and both are members of the Clarion County Junior Bassmaster Club.

Despite his age, Grube has three years of competitive fishing under his belt and both boys qualified to compete in this year's Junior Bassmaster Tournament after qualifying in regional competition last year at Lake Champlain, Vt. Dolby said it is almost unheard of for two boys from the same club qualify for a national event.

Another competitor, Sterling Pfundheller of Phoenix Ariz. said that while "luck" plays an important role in professional bass fishing, the sport also takes a combination of patience, experience, skill and a lot of know-how.

"My dad, Jeff, started taking me fishing when I was 6 months old" he said. "We fish several lakes near Phoenix but our favorite is Lake Pleasant which covers about 20,000 acres. I guess I learned that the presentation of your lure must be right, then you have to learn to feel the strike in your hand and know just when to set the hook. That's something no book can teach you. No matter where you fish, bass hit hard and you have to be quick."

Like several of his fellow competitors, Pfunder hopes to compete as a professional on the bass circuit before he turns 22.

"You have to be the top in your state," he said, "before you can qualify to fish in a conference tournament, then if you qualify there you may go to a pro competition, but its all by invitation only to qualifiers. It's pretty tough."

Jon Puhalski II, of Winsted, Ct. said he was fishing with his father, Jon Sr., ever since he was old enough to hold a rod at age 2 or 3. The Puhalskis often fish Highland Lake near their hometown for smallmouth bass. Puhalski said he uses both bait casting and spinning outfits but bait-casting rigs are his favorite.

"I use them to fish jigs in weeds or heavy cover," he said. "It's not uncommon to lose about 100 lures a year in that type of fishing but you can get a lot of bass."

Puhalski said the largest bass he caught to date were a 7-pound 6-ounce largemouth and a whopping 8-pound small mouth. This is his second Junior Bassmaster competition. In 2004 he wrangled third place. Puhlaski plans to fish the pro-circuit while attending college to major in freshwater biology.

Riley Anthony, 16, of Boise Idaho, and Drew Forester, 15, of Kalispell, Mt. are also two of 12 returning champions fishing in this year's event. Last year, Riley placed 21st and Forester placed 17th in the Junior Bassmaster Tournament held at Lake Norman, N.C. Riley said he prefers crankbaits for catching large bass while Forester said he does best using plastic worms.

Today will tell the tale with a weigh-in held at 2:30 p.m. The competitor in each category having the greatest total weight of bass caught will be the grand champion. Caught fish will be released back into the river. Competition will be fierce but friendly and certainly a bit of luck will help too. The competitors interviewed said they are pleased with fishing conditions on the Allegheny River and the warm reception they received from the people of Armstrong County.

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