SANDUSKY, Ohio – By more than 7 pounds, Joe Balog of Harrison Township, Mich., outpaced the 82-angler field in the CITGO Bassmaster Northern Tour on Saturday for his first BASS victory.

The first-day leader, Balog sealed the win with his Saturday catch of four Lake Erie smallmouth bass that tipped the scales at 17 pounds, 4 ounces, and gave him a tournament total of 41 pounds. He won $17,100 in cash and a Triton boat rig with Mercury outboard worth $45,000.

After a phenomenal day on Thursday with a catch of 23-12, Balog built a lead of about 8 pounds. Then, due to unsafe weather conditions, Friday’s competition was canceled, and Balog went up against a full field Saturday.

He said he went back to the same location he fished on Day 1, but found the fishing conditions to be much more difficult. He had only six bites Saturday and lost a 4-pound smallmouth. He worked an isolated reef, keying in on six different rockpiles 28 to 32 feet deep, with a drop-shot rig and a variety of soft baits, including a 4-inch green-pumpkin Berkley Gulp! Minnow Worm.

“I had the advantage in that I fish here a lot,” said the 32-year-old, who estimated he has fished more than 100 tournaments on Lake Erie and emphasized his success on Thursday as key to his win. “It wasn’t a matter of fishing on Thursday, it was a matter of getting there (to my location). To win I needed to do that.” High winds on Thursday roughed up Lake Erie, but Balog made a run to a spot near the Canadian border.

Balog’s previous best BASS finish was 43rd-place in the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Northern Open on Lake Erie. He dedicated his win to his late stepmother, Michelle. “I appreciate all of my family who came out here to support me today,” he said. “I finally closed the door and got one done.”

CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series pro Jami Fralick, 31, of Martin, S.D., moved up from fifth place to finish in second, thanks to his Saturday catch of 20 pounds, 10 ounces. His total tournament weight was 33-8. Fralick said that on Thursday he concentrated on largemouth bass with a shallow crankbait, but with calm conditions on Saturday, he chose to fish the main lake for smallmouth.

In third place was Derek Remitz of Hemphill, Texas, with 31-5, whose finish moved him to first in the points standings. In fourth was Steven Clapper of Lima, Ohio, with 29-13. Rounding out the top five was Bryan Coates of Amherst, Ohio, with 28-5.

In the co-angler division, the top prize of a Triton boat package valued at $30,000 was won by first-day leader Mark Harcharik of Cleveland, Ohio, with a total weight of 21-3. A purchasing agent for North Bay Construction in West Lake, Ohio, Harcharik credited his win to the two pros with whom he was randomly paired: Balog on Thursday and on Saturday, Elite Series pro Paul Hirosky, winner of the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Northern Open on Lake Erie.

“I couldn’t have had a better draw,” said the 51-year-old. “Being paired with those two guys was big.”

The co-angler who finished in second place was Ashley Hayes of Rockvale, Tenn., whose total was 18-15. He was followed by Phillip Justus of Batavia, N.Y., with 18-3; Michael Sills of Oakland, Maine, with 17-15; and Stephen Weising of Marblehead, Ohio, with 14-8.

Saturday’s Purolator Big Bass honors in the co-angler division went to Dennis Staley of Tillsonburg, Ontario, for his 5-13 fish, which was also the Purolator Big Bass of the Tournament, making his one fish worth a $1,400 bonus — $400 for being Saturday’s big bass, plus $1,000 for being the largest fish of the event. Bryan Coates of Amherst, Ohio, won Saturday’s Purolator Big Bass pro-division bonus of $1,000 with his 5-pound, 7-ounce fish.

CITGO Bassmaster Northern Tour anglers are competing in a five-event 2006 season; the Lake Erie tournament was the fourth. Pros have been building points all season to earn one of three CITGO Bassmaster Classic berths and eligibility to move up to the next level of competition, the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series. Anglers have one more chance to pad their points: the season finale, Oct. 26-28 on Smith Mountain Lake in Moneta, Va.

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CITGO Bassmaster Northern Tour Stop #4
Lake Erie
Sandusky, Ohio
Oct. 5-7

82 pros, 82 co-anglers

Day 3 Purolator Big Bass
Pro: Bryan Coates, Amherst, Ohio, 5-7
Co-Angler: Dennis Staley, Tillsonburg, Ontario, 5-13

Purolator Big Bass of Tournament
Dennis Staley, Tillsonburg, Ontario, 5-13