Though unfamiliar with Onondaga Lake, Peter Thliveros took a ride around the waters just before the start of this week's Bassmaster Memorial, hoping the information he gathered would pay off in a successful defense of the title he won a year ago.
Come Sunday night, the payoff arrived -- to the tune of $250,000.
By a scant two ounces, Thliveros held off Steve Kennedy to claim the title of one of the year's three major championships on the B.A.S.S. Elite Series Tour.
Cool and collected all week long, the angler known as "Peter T" to fans and colleagues let his emotions out when Saturday leader Dave Wolak's total came up short, sealing the victory.
Thilveros hugged his son, Nick, who was in town for the tournament, then got on the cell phone to call home to his wife, and started to cry.
He said that he was dedicating the victory to his nephew, Wesley Sparks, who died at the age of 23 in a car accident in Alabama last month.
"I've got to believe he (Wesley) was with us today," said Thilveros.
That it proved to be so close was little surprise. All tournament long, the margin among the competitors was tight. On Friday night, Jeff Kriet made the 12-man cut by a single ounce over Kelly Jordon.
Remaining calm and steady, Thliveros put himself on position Saturday with a big haul of 20 pounds 13 ounces, putting him in second place, 19 ounces behind Wolak, with one day to go.
As they had done all week, anglers had no trouble finding a five-bass limit on the abundant waters of Onondaga Lake. To a man, they all praised the facility, saying that Central New Yorkers were fortunate to have such an abundant fishery close at hand.
Still, Wolak could not replicate the magic of his 22-pound Saturday haul, managing just 13 pounds 15 ounces on Sunday to fall to fifth place. He finished just ahead of Jared Lintner, whose sixth-place effort was mitigated by the fact that his wife was due to have a baby at any moment.