Pandemic leads Venezuelan anglers to Hartwell for Bassmaster Open


ANDERSON - When Venezuelan anglers Daniel Vaidis and Mauricio Marciales found their travel plans hugely impacted by COVID-19 travel restrictions, they decided that fate had delivered a dream opportunity - one that brought them from Miami, Florida, to Anderson.

Hailing from Caracas and San Cristobal, respectively, Vaidis and Marciales had taken a planned vacation to visit their families in South Florida shortly before the pandemic closed Venezuelan re-entry. Fortunately, they were able to stay with relatives, and filling their downtime eventually led them to a grand idea.

"We were stuck in Florida, so I bought a canoe and we started bass fishing," Vaidis said. "We had always seen Bassmaster Magazine and were big fans of the tournaments. We dreamed of one day going to a Bassmaster tournament.

"One day we were talking, and Mauricio told me, 'I really want to compete in one of those tournaments.' So I said, 'Okay, let me check it out, and I'll find out if we can go.'"

Contacting B.A.S.S., Vaidis found there was space available in the Bassmaster Eastern Open on Lake Hartwell. Recognizing their opportunity, the anglers decided to seize the day.

"B.A.S.S. was very helpful, so we said, 'Why not?'" Vaidis said. "Hopefully, this will not be the last time.

"We signed up for the tournament, got the confirmation and drove 12 hours from Miami to South Carolina. None of us have ever been to this part of the United States, but we're having fun. It's a nice area with really nice people."

Both members of La Asociaci n Venezolana de Pesca de Pav n (the Association of Venezuelan Peacock Bass Fishermen), Vaidis and Marciales have tasted victory in their homeland, but Hartwell's deep, clear waters and spotted bass presented a new challenge.

"We have some lakes (in Venezuela) that are similar, but the peacock bass (actually a cichlid) behave differently," Vaidis said. "Also, we don't use the drop shot. Sometimes here, you find fish at 70-80 feet of water, but we don't fish (for peacock bass) that deep."

AVPP events field three-angler teams, so the U.S. tournament format will also present a new experience. With their boats back home in Venezuela, Vaidis and Marciales registered as co-anglers. Linking up with pro anglers Jerry Gallogly and Bassmaster Elite Series pro Brandon Palaniuk provided an opportunity to see the lake and pick up relevant tactics.

"Fishing offshore has been very challenging, but we have been learning as we go," Vaidis said. "With the fishing here, there is a lot of electronics involved. We do use electronics, but not these advanced electronics that you have. It's unbelievable."

Venezuela is often referred to as La Tierra de Gracia (the Land of Grace), a phrase Columbus used to describe the stunning natural splendor. Hopefully, Lake Hartwell treats these visiting anglers graciously, but Daniel Vaidis and Mauricio Marciales are no strangers to fierce competition.

"For us, we're going to give 100%," Vaidis said. "The first mission is to catch the first fish. Then we'll go for the second one, then we'll go for the third. One fish at a time.

"Just like our AVPP tournaments, it just takes one cast. It might be your last cast of the tournament, but it can change everything. Here, the fish are in schools, so you could go to your last point in the last half hour and find a school of fish, your day will change completely. So we need to fish to the last minute like it was the first minute."

Competition at Hartwell ran Sept. 23-25.