Americans, it would appear, are rediscovering sport fishing. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s 2016 National Survey of Hunting, Fishing and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, participation is up nearly 20 percent in the last 10 years, and at its highest number since 1991. The Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF) has tracked similar growth, and notes that it comes from some less traditional demographics.
“We saw a 20 percent jump in newcomers in 2017, with three million people giving fishing a try for the first time,” said Frank Peterson, president and CEO of the RBFF. “Forty-five percent of new fishing participants are female and 42 percent are ages six to 12. Youth participation for ages six to 17 is up eight percent over the last two years to 11.6 million, and Hispanic participation is up more than 20 percent over the last two years to 4.2 million.”
The goal of the RBFF, according to Peterson, is to recruit new audiences. The group’s Take Me Fishing and Vamos a Pescar campaigns were designed to attract more young people and Hispanic Americans to fishing and encourage ongoing participation.
“One issue with a lot of the fishing events today is they’re one-day events where kids are dropped off and there’s no follow up or nurturing to ensure these kids and their families continue their fishing journey,” said Peterson.
Nationwide, a number of regions around the country are actively encouraging ongoing participation by hosting regular angling events for both adults and youth. Following are some highlights.
Anderson, South Carolina
Lake Hartwell has played host three times to the Bassmaster Classic, or the “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing,” most recently in 2018. The region has hosted numerous other events by the Fishing League Worldwide (FLW), B.A.S.S. and American Bass Anglers as well as local and youth tournaments. In 2017, a B.A.S.S. event attracted 118 elite anglers from 47 states and eight countries. Neil Paul of the Anderson CVB said the region has hosted youth events with 900 participants.
“In 2014, we opened the Green Pond Landing and Events Center,” he said. “It’s a 30-acre launch facility built to host large tournaments. It has 5,500 feet of dock space and 200 truck and trailer spaces for parking. When it’s complete this summer, it will have a full-service restroom.”
The facility, seven miles from downtown, is central to four campgrounds and 1,800 hotel rooms. It’s close to restaurants and shopping, and three miles from I-85. The site is two hours from both Charlotte and Atlanta. The Anderson CVB, which acts as its own housing bureau, can muster its volunteer base, according to Paul.
“We have golf cart shuttles, event staff for parking security and traffic control and welcome packages,” he said. “We realize we’re not the only lake around. The way we differentiate ourselves is the experience of how you’re treated when you’re here. We feel like if we do a good job, you’ll come back.”
Branson lies 40 miles south of Springfield in the Ozark Mountains, and its location means it’s less than a one-day drive for one-third of the country. Each year, Table Rock Lake, Lake Taneycomo and Bull Shoals Lake host a number of fishing tournaments, including FLW’s Costa Series, Bass Pro Shops’ Central Open and part of the Big Bass Tour, which attracted 867 anglers this year. The area also hosts a number of youth tournaments, including one sponsored by the National Youth Fishing Association and the Cops for Kids Tournament.
The largest event, the Big Bass Tour, takes place on Table Rock Lake and launches from the State Park Marina. Table Rock State Park hosts daily weigh-ins during the event, but the final weigh-in is held at Branson Landing, a shopping, dining and entertainment venue in downtown Branson.
Because of the region’s reputation as a vacation destination, there are over 20,000 lodging units in the two-county area, as well as a variety of campgrounds and RV parks. In addition to fishing, the region offers golf, amusement parks, museums and a winery. Its location in the Ozarks makes it ideal for outdoor pursuits.
Branson’s CVB is experienced in event planning and can provide a variety of services to tournament organizers, according to Terra Alphonso, director of sports marketing and development for the Branson/Lakes Area CVB.
“We can do event promotion, volunteer recruitment, welcome tables and welcome backpacks with vacation guides and discounts from area businesses,” she said.
Lake Pickwick, Wilson Lake and Wheeler Lake on the Tennessee River near Florence host a variety of fishing events that together draw about 10,000 people each year. Events include the Association of Collegiate Anglers and the Cabela’s Collegiate Bass Fishing Series, the Bassmaster College Series, the 2017 High School Fishing World Finals and the 2017 National Championship, the FLW’s Bass Fishing League (BFL) All-American and the FLW Elite Series.
The Shoals area, as it’s called, is accessible via Highway 72 East from Memphis and Highway 72 West from Huntsville. It features 1,600 hotel rooms and a vibrant downtown area. According to Suzie Shoemaker of Florence/Lauderdale Tourism, the region maintains boat ramps and other facilities for anglers. For after hours, there is plenty to do in Florence.
“Downtown Florence is a vibrant, exciting area with locally owned restaurants and shops,” said Shoemaker. “We have a rich music history and Native American history is a large part of our community.”
Florence/Lauderdale Tourism provides event planners with welcome packages and housing assistance and a free, user-friendly app for visitors updated weekly.
“Our biggest asset here in Hall County is Lake Lanier, which attracts 11 million visitors annually,” said Regina Mansfield Dyer, CVB manager for Gainesville. “At full pull, it’s over 650 miles of shoreline. Our CVB alone hosts six tournaments a year and there are lots of local tournaments.”
The largest event is the FLW Professional Bass Tournament, which attracted 184 anglers to the lake. There are also high school tournaments drawing 600 participants. The Gainesville City Council keeps ideal facilities for angler and offers the Gainesville Civic Center for indoor events.
“We have a lot of great ramps, including a mega-ramp that supports five boats at a time,” said Mansfield Dyer. “We also have good parking and about 900 hotel rooms in Gainesville alone and restaurants from white tablecloth to diners as well as meeting and event facilities.”
During the off-hours, there is the Northeast Georgia History Center, a branch of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, and Lake Lanier Olympic Park, used for rowing events at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. There are walking and biking trails, a winery, several breweries and a farmer’s market in the summer.
“We’re very accommodating for anglers and their families,” said Mansfield Dyer. “It’s such an inclusive sport: anybody can fish. We want them to have a great time here and we want them to come back.”
Harford County, Maryland
Bel Air in Harford County is a small town, but the region is close to both Baltimore and Washington, D.C. It’s also partial to fishing: Harford County has an active B.A.S.S organization that hosts events. This year, the region will host 111 of the world’s top anglers in the Bassmaster Elite series.
“We’re expecting over 20,000 people to attend the four-day event,” said Greg Pizzuto of Visit Harford! “The tournament encompasses all of the upper part of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.”
The county has 2,800 hotel rooms and free boat launches provisioned by Harford County Parks and Recreation. Flying Point Park in Edgewood is the launch point for the Bassmaster Elite tournament and the location for weigh-ins for the first two days.
Final weigh-ins take place at Ripken Stadium together with a family fun festival. Outside of fishing, there are cultural activities including museums, historic waterfront communities, dining and shopping. Visit Harford! provides event planners with most services they require.
“We offer event planning, welcome packages, hotel contact and restaurant information and our Destination Harford App,” said Pizzuto. “We try to be a full service, one-stop shop.”
Jefferson County, Tennessee
Jefferson County is home to two lakes: Douglas and Cherokee. Last year, Cherokee Lake hosted the Bassmaster Elite and the Bassmaster College Series. For five years, Douglas Lake has been used for the Bassmaster Opens and the 2018 Bass Pro Shops Eastern Open. The lakes also host smaller events, including a national high school bass tournament. Turnout is robust, according to Lauren Hurdle of the Jefferson County Economic Development Alliance.
“For most of our larger tournaments, we get an average of 350 anglers competing and about 500 spectators” she said. “The Big Bass tournament is a one-day event and we’ve had 680 anglers in the past.”
The region offers its Field of Dreams Activity Center in Dandridge for registration and dinners and Dandridge features a variety of restaurants, walking and biking trails and horseback stables. (Larger amenities such as Dollywood are not far.) There are four hotels near the interstate intersection (where I-40, I-75 and I-80 meet) with approximately 60 rooms and nine hotels across the county. The dock area is newly expanded, according to Dandridge Town Administrator Melissa Peagler.
“We used a grant from the state and money from hotel occupancy fees to build a new $575,000 dock,” she said. “It has 20 slips with water year-round, which allowed us to expand our fishing season and our timeframe for tournaments. In the summer, the dock holds 75 boats.”
Lake Charles, Louisiana
Lake Charles is a brackish lake on the Calcasieu River and the name of the fifth-largest city in Louisiana. The lake and the city have hosted about 1,000 anglers at the Salty Catch Fishing Rodeo since 2015 at the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino. Lake Charles County also hosts a Family Fishing Festival at the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge.
“Calcasieu Lake, or ‘Big Lake,’ is located between the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Charles,” said William Precht of the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana CVB. “It’s a renowned fishing destination as it’s linked by the Calcasieu Ship Channel, which connects Lake Charles to the North and the Gulf of Mexico to the South. The salt and brackish waterways provide an abundance of opportunities for anglers.”
The region has 7,649 hotel rooms and is accessible through I-10. Southwest Louisiana offers outdoor activities such as the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, a byway for hikers, boaters, crabbers and nature photographers.
The local CVB can arrange housing, welcomes by elected officials, event appearances by Gumbeaux Gator (Southwest Louisiana’s goodwill ambassador), welcome letters, press releases and free smartphone apps.
Lake County, California
Lake County, California’s Clear Lake has been called the number-one bass lake in the nation by several fishing publications.
“We have over 20 bass tournaments on our schedule and expect another five or 10 to be added,” said Michelle Scully, deputy CAO for economic development at Lake County. “We’ve already scheduled some large tournaments including those organized by WON Bass, Wild West Bass, FLW, B.A.S.S. and the American Bass Association, and they’ll attract anglers from all over the country. The large tournaments attract between 75 and 150 boats, with two anglers per boat.”
Clear Lake offers multiple public access docks, with weighs-ins held on the back patio of the Konocti Vista Casino Resort, which features one of the best boat ramps in the county, according to Scully. The immediate region around Clear Lake has approximately 440 hotel rooms and other lodging, including camping and vacation rentals, as well as outdoor activities. Clear Lake is two hours from the Golden Gate Bridge and 45 minutes from Santa Rosa. Napa Valley is 20 minutes away.
The County of Lake California CVB, the Konocti Vista Casino Resort and Marina and the Lake County Chamber of Commerce offer event planners a variety of services related to housing, event operations, family attractions, dining and marketing. SDM