In 2015, fishing lost 300,000 participants, according to the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s 2016 Special Report on Fishing.1 But the report also showed that fishing remains America’s second-most popular outdoor sport. Another statistic might be even more telling: 38.7 percent of new fishing participants were ages six to 12, and 83 percent of adult fishing participants fished as children. The success of new youth competitive fishing programs supports that statistic, a trend that makes one thing clear: fishing’s future is looking bright.
The Geico Bassmaster Classic, America’s first televised fishing tournament, was the brainchild of Ray Scott, Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) founder, back in 1967. In the last five decades, as the sport has grown consistently, competition opportunities have expanded to various other types of game fish, as well as other anglers. Today, bass fishing is one of the fastest-growing college sports,2 and, in just the last few years, high school anglers have been able to get in the game, too.
In 2011, Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) the world’s largest tournament-fishing organization and The Bass Federation (TBF), the nation’s oldest broad-based grassroots fishing, youth and conservation organization, launched a state-championship series of High School Fishing events.
“Our high school program has really been taking off in the last few years,” says Scott Ellison, national youth director, FLW. “It’s an exciting opportunity to mentor the next generation and pass on that love of the outdoors. We’ve also noticed that, in the states that sanction fishing as a varsity sport, like Kentucky, a large percentage of the kids who get involved aren’t involved with a sport prior to that. We hear from so many parents that their kid is studying harder than ever to meet the GPA standards to be on their fishing team.”
High school fishing tournaments also open up a new world of opportunity for destinations.
“The neat thing is that we don’t need a huge body of water, so we can utilize fisheries that [FLW hasn’t] used before,” says Ellison. “The main things we look for are a place to launch the boats and plenty of parking.”
Lake Conroe in Conroe, Texas, is at the center of the fishing world right now as this year’s host of the Bassmaster Classic, also known as the Super Bowl of Fishing. The Bassmaster Classic is such a large event that it requires not just a fishing venue large enough to handle its event, but also a convention center and stadium venue that can accommodate the daily weigh-ins. For this year’s event, fishing is taking place on Conroe’s 22,000-acre reservoir lake (Lake Conroe), and then anglers travel into Houston with their catch for the weigh-in process.
Last November, Conroe was also home to the 2016 Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan, which brought 116 of the world’s top amateur anglers for a three-day competition.
Conroe also offers ample lodging and amenities, which is a good thing because Bassmaster events tend to draw more than just anglers and their families. “There are television crews, of course, but also there are fans who follow their favorite anglers,” says Harold Hutcheson, manager of the Conroe Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s not unusual for a competitor’s boat to have five or six other boats following it.”
Capital City/Lake Murray Country, South Carolina
This August, FLW returns again to Capital City/Lake Murray Country for the Forrest Wood Cup.
“This is the third time they’ve come to Lake Murray and only the second time the event has taken place on the same lake three times,” says Miriam Atria, president/CEO of the Capital City/Lake Murray Country Regional Tourism Board.
With an avid angler following, the Lake Murray area delivers a strong fan base and good attendance, and the area enjoys a sizable return on its investment. In 2014, the last time Lake Murray Country hosted the Forrest Wood Cup, the event generated a $26 million economic impact.
Jackson County, Alabama
At 69,000 acres, Lake Guntersville is Alabama’s largest lake, created when the Tennessee Valley Authority dammed portions of the Tennessee River in 1938. It was created to control flooding and provide low-cost hydroelectric power, but today, Lake Guntersville is famous for its bass fishing. Just after hosting the 2014 GEICO Bassmaster Classic, the lake was ranked the top bass lake in American by Fishhound.com.
This spring, the lake hosted the McDonald’s Big Bass Splash, an event that pays bigger cash prizes than most and donates a significant portion of proceeds to the Ronald McDonald House.
“This event draws around 1,500 anglers vying for $215,000 in cash and prizes, so not only is there the excitement of catching the big fish but also winning that kind of cash in one recreational weekend,” says J.P. Parsons, vice president of destination marketing, Jackson County Tourism. “So far, it’s raised over $65,000 for the Ronald McDonald house.”
The event also does its part to bring in fishing’s new generation.
“There’s a little anglers’ division, and they bring kids ages five through 12 in for a tournament at the same time,” says Parsons. “The kids can bring in any kind of fish, and they are treated just like an adult angler, brought up on stage for the weigh-in and everything.”
The only West Coast town to make Forbes.com’s list of ‘North America’s Top 10 Trout Fishing Towns,’ Redding offers the famous Sacramento River, as well as McCloud, Pit River, Hat Creek, Fall River, Manzanita Lake and Trinity River. As the nation’s second-sunniest city, Redding also offers a climate tailor-made for fishing most any day of the year.
Shasta Lake is a premier spotted bass destination and home to a stop on the 2016 Costa FLW Series Western Schedule. Average daily catch for winners ranges from 12 to 13 pounds, but all the anglers are, of course, aiming to beat the lake’s record stringer: an average of more than 16 pounds per day.
Shasta Lake, the largest manmade reservoir in California, offers over 360 miles of shoreline and attracts a roster full of bass tournaments throughout the year.
Anderson, South Carolina
For the third time in 2018, the Geico Bassmaster Classic will return to Anderson’s Lake Hartwell. Anderson is partnering once again with nearby Greenville, where the event’s expo and weigh-ins will be hosted.
In conjunction with that event, Anderson has also just announced that it will host the 2017 Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan, the amateur event that precedes the 2018 Bassmaster Classic.
“At the time we host next year, only two other bodies of water will have hosted more Classics than us, and we’re very excited to have the Bassmaster Classic back on Lake Hartwell,” says Neil Paul, executive director, Visit Anderson.
Bassmaster Classic organizers reported that the return to Lake Hartwell was inspired by the seamless nature of the event there, as well as high attendance: the 2015 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell was the third-most attended Classic ever, while also being the coldest Classic in the history of the event.
Obviously, Lake Hartwell is busy throughout the year with fishing organizations that want to host their tournaments on these storied waters. Visit Anderson works hard to be fair to all its anglers.
“One of the hardest parts of the job is finding the right balance between national and regional events while also maintaining loyalty to our community anglers and teams,” says Paul. “We try to give everyone a chance.”
Another possible future venue for the Bassmaster Classic, Dayton, Tennessee, is home to Lake Chickamauga, a 35,400 square-acre reservoir with 810 miles of shoreline that is setting new bass records all the time.
“We can handle almost any event in the bass fishing world that does not require a huge expo center,” says Dennis Tumlin, executive director, Rhea Economic and Tourism Council. “But we’re also exploring a partnership with Chattanooga, which is 35 miles away and has the large stadium-type venues.”
Event owners are drawn to the community’s legendary hospitality, but the real draw is this: big fish.
“There was a time when catching a 10-pound bass was the goal of every angler,” says Tumlin. “People would travel long distances to try to accomplish that. But our fishery recently broke a 64-year-old record with a 15-pound, three-once bass. Ten-pounders have become commonplace for our fishery.”
They accomplished this by cross-breeding Florida-strain bass with largemouth bass, creating a new breed that is capable of growing to larger sizes, particularly in the dense vegetation of Lake Chickamauga, which gives the smaller fish a safe and nutrient-rich habitat.
St. Cloud, Minnesota
Minnesota is the land of more than 10,000 lakes, all with their own claims to fishing fame, but St. Cloud Minnesota, is launching an effort to get the word out about another of the state’s best fishing waters: the mighty Mississippi.
“People often think of the river as dirty, and there’s a stigma, but that’s actually not true at all,” says Dana Randt, sports and special events manager, St. Cloud Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
This year, St. Cloud is hosting the Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener, an event that has been a tradition since 1948. This will be the first year, however, that the event will be held entirely on the Mississippi. Held on different parts of the river throughout the Greater St. Cloud area, including the communities of St. Cloud, Sartell and Sauk Rapids, the Fishing Opener gives participants the opportunity to fish three very different areas of the river, one shallow area best for kayak and canoe fishing, another area that includes rapids, and a northern area that is more like lake fishing.
“We have people who come and do all three parts and others who choose the section that suits their skills and equipment best,” says Randt. “We certainly hope this will showcase the kinds of fishing available on the Mississippi and bring more people to enjoy it.”
In a recent survey that asked travelers to list what they traveled to Wisconsin for, respondents listed things like scenic beauty and fall colors, but also very high among their reasons was the state’s fishing.
“We have 15,000 inland lakes and 42,000 miles of streams and rivers and a very strong natural resource plan to keep our lakes stocked with fish,” says Lisa Marshall, communications director, Wisconsin Department of Tourism. “We also have CVBs on the ground who have lots of experience with fishing tournaments and are willing to help with every aspect of onsite logistics.”
In fact, the state’s communities host hundreds of fishing tournaments throughout the year, including a number of Bassmaster events, along with sturgeon and musky tournaments. Boulder Junction, Wisconsin, is even the rightful owner of the title “Musky Capital of the World”—after a 20-year battle for the title with surrounding communities.
Fishing is a sport that continues all year-round, even in the coldest of states, where ice fishing is a proud tradition. But Florida, a.k.a. the Sunshine State, is another place anglers flock to get in their fishing fix during the winter months, and that’s why January is one of the busiest times in Lake County. Three major events come to town that month, including 1,520 participants, not to mention hundreds of staff, volunteers and media personnel.
“We hosted three major fishing events which included over 1,520 participants, over 100 different tournament staff members, 50 volunteers, dozens of television/radio/print media, etc.,” notes Adam Sumner of the Lake County Board of County Commissioners. “Those three events had millions of social media impressions. One event had over 2.3 million social media impressions in three days alone.”
Like fishing all over America, it’s good fun and a good investment. Those three events in Lake County generated $2.3 million in economic impact. Not a bad day at the office. SDM
1 https://www.takemefishing.org/get media/ c0ce6131-c281-4e85-80d3fff7fcc489e7/2016 _SpecialReportOnFishing_FINAL.pdf
2 https://gearpatrol.com/2016/11/17/why-bass- fishing-is-one-of-americas-fastest-growing-college-sports/