Sportfishing is one of the largest outdoor recreational activities in America as well as one of the most solid industries in the country. More than 49 million anglers generate more than $45 billion in retail sales with a $125 billion impact on the nation’s economy, creating employment for more than 1 million people, according to the American Sportfishing Association.
Tony Forte, Secretary of the U.S. Angling Confederation, noted that there are currently about 50 million licensed anglers in the U.S., which is a slight uptick from 2017. He also pointed out that in the past, about 70 percent of anglers were male but these days, more women have become involved in the sport and account for about 45 percent of participants. “When it comes to competitive fishing, there is no gender advantage, which adds to the sport’s appeal,” he said. “There’s a huge trend toward competition, and that side of the sport is exploding. Structured bass fishing tournaments have blossomed.”
With such strong participation and economic numbers, it’s no surprise that many sportfishing destinations are, financially speaking, casting lots of bread upon the water in an effort to lure competitive events. And whether tournaments play out from the shoreline or the surf, aboard bass boats or kayaks, through the ice or on the ocean, there are communities ready to host them. Here are just a few.
Branson/Lakes Area, Missouri
The Branson/Lakes Area’s three lakes — Table Rock, Bull Shoals and Taneycomo — together feature more than 1,000 miles of shoreline. Table Rock Lake provides world-class fishing with largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, and this May will host the 2019 MLF Bass Pro Tour’s Stage Six event.
Bull Shoals Lake, also renowned for tournament bass fishing, hosts the Big Bass Tour, the Bassmasters Open and Elite tournaments, the Costa FLW Series and Major League Fishing. Over at Lake Taneycomo, anglers go after rainbow and brown trout.
“Key seasons for the area’s fishing events go from March through May, and September through October, although the angling is good year-round. Most participants in the tournaments our organization sponsors come from outside our area,” said Terra Alphonso, Director of Sports Marketing and Development, Branson/Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Final weigh-ins are hosted at the Branson Landing in front of the fountains, at the Branson Convention Center or at a Branson theater. The region offers 20,179 hotel rooms, more than 24 campgrounds/RV parks, and 200-plus restaurants.
Capital City/Lake Murray Country, South Carolina
Lake Murray, a man-made reservoir for the Dreher Shoals Dam (commonly known as the Lake Murray Dam), lies in parts of four counties: Richland, Lexington, Newberry and Saluda. The lake covers approximately 50,000 acres and 650 miles of shoreline and is one of the most productive in the Southeast for largemouth and striped bass. Crappie and catfish can also be found.
Tournaments are hosted frequently and have included the Forrest Wood Cup at Lake Murray. In 2017, that contest resulted in a $30 million impact on the region. Weigh-ins are often held in the Colonial Life Arena located on the University of South Carolina campus in Columbia. In keeping with its mission to attract major tournaments and serious anglers, the destination is the title sponsor of the 2017-2020 USA Bass teams and will host the World Bass fishing championships, being held in America for the first time in 2020.
“The participants come from all over, will bring their families, and will often come a week prior to an event to scope out fishing spots,” said Jayne Baker, VP of Marketing, Capital City/Lake Murray County Regional Tourism Board. “There’s a state park [Dreher Island State Park] on the lake and we hold a lot of fishing tournaments there, including weigh-ins.” The lake has more than 24 public access areas, and Lake Murray Dam also provides boat launches and recreational activities. The region has 12,000 hotel rooms plus cabins, campsites and rental villas.
Located on the shores of the southernmost of the Great Lakes, Erie is best known for its bass, walleye and steelhead species, and is also popular for perch and trout. Lake Erie and Presque Isle Bay are consistently ranked one of the top bass fisheries in the country.
“Presque Isle State Park juts out into Lake Erie and forms Presque Isle Bay. Because the bay is protected but provides direct access to Lake Erie, Erie remains a popular destination for fishing competition, as it gives anglers and tournament organizers options in the event that weather drives poor conditions on Lake Erie,” explained Mark Jeanneret, Executive Director, Erie Sports Commission.
Erie’s venues and easy accessibility among cities in the Northeast make it a big fishing magnet. Erie has previously hosted B.A.S.S. Nation divisional events as well as tournaments with American Bass Anglers, The Bass Federation, Fishers of Men, Pennsylvania B.A.S.S. Nation and the Keystone Bass Buddy Circuit. Awards and weigh-ins are usually held near the water, but off-site ceremonies, such as at local fishing-related retailers, are always an option. Regional and national kayak bass fishing tournaments such as Kayak Bass Fishing and Kayak Bass Anglers also figure into the equation.
“We see kayak fishing as a great growth opportunity for competitive fishing, particularly as the numbers of participants continue to trend upward,” said Jeanneret.
The destination provides several launch areas with ample parking and multiple ramps. Steelhead run in the tributaries in spring and fall, and Presque Isle State Park offers ice fishing in the winter. Erie has more than 4,500 hotel rooms to accommodate participants.
Grenada Lake, Mississippi
Located halfway between Memphis, Tennessee, and Jackson, Mississippi, Grenada Lake has been nationally designated as the best crappie fishing in the U.S., “home to the three-pound crappie,” and is the largest inland body of water in Mississippi, boasting 36,000 acres and 15 boat ramps. The destination hosts eight to 10 tournaments annually, and this year will showcase the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters National Championship in September, complete with national TV coverage.
While 80 percent of anglers come for the crappie, the lake is also home to bass, bream and catfish. Gary Worsham, Executive Director, Grenada Tourism Commission, reported that tourism and sales tax numbers have set records over the past two years.
“We’ve seen a 7.5 percent rise over the past year [2017 to 2018] and we’re projecting a 14 percent increase or greater for 2019,” he said. For example, a tournament last summer had 122 teams, resulting in $241,308 of expenditures and an economic impact of $603,270, equating to 604 nights spent in Grenada over a weekend. “We’re currently in discussions to attract other crappie tournaments and would also like to bring in some bass tournaments,” Worsham added.
The area offers about 550 hotel rooms plus cabins, B&Bs and a state-of-the-art campground.
Gulf Shores & Orange Beach, Alabama
Positioned on the northern Gulf of Mexico, Gulf Shores & Orange Beach offers shoreline and pier angling as well as inshore and offshore fishing. Venues include the Gulf of Mexico, back bays in Orange Beach, the Intracoastal Waterway, Little Lagoon in Gulf Shores, freshwater lakes (primarily Lake Shelby) in Gulf State Park, and Gulf State Park Fishing and Education Pier. The city of Orange Beach is known as “the red snapper capital of the world,” and grouper, redfish and pompano are also popular. The destination provides 14 marinas, more than 17,000 rooms and 200-plus restaurants.
“We host a large number of fishing tournaments throughout the year and are always looking to add more or expand existing events,” said Michelle Russ, Director of Sales for the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Sports Commission.
The current roster includes the Orange Beach Billfish Classic, Flora-Bama Fishing Rodeo, Blue Marlin Grand Championship of the Gulf, and Mobile Big Game Fishing Club Tournaments. New this year is the Alabama Gulf Coast Slam Fishing Tournament. Awards and weigh-ins typically occur at the specific marina used by a tournament.
“These big tournaments take place in the spring and summer, but fall is also a good time to fish due to warm temperatures and many species in season,” Russ added.
Jefferson County, Tennessee
Nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee, Jefferson County includes both Douglas and Cherokee Lakes. Fish species include largemouth, smallmouth and striped bass, crappie, sauger, walleye and catfish.
Douglas Lake has been rated among the top 10 in the U.S. for both largemouth bass and crappie fishing. High-profile tournaments include the Bassmaster Elite Series, Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open, a number of regional tournaments, and the Tennessee B.A.S.S. Nation High School Championship. The new Dandridge Dock facility has expanded Dandridge’s ability to host tournaments year-round; in fact, the combined revenue from fishing events at the Dandridge Dock and Douglas Lake between September 2017 and September 2018 was approximately $2.9 million.
Cherokee Lake covers 30,300 acres at full pool, is 59 miles long and has 463 miles of shoreline. This year, it is hosting the FLW Tour as well as the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series. “Right now, we’re looking to consolidate and go after larger national tournaments,” said Lauren Hurdle, Director of Tourism, Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve also partnered with a local bass youth club and would be interested in exploring women’s-only events.”
The fishing season lasts from late March to early June and from mid-September to mid-November, and a combined total of 12 to 13 tournaments are held on the two lakes every year. Over the past five years, fishing events have drawn about 25,000 participants resulting in an approximate $3 million annual economic impact. Lodging includes approximately 420 hotel rooms plus cabins, B&Bs, RV parks and short-term rentals.
Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania
The Laurel Highlands span 3,000 square miles of Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and is within 200 miles of Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland and Washington, DC.
Trout fishing is the major draw, and eight state parks and two state forests provide a plethora of streams, creeks, rivers and lakes. Those streams, creeks, rivers and lakes come into play for competitive fishing events; Kayak Anglers hosts multiple tournaments on various tributaries throughout the season. The destination also does much to groom the next generation of anglers, hosting fishing derbies and clinics.
The region’s two top destinations, Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Seven Springs Mountain Resort, specialize in fishing workshops and guided fishing tours. The Laurel Highlands Trout Trail, a 70-mile expanse packed with fly fishing streams, state parks and forests, is also a key attraction. Approximately 5,000 rooms are available.
“We’re a four-season destination and we have activities that will appeal to anyone and everyone,” said Anna Weltz, Director of Public Relations, Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.
The Sebring area in South Central Florida is dotted with about 100 lakes and is known for tournament as well as recreational fishing. One standout is the 28,000-acre Lake Istokpoga (the fifth-largest lake in Florida), which Bassmasters named one of the best lakes in the Southeast for 10-plus-pound trophy bass.
“Other popular fish species include speckled perch, warmouth, shellcracker and crappie. The fishing is good year-round, with peak times from November to April,” said Casey Wohl, owner of Sebring-based Gray Dog Communications.
Various tournaments held in the area have included a stop on the Xtreme Bass Series and another put on by Bassmaster Florida High School Fishing. The lake has four public and additional private launch ramps. Event owners will find plenty of other amenities, including about 1,000 hotel rooms. SDM
Your West Coast Fishing Destination
Redding, California located in the northern part of the state and bisected by the Sacramento River, is known as one of the best fisheries in the United States and the center of some of the best fly-fishing in the region.
The trout waters of the Lower and Upper Sacramento River make Redding the only West Coast city on Forbes.com’s list of “North America’s Top 10 Trout Fishing Towns.” Other fishing venues include McCloud, Pit River, Hat Creek, Fall River, Manzanita Lake and Trinity River.
Shasta Lake is a premier spotted bass destination and home to a stop on the 2016 Costa FLW Series Western Schedule as well as a roster of bass tournaments throughout the year.
Redding is the second-sunniest city in the country with 300 days of sunshine annually. Combined with 2,500 hotel rooms to meet any budget, a variety of restaurant choices, attractions and activities, all within a 10-minute drive, it’s a desirable host for any fishing event.
Fish Lake Hickory, North Carolina, and Reel in a Great Adventure
Lake Hickory and the Catawba River Basin play host to many water sports throughout the year but are home to some of the best bass fishing, fly fishing and cat fishing in North Carolina and the East Coast.
Never heard of Hickory? That’s okay! We are located in the foothills of the North Carolina mountains along Interstate 40, so we are easy to get to. Our fishing is one of our best-kept secrets, but word is catching on! We have become known for great fishing as we host tournaments on local, state and national levels – events like “Fishing University,” The Lady Bass Anglers Association pro tour and more.
Off the water, hang out with locals and visitors at our favorite spots like The Olde Hickory Tap Room and more. Festivals, live music and great restaurants are just the start. Visit www.visithickorymetro.com for more information on Lake Hickory and start planning your visit.