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Fishing Destinations That Can Reel in Big Returns
May 12, 2021 | By: Judy Leand

Lake County, Florida Photo courtesy of MLF BIG5
Fishing is one of the top outdoor recreational activities in the U.S., with 50.1 million Americans having participated during 2019, the highest number since 2007, according to the American Sportfishing Association’s 2020 Special Report on Fishing. Economically, sportfishing in America accounted for $51 billion in retail sales and $129 billion in economic impact, and created employment for 826,000 people. 

 On the competition scene, expanded media coverage (primarily of the big-money bass-centric tours), is helping to drive fishing’s growth. For example, a new multi-year partnership between Fox Sports and Bassmaster will include live weekend broadcasts as well as additional live streaming on 

Major League Fishing, which provided nearly 1,300 hours of TV coverage during a shortened 2020 season, is rolling out a packed 2021 campaign. Other fish species have also spawned a multitude of tournaments that are boosting the sport’s appeal. The result is a dynamic market with more opportunities for fishing destinations throughout the country. Here are eight locales on the forefront.

Anderson, South Carolina

One of the top fishing lakes in the country, Anderson’s Lake Hartwell covers 56,000 acres, has nearly 1,000 miles of shoreline and is able to host big tournaments and large numbers of contestants. Past events have included the Bassmaster Classic in 2015 and 2018, each of which carried $22 to $24 million in economic impact. 

The main facility on Lake Hartwell is Green Pond Landing, a 30-acre site that includes paved parking and 5,000 square feet of dock space. By mid-summer 2021, the venue will provide additional dock space as well as a 1,500-seat amphitheater designed for weigh-ins and other tournament events. Since opening in December 2014, Green Pond has hosted fishing competitions with a combined economic impact of about $60 million, and by the end of 2022 that number is expected to total almost $100 million.

“We have it all,” says Neil Paul, executive director of Visit Anderson. “In addition to pro tournaments, we host local, regional and national high school, college and semi-pro events throughout the year. In a typical year, we run 50 to 60 events and we can always add more.” Paul notes that Anderson hosted two events concurrently in March that involved about 300 boats (600 anglers) in total. “Events usually run 100-plus boats and sometimes 200, and we’re on schedule to host the PBF High School Championship this summer that will bring about 400 boats to the community for a week.”

Branson/Lakes Area, Missouri

This area’s three lakes — Table Rock, Bull Shoals and Taneycomo — together feature more than 1,000 miles of shoreline. Table Rock Lake is home to largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, along with large bluegill, crappie, channel and flathead catfish. 

Bull Shoals is known for its white largemouth and spotted bass, and Lake Taneycomo is stocked annually with rainbow and brown trout, making it a world-class trout fishing site. “With three lakes to choose from, our amenities are endless,” remarks Terra Alphonso, director of sports marketing & development, Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce & CVB.

“We have been fortunate to work with some great partners that host fishing tournaments, such as MLF, Bassmaster, Bass Pro, Mr. Crappie, National Youth Fishing Association (NYFA), and Big Bass Tour, to name a few,” says Alphonso. She notes that major events in 2021 include Bass Pro Shops Kevin VanDam Big Bass Classic Presented by Explore Branson, NYFA tournaments, Bass Cat Boats Big Bass Zone Junior Championship Presented by Bassmaster, and the U.S. Open National Bass Fishing Amateur Team Championship. Branson has also hosted Major League Fishing tournaments, the Big Bass Tour, the Bassmaster Open and Elite tournaments and the Costa FLW Series.

Gulf Shores & Orange Beach, Alabama

This locale offers shoreline and pier angling as well as inshore and offshore fishing. Key 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 the Gulf State Park Fishing and Education Pier. The city of Orange Beach is known as “the red snapper capital of the world,” but grouper, mackerel, cobia, redfish, pompano and speckled trout are also present. 

While fishing is a year-round activity here, most major events are held in late spring through the summer. Past competitions have included the 2019 Flora-Bama Fishing Rodeo and the 2018 Blue Marlin Grand Championship. This year’s schedule includes KBF (a new event slated for November), the Orange Beach Billfish Classic, the Flora-Bama Fishing Rodeo, the Blue Marlin Grand Championship of the Gulf, and the Mobile Big game Fishing Club Gulf Coast Masters.

“We recently announced our organization rebranding to Gulf Shores | Orange Beach Sports & Events, bringing major leisure events into our fold,” says Michelle Russ, VP of sales, sports and events. “Some of the fishing events held in the destination fall into the ‘sports events’ category, while others fall under ‘leisure events.’ With our expanded framework, we can pursue and promote more fishing tournaments as well as leisure-focused fishing events.” 

Knoxville, Tennessee

With its downtown situated alongside the Tennessee River, and with close proximity to many lakes — including Cherokee, Douglas, Tellico and Fort Loudoun — Knoxville is a magnet for anglers. Although bass fishing gets most of the attention, catfish, crappie and trout are also plentiful. 

“Lots of events are held on the Tennessee River, and our goal is to fish out of downtown because it keeps people downtown and is better for business,” says Chad Culver, senior director of Visit Knoxville Sports Commission.

The boat launch at Gov. Ned McWherter Riverside Landing Park provides easy access to the river and is used for major events such as Bassmaster tournaments. Volunteer Landing, a three-acre riverfront park, can handle weigh-ins, take-offs and landings. For larger crowds, other downtown venues are also available and all are located within a mile of each other.

The city has hosted two Bassmaster Elite events, and in 2019 held the largest Bassmaster Classic in history, Culver reports. There have also been many kayak fishing competitions, including the Hobie B.O.S. Tournament of Champions in November 2020. 

“We haven’t even really scraped the surface of the types of fishing events we can host here,” says Culver. “We’re blessed with a lot of waterways and we’re trying to take advantage of that.”

Lake County, Florida

Claiming more than 1,000 freshwater lakes, Lake County is a Mecca for bass fishing. 

“We have branded ourselves ‘Lake Big Bass’ to promote the health of our fishery and trophy-sized (8-plus pound) bass that can be caught in our lakes,” says Steven Clenney, Visit Lake’s manager of sports development. He adds that the main fishery for tournaments is the Harris Chain of Lakes, which is comprised of seven lakes and provides multiple locations for hosting tournaments and weigh-ins. Most events are based out of Venetian Gardens Park and Ski Beach in Leesburg, Florida. 

Lake County has hosted numerous major events, among them MLF BIG5 Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit, Bassmaster Open Series, MLF BIG5 Toyota Series, MLF BIG5 Abu Garcia College Fishing National Championship (2020), MLF BIG5 Abu Garcia College Fishing Series, Bassmaster Team Championship (2018, 2020), Bassmaster High School Series, Big Bass Tour, and Kayak Bass Fishing Pro Tour. This May, the destination will host the MLF Bass Pro Tour. 

“To date, we have hosted 10 bass fishing tournaments generating more than 6,700 total room nights and over $6 million in economic impact in fiscal year 2021 (Oct. 2020-Sept. 2021),” says Clenney. “We are looking to add more events in our shoulder seasons of fall and late spring.”

Ocean City, Maryland

Although Ocean City covers just 4.5 square miles, it has an outsized reputation for sportfishing. 

“Here’s some trivia for you: Franklin Delano Roosevelt bestowed the title of ‘White Marlin Capital of the World’ on Ocean City in 1939 after an afternoon of fishing there,” relates Terry Hasseltine, executive director of Maryland Sports; VP of the Maryland Stadium Authority; and president, Sport and Entertainment Corporation of Maryland. Every year, the angler who catches the first white marlin of the season out of Ocean City Inlet (usually in May or June) has a chance to win up to $15,000 in prize money.

Ocean City hosts the renowned White Marlin Open, one of the biggest events on this destination’s calendar each year, and the world’s largest billfishing tournament. 

“It draws thousands of people, including celebrities who want to fish. In fact, last year, [former NBA star] Michael Jordan participated in it. The first tournament was held in 1974. It drew 54 boats and 150 anglers, and the payout was $20,000. Fast-forward to 2019 and we had 404 boats, over 3,000 contestants and a $6.5 million payout, with a top individual prize of $1.5 million,” says Hasseltine. 

In 2020, the tournament had 433 registered boats and a world record tournament payout that including a top prize of $1.85 million awarded for a 97-pound white marlin. The 48th Annual White Marlin Open is slated for this August.

Snohomish, Washington

This destination has miles of shoreline as well as numerous lakes and streams, making it easy to hold all sorts of fishing events year-round. Fish species include salmon, bass, yellow perch and trout. In fact, the county has 30 lakes for bass fishing, the largest of which is Lake Stevens. This 1,003.4-acre expanse provides two boat launches: North Cove Park in downtown Lake Stevens on the east side of the lake, and Willard Wyatt Park on the west side of the lake. 

One of the area’s major events is the Northwest Fishing Derby Series that is comprised of four competitions: the Everett Coho Derby, Everett Blackmouth Derby, Edmonds Coho Derby and Lake Stevens Kokanee Derby. The Everett Coho Derby is the biggest derby on the West Coast and draws an average of 2,000 participants annually, with an economic impact of $280,000. The 2021 iteration will mark the Derby’s 28th year. 

Also this year, Lake Goodwin (Stanwood, Washington) will host the Washington State Pond Jumperz Open, a bass tournament run by the state’s first electric-motor-only bass club. 

“Tin boat, small boat or electric-only bass clubs are common in the Midwest and Southern parts of the U.S.,” says Tammy Dunn, executive director of the Snohomish County Sports Commission. “These types of clubs introduce bass fishing to anglers who would not normally join a big boat club.” She adds, “Our goal is to promote Snohomish County as a fishing community, whether fishing tournaments or recreationally.”


“If you look at the numbers, they speak for themselves,” says Wisconsin Office of Outdoor Recreation Director Mary Monroe Brown. “Wisconsin is home to more than 160 different fish species that live in the state’s nearly 15,000 lakes and 800 miles of Great Lakes shoreline — not to mention our streams and rivers. In terms of overall diversity in types of fish and landscape, Wisconsin can’t be beat.” While the state is known for musky, other popular species are walleye, crappie, bass and jumbo perch. Many of the area’s lakes and rivers have public boat launches, and Lake Hayward and Chippewa Flowage offer handicap accessible fishing piers.

Spring and fall are the key seasons for fishing events, and past competitions have included the Wisconsin Governor’s Fishing Opener (2005, 2009, 2015 and May 2021), the 37th Treeland Walleye Challenge-Bass and Walleye Release Tournament (May 2021), and Fishing Has No Boundaries (an annual May event). The Musky Festival, held each June, draws 35,000-40,000 people and is now entering its 72nd year. 

“There are so many options for fishing in Wisconsin and the culture around fishing goes deep,” says Monroe Brown. “We recognize the unique vastness of our natural assets and connect our businesses, manufacturers, retailers and partners to uplift the entire industry to help [outdoor enthusiasts] continue to be able to enjoy Wisconsin’s unique fishing mecca and other outdoor recreation activities.” SDM