The Reel Deal | Sports Destination Management

The Reel Deal

These Sportfishing Destinations Can Land Big Events
May 12, 2022 | By: Judy Leand

Recreational fishing and boating  continues to reach new and diverse audiences, according to the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation’s 2021 Special Report on fishing. The report, created in partnership with the Outdoor Foundation, found that 55 million Americans went fishing in 2020, the highest overall participation in 14 years.

This number includes 19.7 million females (36 percent of total participants and a 10 percent increase from 2019), 13.5 million youths ages 6 to 17 (up 53 percent), and 5 million Hispanic Americans (the highest recorded volume in 14 years). African Americans accounted for a 7.4 percent rise in participation and 14.6 percent growth since 2019.

On the competition front, expanded media coverage, including event broadcasts and live streaming (primarily of the big-money bass-centric tours) is helping to drive fishing’s growth, and tournaments focused on other fish species are also adding to the sport’s appeal. Moreover, this latest wave of popularity is helping to open up new markets and create unique opportunities for fishing locales across the country. Here are eight destinations that are ready to lure your next event.

Anderson, South Carolina

Anderson, SC  |  Photo courtesy of Visit Anderson

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. The locale is known for bass fishing, but crappie, catfish and panfish are also abundant.

The main facility on Lake Hartwell is Green Pond Landing and Event Center which features paved parking, more than 7,500 feet of dock space and three deep-water launch lanes. A 500-seat amphitheater, designed for weigh-ins and other tournament events, is equipped with Internet capabilities and charging stations for boats, and the number of regional and national events hosted here continues to grow.

For instance, Green Pond hosted the Bassmaster Classic, widely regarded as the Super Bowl of Bass Fishing, in 2015, 2018 and 2022. The facility has also held events from tournament organizations such as B.A.S.S., Major League Fishing, the Fishers of Men National Tournament Trail, American Bass Anglers and Crappie USA. Since it opened in December 2014, the economic impact of Green Pond Landing and Event Center to the upstate of South Carolina exceeds $100 million.

“We have it all,” says Neil Paul, executive director of Visit Anderson. “Green Pond Landing and Event Center hosts anglers from all over the world. For example, when we hosted the B.A.S.S. National Championship in 2017 and 2019, those championship events featured anglers from 48 states and 11 countries.” He adds, “Anderson County is continuing the development of Green Pond Landing and Event Center and promoting Lake Hartwell as a destination, worldwide, for bass fishing.”

Branson/Lakes Area, Missouri

Branson/Lakes Area, MO  |  Photo courtesy of the Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau

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 spotted, white and striped bass, along with big bluegill, crappie, walleye, paddlefish and channel and flathead catfish. Bull Shoals is a great walleye and striper fishery as well as largemouth, smallmouth and white bass and even yellow perch. Lake Taneycomo is stocked annually with rainbow and brown trout, making it a world-class trout fishing site.

Major bass events hosted at this destination include Major League Fishing, Bassmaster Open and Elite tournaments, National Youth Fishing Association, Big Bass Classic, Bass Cat Boats Big Bass Zone Junior Championship, Big Bass Tour, Costa FLW Series, and others.

“The Bass Pro Shops U.S. Open National Bass Fishing Team Championships was held on Table Rock last year with qualifiers from tournaments all over America participating as well as people who came to watch,” says Terra Alphonso, director of sports marketing & development, Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce & CVB.

Alphonso notes that the Bass Pro Shops U.S. Open Bowfishing Championship was hosted on Table Rock and at Bass Pro Shops Shooting Academy, and last year 250 teams from across America competed. This event is being held again this year from April 30-May 1.

Wally ‘Mr. Crappie’ Marshall will be returning to Branson this October with the 4th annual Mr. Crappie Invitational Classic on Table Rock and the Crappie Expo held at the Branson Convention Center. Looking ahead, says Alphonso, “With the popularity of kayak fishing tournaments, we envision kayak fishing becoming a bigger part of all the tournaments being held here as well as more youth tournaments.”

Erie, Pennsylvania

Erie, PA  |  Photo courtesy of the Erie Sports Commission

Located on the shores of the southernmost of the Great Lakes, Erie is a top destination for bass fishing and has also been called the “Walleye Capital of the World.” Thanks to the unique Presque Isle State Park peninsula that protects Presque Isle Bay from the open water of Lake Erie, the bay — which encompasses 5.8 miles and averages 20 feet deep — has calm water, making it perfect for both traditional and kayak fishing. Erie also contains numerous Lake Erie tributaries, including Walnut Creek, one of the longest and most popular creeks for steelhead fishing.

Erie regularly hosts state tournaments for PA B.A.S.S. Nation and Kayak Anglers series. Erie also hosted the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S Nation Northeast Regional Championship in 2021, which drew 220 anglers representing 11 states in the Northeast, and generated an estimated $350,000 in economic impact, according to Chris Rosato Jr., events and marketing manager, Erie Sports Commission.

“Erie regularly hosts fishing tournaments in the spring and summer, but the fun doesn’t stop in the winter,” he says. “Presque Isle Bay is a popular spot for ice fishing and has played host to ice fishing events in recent years as well.” He adds, “As for future events, the Erie Sports Commission is always looking to expand our portfolio and welcome new fishing events to town.”

Harford County, Maryland

Harford, MD  |  Photo of Harford County courtesy of Fish & Hunt Maryland

This locale supports an abundance of fish species including hickory shad, alewife herring, white and yellow perch, smallmouth bass, trout and others, and is popular for both fly fishing and bait fishing. Key venues include the Fisherman’s Park at the Conowingo Dam, which allows access to the Susquehanna River. The beautiful downtown Havre de Grace offers several boat launching sites, transient piers, and slips. There are also marinas along the Bush River in the Abingdon/Edgewood/Joppatowne area.

Harford County has hosted major events such as Fishing League Worldwide (FLW, now part of Major League Fishing) in 2019 and 2020 off the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. “FLW is the world’s largest tournament fishing organization, providing anglers of all skill levels the opportunity to compete for millions in prize money across five tournament circuits. Headquartered in Benton, Kentucky, FLW and its partners conduct more than 290 bass-fishing tournaments annually around the world,” says Matthew Scales, executive director of Visit Harford.

“Harford is open for professional anglers as well as youth anglers,” says Scales. “Visit Harford is always looking to work in collaboration with Fish & Hunt Maryland on growth opportunities in Harford and Central Maryland.”

Knoxville, Tennessee

bass fishing
Knoxville, TN  |  Photo courtesy of Visit Knoxville

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, the 2019 Bassmaster Classic, and recently announced the return of the Bassmaster Classic to Knoxville in March of 2023. Knoxville has also served as host to Major League Fishing, Hobie B.O.S. Kayak Bass Fishing, and many other fishing competitions.

“We are excited to build upon the momentum that fishing events have created in our area,” says Culver. “Our goal is to capitalize on the natural resources that our area offers and showcase Knoxville as a fishing destination to the rest of the world.”

Lake County, Florida

bass fishing
Knoxville, TN  |  Photo courtesy of Visit Knoxville

Claiming more than 1,000 freshwater lakes, Lake County is a mecca for bass fishing and also offers crappie, catfish, shellcracker, gar and bluegill. The main fishery for tournaments is the Harris Chain of Lakes that boasts nine lakes with 12 boat ramps.

Other key venues include the Clermont Chain of Lakes (11 lakes totaling 8,692 acres), Lake Dorr in the Ocala National Forest and the 2,424-acre Johns Lake that is divided into east and west pools with a connecting channel. There are multiple locations to host weigh-ins and vendors, and most events call Venetian Gardens Park and Ski Beach in Leesburg, Florida, home base on the Harris Chain.

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, MLF BIG5 Abu Garcia College Fishing Series, Bassmaster Team Championship, Bassmaster High School Series, Big Bass Tour, Kayak Bass Fishing Pro Tour, Fishers of Men National Championship, and MLF Bass Pro Tour.

“We are always looking to improve on existing events and welcome new opportunities,” says Jeffrey John, sports tourism manager for Visit Lake. “We have great year-round fishing and would like to catch more events in the fall and late spring.”

Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

Lake of the Ozarks, MO  |  Photo courtesy of Lake of the Ozarks CVB

Located in the heart of Missouri, the Lake of the Ozarks is a 54,000-acre paradise that hosts more than 500 fishing events annually with bass and crappie being the most sought-after species. Catfish, white bass, walleye and sunfish also offer plenty of action throughout the year.

Created when the Bagnell Dam was constructed in 1931, this lake has more than 1,150 miles of shoreline (more shoreline than the state of California) and draws more than 5 million visitors every year. Many tournaments launch from the Lake of the Ozarks State Park Marina.

“The Lake hosts the Spring and Fall Big Bass Bash events that bring in over 300 anglers per event,” says Lagina Fitzpatrick, executive director of Central Missouri’s Tri-County Lodging Association. The tournaments are designed for amateurs only and the Spring 2022 iteration, held in April, offered more than $325,000 in cash and prizes. The 2022 Fall Big Bass Bash is slated for October 1-2.

Fitzpatrick further points out, “We also host numerous Major League Fishing events including the Bass Pro Tour, The Toyota Series, plus college and high school events. Anglers come from all over the Midwest and county to fish at the Lake of the Ozarks.”

Stanly, North Carolina

Lake of the Ozarks, MO  |  Photo courtesy of Lake of the Ozarks CVB

This destination offers freshwater fishing in Lake Baden, which boasts more than 5,000 acres with 104 miles of shoreline, and in Lake Tillery, a reservoir that covers 5,350 acres with 115 miles of shoreline. Falls Reservoir and other local lakes and rivers are also popular among anglers. The area is best known for its largemouth bass population and carp fishing, along with three species of catfish plus a large amount of panfish.

“Stanly County has hosted Major League Fishing, along with many other tournaments, both local and regional. We are currently hosting Kayak Bass Fishing tournaments,” says Chris Lambert, executive director, Stanly County CVB. “We bring in an average of $800,000 to $1.5 million in economic impact from the fishing industry. This does not include the local and regional impact from the use of our lakes and rivers on a daily basis. Our local, regional and national tournaments bring in an average of 60 boats per event with significant spectatorship.”

“A blue catfish caught in Stanly County’s Badin Lake weighed in at 89 pounds and held the record for the largest blue catfish caught in North Carolina for over 15 years,” says Lambert. “We currently have an ongoing bounty of $1,000 to bring the record back to Stanly County.”  SDM

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