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Starring Casts

Fishing Destinations are Luring a Growing Variety of Competitions
May 01, 2023 | By: Judy Leand

Americans have literally fallen for fishing hook, line and sinker, pushing wholesale dollar sales volume in the category to $3.44 billion, an increase of 24.8 percent from 2019 to 2022, according to the SFIA Manufacturersí Sales by Category Report 2023. Additionally, the American Sportfishing Association is 2023 Economic Contributions of Recreational Fishing: U.S. Congressional Districts report finds that the country is 52.4 million anglers contribute $148 billion in economic output and support 945,500 jobs across the U.S., while also contributing $1.8 billion towards conservation.

The growth in recreational fishing is largely due to the continuing influx of new and diverse participants that are bringing the sport to a larger and broader audience. Moreover, expanded media coverage including event broadcasts and live streaming, not only of big-money, bass-centric tours, but also of tournaments focused on other fish species, is adding to the sport’s appeal. All of this is opening new markets and creating unique opportunities for fishing locales throughout the country.

Anderson, South Carolina

Anderson County, SC
Anderson County, SC  |  Photo courtesy of Anderson County

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 lake provides fishing in a variety of ways such as deepwater, shallow water, rivers, streams and flooded timber. The lake is known for bass fishing, but crappie, catfish and panfish are also on offer.

The main facility on Lake Hartwell is Green Pond Landing and Event Center, a 30-acre, fully ADA-compliant venue designed to host fishing tournaments and events. Amenities include paved parking, more than 7,500 feet of dock space and three deepwater launch lanes. A 1,500-seat amphitheater for weigh-ins and other tournament happenings is equipped with Internet capabilities and charging stations for boats.

In 2022, Anderson County, Green Pond Landing and Lake Hartwell hosted the Bassmaster Classic, the Bassmaster High School Fishing National Championship, a Bassmaster Southern Open, the Bassmaster Team Championship, and the National Professional Fishing League (NPFL).

“We are adding new events to our lineup each year,” says Neil Paul, Visit Anderson’s executive director. “Visit Anderson recruits fishing events to Green Pond Landing and Lake Hartwell attracts anglers of all ages, races, genders, and from all parts of the world. 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/Branson Lakes, MO
Branson/Branson Lakes, MO  |  Photo courtesy of Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau

The area’s three lakes (Table Rock, Bull Shoals and Taneycomo) together feature more than 1,000 miles of shoreline. “Branson Lakes are known for their great bass fishing, bowfishing, trout fishing and even annual tournaments that bring visitors from across the region,” says Terra Alphonso, director of sports marketing & development, Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce & CVB. “Whether fishing is the sole purpose of your trip to Branson or you’re looking for a day-long excursion between shows and attractions, our three crystal lakes and friendly fishing guides offer respite and excitement on the Ozark waters.”

Table Rock Lake typically has the highest concentration of bass and is the location for many bass fishing tournaments, including the Big Bass Classic each spring. Bull Shoals Lake and Table Rock Lake offer shoreline wading, and for trout fishing, Lake Taneycomo provides a river-like composition. Weigh-ins have been hosted lakeside, inside the Branson Convention Center and in front of the fountains at the Branson Landing.

Numerous professional, collegiate, high school and regional fishing tournaments have been held in the area and in 2022 alone, events included the MLF Abu Garcia College Tournament, the MLF U.S. Army High School Tournament, the Bass Pro U.S. Open Bowfishing Championship, the Branson Crappie Expo and Mr. Crappie Classic Tournament and others. The annual Kevin Van Dam Big Bass Classic in April typically draws more than 800 anglers from upwards of 15 states. Looking ahead, Major League Fishing’s 2023 Toyota Series Championship will be hosted by on Table Rock Lake November 2-4, and will include anglers from throughout the USA as well as abroad.

Erie, Pennsylvania

Erie, PA
Erie, PA  |  Photos courtesy of 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, encompassing 5.8 miles and averaging 20 feet in depth, has calm water, making it ideal 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 was the site of the 2022 Pennsylvania BASS Federation District 14 National Semi-Finals and will be again in 2023. The destination is also due to host a PA BASS Nation College BASS Qualifier in July on Presque Isle Bay. In 2022, Erie hosted state championships for PA BASS Nation and the PA BASS Nation Kayak Series. But the action isn’t limited to warm weather months; Erie has regularly hosted ice fishing tournaments in the winter.

“Erie’s fishing community and tournament organizers welcome anglers of all ages, and local organizations are very welcoming to those new to the sport,” says Chris Rosato Jr., Erie Sports Commission’s events and marketing manager. “The Erie Sports Commission is always open to work with organizers on bringing new fishing events to Erie.”

Groveland, Florida

Lake County, FL | Photos courtesy of Discover Lake County
Lake County, FL  |  Photos courtesy of Discover Lake County

Home to more than 1,000 lakes and rivers, it’s obvious how Lake County got its name. Known for bass, crappie, catfish, shellcracker, sunshine bass, gar and bluegill, this locale offers leisure and competitive fishing and has hosted regional and national championship tournaments as well as amateur-level competitions. The main fishing venues are the Clermont Chain, Harris Chain, Lake Dorr and Johns Lake.

“We host major events and tournaments such as the Major League Fishing Toyota Series, Bassmaster Open Series, The Big Bass Tour, Florida Bass Nation, Bassmaster college and high school series, and more,” says Andrew Grant, sports tourism manager, office of Visit Lake-Tourism & Sports

Grant notes that the Harris Chain of Lakes in Leesburg has been expanded and renovated over the past couple of years to be able to handle the growing demand of anglers who enjoy competing there. “Lake County definitely seeks all types of fishermen when it comes leisure fishing,” he says. “When it comes to competitive fishing, we attract a lot of professional-level anglers due to beautiful and highly sought-out destinations such as the Harris Chain, which has a bountiful fish population.”

Harford County, Maryland

Harford County, MD | Photo courtesy of Heather Rees
Harford County, MD  |  Photo courtesy of Heather Rees

Freshwater fishing, Chesapeake Bay fishing, fly fishing and kayak fishing are all popular at this destination, and anglers will find an abundance of species including hickory shad, alewife herring, white and yellow perch, smallmouth bass, rockfish and rainbow trout. Additionally, the invasive Northern snakehead can be found throughout the Chesapeake Bay and Lower Susquehanna River, and anglers are encouraged to catch them.

Key venues include the Conowingo Fisherman’s Park, Flying Point Park, Otter Point, Palmer State Park, Rocks State Park, Susquehanna State Park, Mariner Point Park, Winters Run, Deer Creek and Gunpowder Falls State Park (split between Harford and Baltimore counties.) The beautiful downtown Havre de Grace area offers several boat launching sites, piers and slips. There are also marinas in the Abingdon/Edgewood/Joppatowne area along the Bush River.

Harford County has hosted major events such as FLW in 2019 and 2020 off the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

“Harford County offers a variety of fishing opportunities for all levels of experience,” says Megan Hallett, marketing and communications coordinator, Visit Harford. “Our fishing locations are available to fishers of all genders, ages and ability levels.”

Knoxville, Tennessee

Knoxville, TN
Knoxville, TN  |  Photo courtesy of Bruce McCamish Photography

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

“The Tennessee River plays host to a number of events. The fact that it’s walking distance from more than 80 downtown restaurants, as well as shopping and entertainment, is a big draw,” says Chad Culver, senior director of Visit Knoxville Sports Commission & Convention Sales.

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.

Knoxville has hosted two Bassmaster Elite events, as well as the 2019 and recent record-setting 2023 Bassmaster Classic that boasted an audience of 163,914. The city has also hosted Major League Fishing, Hobie B.O.S. Kayak Bass Fishing, and many other fishing competitions. “We continue to capitalize on the natural resources that our area offers,” says Culver. “Our goal is to continue to showcase Knoxville as a premier destination for fishing, as well as other outdoor events.”

Ocean City, Maryland

Ocean City, MD
Ocean City, MD  |  Photo courtesy of The White Marlin Open

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

“Here’s some trivia for you: FDR 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.

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. Its success has spawned the annual Marlin Fest, with live music, vendors, educational sessions and other attractions.

The White Marlin Open has awarded over $95 million for catches of the gamefish that migrate up the Gulf Stream each summer. The first tournament was held in 1974 and drew 57 boats, 150 anglers, and paid $20,000 in prize money. The 2022 event drew 408 boats, over 3,500 contestants, and awarded over $8.6 million dollars in prize money, including the top individual prize of $4.53 million dollars which established a new world record award for the catch of a fish. The 50th anniversary edition of the Annual White Marlin Open is slated for this August 7-11.

Shores & Islands, Ohio

Shores & Islands, OH
Shores & Islands, OH  |  Photo courtesy of Shores & Islands Ohio

This locale abounds with fishing opportunities on the Lake Erie shoreline and popular species include channel catfish, walleye, yellow perch, largemouth bass,  smallmouth bass and steelhead.

“We are a hot spot for both pro anglers and beginners of all genders and age ranges,” says Cody Carson, sports tourism manager, Shores & Islands Ohio. “We are the ‘Walleye Capital of the World’ per the Ohio Department of Natural Resources-Division of Wildlife, which estimates there are 82 million adult walleye in Lake Erie.”

The National Professional Fishing League, Major League Fishing, Lake Erie Fall Brawl, National Walleye Tour, and Masters Walleye Circuit are a few of the large fishing tournaments that have recently hosted events in this destination, and the King Kat tournament trail has signed on for 2023 in Sandusky and 2024 at Put-in-Bay. Shores & Islands Ohio is also the host location for the annual Governor’s Fish Ohio Day which celebrates world-class fishing and the importance of protecting and improving Lake Erie.

“Most tournaments occur between April and November, but we also host ice fishing tournaments when Lake Erie freezes over, typically in January and February,” says Carson. He adds that larger events average 90-plus anglers, draw several hundred spectators each, and result in a total economic impact of about $90,000 per event. SDM

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