Hooked on Tournament Fishing
Whether it’s a warm summer evening or a misty morning in early spring, Texas anglers will find a reason to be on the water. In 2006, Texas freshwater fishing generated more than $2.4 billion in retail sales and more than $227 million in state and local tax revenues, according to the most recent data available from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). The industry also supported more than 33,000 jobs.
Those expenditures involved a lot more than licenses and bait and tackle. Enthusiasts spend money on fuel, food and lodging as they travel to and from their favorite fishing holes — and they’ll spend more if they’re coming for a fishing tournament.
Tourney Time in Texas
In just about any sport, Texans will compete with all comers to be the best at what they do. Fishing is no exception, and with hundreds of fisheries across the state to support their habits, they’re up to a challenge on almost any weekend.
Texas’ Sam Rayburn Reservoir is a particularly popular setting for fishing tournaments, hosting as many as 400 annually, most of them amateur events. At more than 111,400 acres, Sam Rayburn is one of the largest reservoirs in the southeastern U.S., and a premier fishing destination. According to a 2007 TPWD survey, more than 52 percent of Rayburn’s anglers participate in fishing tournaments. Their expenditures on and around the lake topped $23 million in that year, generating a total economic value of $31 million.
The reservoir plays host to a variety of tournaments. “They range from small, one-day events sponsored by local clubs to large, multi-day events that bring in competitors from across the country,” says Todd Driscoll, a TPWD fisheries biologist at Sam Rayburn. “Most of them, however, are weekend, amateur-level tournaments with competitors who are in it to have a good time.”
The Sealy Outdoors/McDonald’s Big Bass Splash, which Driscoll says is probably the world’s largest amateur bass tournament, drew almost 4,000 participants to Sam Rayburn in 2007.
“With that level of participation, out-of-pocket expenditures were $6.3 million and the total value of the event was $8 million,” he says.
For large professional events, you need a big stage. Rayburn provides that, as do other lakes in Texas such as Toledo Bend, Lake Falcon, Lake Conroe and others. All have hosted professional tournaments in the past.
“For major events, you’re talking about 50 to 300 boats on the water,” Driscoll says. “If a lake is less than 15,000 to 20,000 acres, it gets really crowded.”
Smaller, semi-pro circuits regularly fish our waters, and the top-flight tours such as the Bass Angler Sportsman Society (BASS) Elite Series, FLW Outdoors Tour and the Professional Anglers Association (PAA) have held successful events in Texas, with the PAA recently making annual stops in the Lone Star State.
“Those schedules are set annually and the events are often recruited by local communities and chambers of commerce because they bring dollars with them,” Driscoll says. “It’s based on the quality of the fishery, yes, but also on economics.”
In late June, the FLW Tour announced it would return to Sam Rayburn in October 2012. The reservoir and surrounding area have what a larger touring series needs in terms of size and support.
“At the tour level, we launch 150 boats and travel with an outdoor expo that is typically held in a large arena or convention center,” says Julie Huber with FLW Outdoors. “We select venues based on the fishery and whether or not there are big enough facilities to support our tour.”
Read more about the Sam Rayburn Reservoir online at www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/sam_rayburn/, and www.swf-wc.usace.army.mil/samray/.
Bringing the Best to Texas
As they did in the previous two years, the best pros on the PAA, BASS and FLW tours met in October 2011 at Lake Conroe, to compete in the Toyota Texas Bass Classic (TTBC). The top 15 competitors from each tour, along with the defending event champion and four participants selected by Toyota, filled out a 50-competitor field for three days of competitive bass fishing, a pro-am tournament, concerts and more. Keith Combs edged Mike Iaconelli for the 2011 championship.
The fact that the tournament returned for its third consecutive year speaks volumes about what the lake has to offer.
“I was a bit of a naysayer on the idea at first and wasn’t sure how it would benefit us,” laughs Harold Hutcheson, manger of the Conroe Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s unprecedented for them to come to the same lake even two years in a row, but when they called us for a third straight year, I was blown away. It’s a great thing for our community.”
The city of Conroe uses $25,000 in hotel occupancy tax to help TTBC promote the event, which generates more than $650,000 in spending during its three-day run.
“Using that occupancy tax allows a small community like ours to promote itself as a vacation destination, using money spent by business travelers and visitors instead of from our own citizens,” Hutcheson says.
“Lake Conroe has given the best 50 anglers in bass fishing a lot of action on the water, and our fans suspenseful competition,” says tournament director Lenny Francoeur. “The success of the TTBC is directly measured by the people of Conroe coming out and supporting the environmental initiatives of Texas Parks and Wildlife.”