The Columbia River has been known to lure fishermen from far and wide. That reputation helped reel in the biggest catch of all — the Bassmaster Elite Series.
And with it, Tri-City tourism officials are hoping for the nearly half million dollar economic tourism bump that a nationally televised sporting event can bring.
The Tri-Cities will be one of nine stops on the 2019 Elite Series. The June 20-23 event here is one of just two stops on the West Coast. The other is the California Delta in Sacramento.
“We have been working on this for a while,” said Michael Mulone, director of Event & Tourism Partnerships for B.A.S.S. “We both attended different trade shows. We have been talking for four or five years. Every four or five years, we try to make a western swing. When we were looking to do it, we were looking for a place we had never been before, and a community that would welcome us.”
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Visit Tri-Cities is doing its part in helping the event run smoothly, and in return, the local economy is expected to benefit.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to showcase the Columbia River and the scenic beauty we have,” said Hector Cruz, vice president of sports development for Visit Tri-Cities. “The estimated economic impact for our area is $400,000. We are looking forward to bringing in tourism and driving that following the event. Their consumers love to fish where the pro fish.”
Mulone said he has seen the positive effects the event has had on communities, and predicts the same for the Tri-Cities.
“We have people drive several hours — this is their chance to see the pros,” Mulone said. “The ripple effect for this event will be felt throughout the community long after we are gone. It is a calling card for others to come and fish for recreation.”
One of the driving forces behind getting the community involved, is that much of it is free.
“The admission is free and the festival is free,” Mulone said.
The festival will include national sponsors, vendors with the latest fishing supplies and information, and local vendors will offer food and crafts for sale.
It also will draw national media to the Tri-Cities. The event will be aired on ESPN and ESPN2.
Bassmaster.com also streams live action from the water, and averages 10 million page views for a four-day tournament.
“We want to help promote the anglers and the community,” Mulone said. “It is a media event, as well as a fishing event. We are very grateful for the partnership with Visit Tri-Cities. I will be there soon to check things out. I have talked to fishermen from the area and we have done our research. We have a good handle on it. I have been doing this for 14 years, and they are asking all the right questions.”
It’s nice to be invited
The Columbia River will be one of three first-time destinations for the Elite Series, along with Lake Lanier in Georgia and Lake Hartwell in South Carolina.
“We couldn’t be happier with the schedule we’ve put together for 2019,” B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin said in a news release. “This lineup of events will be exciting and challenging for our anglers — and for fans of the sport, it literally has something to offer from coast to coast.”
One of the most diverse fisheries in the United States, the Columbia River has abundant annual runs of chinook, coho and steelhead, along with excellent fishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass.
“The Tri-Cities is thrilled to host the Bassmaster Elite Series for the first time,” Michael Novakovich, president and CEO of Visit Tri-Cities said in a news release. “We’re looking forward to not only welcoming the anglers and spectators from all over the country, but also introducing them to everything our vibrant community has to offer — great weather, outstanding breweries and restaurants and, of course, the Columbia River, which is perfect for world-class bass fishing.”
B.A.S.S. has visited the Columbia River for four Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens in the past — but never for an Elite Series event.
Tournament Director Trip Weldon said the thought of making yet another new stop on the Elite Series is exciting.
“As we’ve seen this year with trips to Lake Travis in Texas and Lake Oahe in South Dakota, it’s a great thrill to hold a tournament on a lake that is basically unknown,” Weldon said in a news release. “An event like the one on the Columbia River will certainly be challenging for our anglers, but it’ll be exciting as well — and it will provide a very level playing field.”
This is not recreational fishing
Though it seems as simple as dropping a line in the water, competitive bass fishing is anything but simple.
Contestants pay a hefty entry fee, have specialized boats, fishing rods and state-of-the-art sonar equipment. But the payout can bring a king’s ransom.
There are nine stops on the Elite Series tour and the entry fee is $5,000 per event — paid in advance. Payouts can vary, but the winner of the Columbia River tournament will pick up a check for $100,000.
“This is the highest level of tournament competition,” Mulone said. “No others have this much prominence. We are the league for professional fishing.”
B.A.S.S. has more than 500,000 members, but only 110 are invited to compete in the Elite Series. Mulone called them the Tiger Woods of bass fishing.
“Most of them, it is their primary job,” he said. “Their trucks and boats are wrapped in their sponsors, which helps promote their sponsors. At the end of the day, the main goal is to get more people fishing. If we can promote our anglers, it is a win for everyone.”
Each season begins with the Bassmaster Classic — their Super Bowl, if you will. There also is the angler of the year championship.
When the event begins on the Columbia River, 110 anglers will hit the water. For two days, all of them will attempt to get their limit of five bass.
Come Saturday, the top 50 anglers will continue. Sunday, the top 12 will compete for the grand prize. The tournament pays out to the top 50 placers.
And of course, there are rules.
Anglers can catch as many fish as they want, but once they reach their limit of of five, they have to release one for every additional one they catch. The object is to keep the five largest fish.
If a fish dies while in your holding tank, it counts as one of your five, but you also will be docked 2 pounds for each dead fish.
The anglers have eight hours each day to catch their limit. If they are late reporting for their weigh-in time, they are docked one pound for each minute they are late.
“We have the rules for fairness for the competition,” Mulone said.
B.A.S.S. also releases all the fish back into the water after weigh-ins. B.A.S.S. is world-renowned for state-of-the-art tournament fish care.
“We have been doing that since the 1970s,” Mulone said.