Linda Lewis, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Walker County, said a tournament of this size would have an estimated $2 million impact on the local economy.
“We are very excited to have a Bassmaster tournament back on Smith Lake,” she said. “BASS is one of the best of the best, and our community has always supported them. We’ve got as many as 300 anglers participating and those guys will be eating, shopping and staying in our area. That has a major economic impact on Jasper and Walker County.”
Sen. Greg Reed (R-Jasper) said the success of fishing tournaments on Smith Lake is a key catalyst in helping the local economy.
“Of these anglers, more than 95 percent of them are not from our area,” he said. “These are outside dollars coming into our county. We average having two or three of these per year, and that is bringing a lot of money into our community.”
Lewis said the tournament is also a way to promote the local area.
“If they have a good experience here, many of these anglers will be back, and not just at tournament time,” she said. “They’ll come here just to spend time on our lake.”
Chris Bowes, Bassmaster tournament director, said the anglers always enjoy coming to Smith Lake.
“Smith Lake has all the infrastructure we need, but it is the community here that makes these tournaments work,” he said. “From the Chamber of Commerce, Linda and her volunteers, to just the residents of the community, we always feel welcome in this area.”
While many anglers have been in town in recent days to practice on Smith Lake, the tournament officially begins today. Boats will launch each day at 6:45 a.m. at Smith Lake Dam. Weigh-ins will take place today and Friday at the dam at 2:45 p.m.
After Friday’s weigh-in, the field will be cut to the top 12 professionals and top 12 amateurs. Those 24 anglers will fish Saturday with the weigh-in set for 4 p.m. at Bass Pro Shops in Leeds. The public is invited to attend tournament events and there is no admission charge.
“This is good, honest, wholesome, family-oriented fun, and I think that is something we want to promote in our area,” Reed said. “Events like this are good for our community and good for our entire state.”
Gerald Swindle, a Hayden native and 2004 Bassmaster Angler of the Year, said he grew up fishing on Smith Lake, but he’s not sure if that will give him an advantage in the tournament.
“I’ve fished this lake my entire life,” Swindle said. “But a lot has changed. When the water drops, a lot of the residents remove the brush, and so some spots that I’ve fished in the past just aren’t going to be the same. I’m interested to see how it goes this week.”
Swindle said he fished Smith Lake on Monday and Tuesday to prepare for the tournament.
“From what I saw those two days, I think we’ll catch some fish this week,” he said. “I’m not sure how big they will be, but I think we’ll catch some fish.”