Tommy Mann Jr.
The Orange Leader
One of the biggest professional fishing tours in the world is headed to Orange this week.
The Bassmaster Elite Series, featuring many of the best bass anglers in the world, has targeted Orange, Texas, for the “Sabine River Challenge.” The event will take place from Thursday, March 14, through Sunday, March 17, and it will be featured on television networks such as ESPN and the Outdoor Channel at a later date. The title sponsor of the tournament is Stark Cultural Venues, which includes Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, the Stark Museum of Art, the W.H. Stark House and the Lutcher Theater for the Performing Arts.
The Bassmaster Elite Series Tournaments have drawn as many as 10,000 spectators in the past to the communities which have hosted these events. The “Sabine River Challenge” is the first of the eight 2013 Elite Series events, which are being held in seven states as anglers battle it out on four river systems, three reservoirs and one natural lake while competing for millions in prizes and cash.
“This is gigantic news for the Orange area,” said Chester Moore Jr., Outdoors Editor of The Orange Leader. “This could put Orange on the map for its sportsfishing. Other than the Bassmaster Classic, this is as big of an event as you will see in professional fishing.
“These fishermen are the best on the planet,” he added. “They have a knack for finding big fish on any body of water. It will be interesting to see how they do on the Sabine River.”
According to Bassmaster.com, this year’s Elite Series will feature more than 100 of the top professional anglers from 25 states, as well as Japan. The field of anglers includes 11 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Anglers of the Year with a combined 21 total titles, 11 Bassmaster Classic champions for a combined total of 17 Bassmaster Classic wins and more than 200 B.A.S.S. tournament victories.
“We’re excited about the lineup for the upcoming season,” said Bruce Akin, CEO of B.A.S.S. in an e-mail. “The Elite Series represents the highest level of competition our sport has to offer, and nowhere is that more evident than in the field of anglers who will be competing next year. They tell our members and fans that ‘Elite’ is not just a name — it’s a level of performance and of commitment.”
The “Sabine River Challenge” is expected to have a significant impact on the Orange-area economy, as well, not only during the tournament but for years to come.
“Orange County has already started seeing the benefits since the announcement was made last August,” said Bobby Fillyaw, executive director of the Orange County Economic Development Corporation. “A number of bass fishermen have already been to Orange, stayed in Orange and fished our waters. It’s only going to continue to increase until the tournament arrives in March.”
Fillyaw said the impact will come not only from the tournament anglers, who will stay in area hotels, but also purchase food, fuel and goods in Orange, but also from the large number of fans who flock to Orange County to experience the excitement of the Bassmaster Elite Series event up-close.
“We could see as many as 2,000 to 3,000 room nights reserved with our hotels, and the total economic impact is expected to be between $2 million and $3 million dollars,” Fillyaw explained. “It’s going to benefit all of Orange County.
If you had to put a number on it, the value and exposure to a national audience in a positive light is almost impossible to determine,” he added. “Having the Stark Cultural Venues as the title sponsor for the event will also show a national audience what our area has to offer besides just the fishing tournament.”
Event organizer John Gothia concurred.
“We expect this event to bring in $1.3 million to the Orange-area, and that’s just from the anglers, their families and the BASS production staff,” Gothia said. “That’s not including the visitors and the money they bring in for food, gas and other things.”
Despite all of the cultural amenities in the area, such as the W.H. Stark House, the Stark Museum of Art, Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center and the Lutcher Theater for the Performing Arts, fishing is what generated the excitement and will lead to greater exposure for Orange County.
“After people see us on a national circuit that the pros fish, Orange becomes a more desirable place to fish for others,” Fillyaw continued. “We are an unbelievable mecca for our saltwater fishing already with redfish, trout and flounder, but now people will see us for bass fishing too. Plus, you can do it all from one boat launch.”
The four-day event, combined with the Orange County Riverfront Festival, promises to be a great family-oriented extravaganza of fun and entertainment.
Neal McCoy was announced as the featured entertainer for a free concert on Saturday, March 16. The concert featuring will be held at approximately 5:30 p.m. that day on a large stage on site at the Orange County Riverfront Festival, which is being held at the City of Orange Boat Ramp, and follows the angler’s 3 p.m. weigh-in for the day. The concert will be followed by a massive fireworks display.
“Neal (McCoy) does well with this type of audience,” Gothia said. “I’ve seen him in this type of setting at a similar event elsewhere and it was a great show. We’re excited to have him at our event in Orange.”
Gothia said the concert featuring Neal McCoy will be held at approximately 5:30 p.m. that day on a large stage on site at the City of Orange Boat Ramp, following the angler’s 3 p.m. weigh-in for the day. The concert will be followed by a massive fireworks display.
McCoy, a Jacksonville, Texas-native, is best known for his two No. 1 singles, “Wink” and “No Doubt About It,” both from the February 1994 album “No Doubt About It.” He has several other Top 10 singles to his credit, including “The Shake,” “You Gotta Love That,” “For a Change,” “The City Put the Country Back in Me,” and his most recent single, “Billy’s Got His Beer Goggles On” which was released in 2005.
Several events and activities will be tied-in with the Bassmasters Elite Series tournament, such as a carnival which will features rides, games, fabulous food and even a kids fishing tank where they can catch catfish.
Another event sure to be a real crowd-pleaser is the “Laser Spectacles” laser light show by the renowned Tim Walsh. The event, which will feature lasers on large-screen projections and various other lighting techniques, all set to the music of Queen and Pink Floyd, will be held in the Lutcher Theater parking lot at 8 p.m., Friday, March 15. This event is free of charge.
Along with the concert featuring McCoy, the following fireworks display will be the biggest ever in Orange County.
“The company we have hired to do this is same one that handles the annual Fourth of July fireworks display at Kemah,” Gothia explained. “This company knows its business and they are top-notch at what they do.”
The 11th annual Art in the Park festival will be held on Saturday, March 16, in conjunction with the Elite series tournament. The event, which features dozens of local and regional artists, including painters, photographers, wood-workers, sculptors, metal-workers and more, will be held in Stark Park across the street from the Stark Museum of Art on Green Avenue in downtown Orange.
The tournament will also serve as an educational tool for area high school students.
“We are planning stuff which will involve kids from each high school in the county,” Gothia continued. “The kids in the media production classes, for example, might get a behind the scenes look at the production, the staging and how they make the Bassmasters television show at events like this.”
Gothia also stated several major boat dealers from across the region will also be in attendance with an “on the water boat show and demonstration event,” which Gothia described as possibly the largest such event ever for Southeast Texas.
“The Bassmaster Elite Series tournament is doing exactly what we hoped it would do for Orange and Orange County, and that is bring attention to our area,” Gothia said. “And we’re not even there yet. People will be hard pressed to get a better value than what we have to offer the public with so many free activities during this event. If people complain there is nothing to do in Orange County this coming week, then they aren’t looking very hard.”