Pierre city leaders are keyed up about the prestigious Bassmasters fishing tournament coming to town in a month as the tournament officials and participants seem intrigued about their new venue.
The fishing will take place on legendary Lake Oahe, one of the biggest reservoir lakes in the nation, and boats will launch at Spring Creek, about 15 miles north of Pierre on the eastern shore of the lake.
But in a key proviso, the fish will be weighed in Pierre, in Steamboat Park, during what is designed as a big four-day fishing festival, Pierre Parks and Recreation Director Tom Farnsworth told the City Commission on Tuesday.
“We are excited about it,” Farnsworth said. “The park will be busy.”
The Bassmaster Elite Series tournament will bring 110 of the nation’s top bass fishermen to Pierre Friday, June 29 to Monday, July 2.
It also will bring thousands of visitors to the community to see it happen, said Lois Ries, director of the Pierre Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Tournament officials have told her to expect maybe 10,000, she said.
“We are thinking that over four days if we get 5,000 in the park.”
She and others have been working on this for years, Ries said.
And the community has real skin in the game.
Pierre’s Business Improvement District board, which collects a tax from the hotels in town, partnered with the South Dakota Tourism and the Fort Pierre Tourism and Promotion Council to come up $50,000 as a sort of bona fides required by the Bassmaster behemoth as a local share.
“There will be events in Fort Pierre that weekend, too,” Ries said.
The mostly Southern and Western obsession with bass fishing led to the Bassmaster Classic tournament started in Nevada in 1971. It’s grown to a huge sports phenomenon with ESPN TV covering its several permutations, with lots of product sales from rods to reels to boats to jackets. In 2006, the Bassmasters Elite Series was started, which organizers call “the highest level of professional bass fishing and competitors work — as in fish — much of the year to rack up enough points to qualify for such tournaments.
The winner of the Lake Oahe event can see a check of $100,000 and then qualifies for the season-long competition which has a top prize of $300,000.
Toyota is a Bassmaster partner and will have a tent set up in Steamboat Park
Bassmasters will have their own little store selling Bassmaster apparel, Ries said. It’s very popular. Carhartt will have a vending spot for its outdoor apparel.
But as serious as the fishing is, this event for Pierre will have all sorts of things for non-fishers, Ries said.
“Game, Fish & Parks will have a lot of cool things, too,” she said. “Kayaking, paddle-boarding, a lot of outdoor activities you can do.” Right at Steamboat Park, not up on the lake.
The South Dakota National Guard is setting up its “inflatable jousting” games.
A special beer-vending license was awarded Tuesday to the Oahe Hockey Association, which will use the beer sales, as well as separate sales of soda pop and water, as a fundraiser for the nonprofit.
The Longbranch was selected by Bassmasters to provide samples and some sales of Black Velvet Whiskey, which long has been a sponsor of the tournaments. So the City Commission agreeably issued the Longbranch a liquor license of that weekend in the park. Mayor Steve Harding said his only concern was that “this is a new event for the city and I wouldn’t, personally, want a full bar set up where we are seeing all kinds of mixed drinks.”
Local food vendors will be set up in Steamboat Park for the four days, too.
The fish caught up on Lake Oahe will be brought down to Steamboat Park in Pierre each day to be weighed.
Bassmasters is all about catch and release, so the fish then will be taken out in a boat into the Missouri River just off the park and released, same water, different venue.
Farnsworth said the strict state regulations about where fishing boats must dump the lake water — because of concerns of passing along invasive species into strange waters — will be handled by the city’s sanitary sewer system at Steamboat Park.
The water will end up in the Missouri River.
Everybody else also will end up in Pierre and Fort Pierre each evening, Ries and others say is the goal.
“We wanted to have activities in the afternoon down here (in Steamboat Park) so people would take advantage of it being in town, staying downtown and eating and staying in hotels and doing those sorts of things we want people to do in town,” Ries said.
Of the many venues where Bassmaster will hold its Elite Series of tournaments this year, Lake Oahe has been touted a the special feature, because it’s way outside of normal stomping grounds for them. But it’s national reputation as a haven for big smallmouth bass makes tournament competitors eager to check it out.
Seth Feider, a top pro bass fisherman who competes in the Elite tournaments, told Bassmasters website that the Lake Oahe event is the one he’s really looking forward to: “That one will be different. None of the guys have experience on it.”
Mel Williams of Winner, South Dakota, commented on the Bassmasters website how excited he is to see Lake Oahe finally on the schedule, showing the growing reputation of the huge lake for producing bass.
“Everyone was skeptical about the Mille Lacs (Minnesota) tournament last year and the Elites did not disappoint the fans. I feel like they will do the same thing on a GREAT lake. Thanks for giving South Dakota a chance. I’m sure it will not disappoint and probably even schedule more tournaments in the future.”
Showing up on ESPN, this event will show off this community in a big way, city leaders said.
“We can’t stress enough this is not just some good-old-boys fishing tournament,” said Commissioner Jamie Huizenga. “This is a national level tournament.”
The after-effects might be the best, he said.
“This is the kind of publicity you can’t hardly buy.”