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By Margaret Toal
For the Record 

Major league pro fishing returns to OC this weekend


Last updated 5/30/2023 at 7:07pm

Orange and the Sabine River will be the focus of the nationwide Bassmasters Elite professional fishing tournament this weekend as the county hosts its fifth tournament and River Festival.

The tournament will run Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with the professional weigh-in from the exclusive Bassmasters stage will be each day at 3 p.m. at the Orange Boat Ramp off Simmons Drive.

Besides the fishing attractions, families will find local food booths, a kids fishing tank, kids activities, and evening concerts. Entrance is free.

Two years ago, the tournament drew 40,000 people to the four-day event, a national record for Bassmasters. It will be the fifth Sabine River Bassmasters tournament in 10 years.

Local entities and sponsors help to raise the money to attract the event. Cities and the county use the hotel occupancy tax, charged by hotels for each night spent in a room, to help. And each previous tournament has filled hotels across the county, generating even more of the taxes.

Visitors include the professional anglers and the Bassmasters organization personnel. In addition, the professional circuit's national sponsors like Toyota, Mercury, Yamaha, Ranger Boats, Bass Pro Shops, Skeeter Boats, Hummingbird, and Minn Kota, set up booths and displays.

The professional anglers have been in the county for days as they launch at the boat ramp and scout the waters practicing. They also make appearances across town, attracting fans young and old who are excited to meet the heroes they have come to love through television, Internet, and magazines.

The professional anglers wear colorful shirts full of sponsor logos and their boats are also as colorful.

With the fishermen and their support teams, plus all the Bassmasters personnel and out-of-town sponsors' personnel, they spend their money across the county on things like gasoline, restaurants, and stores, adding more income to the local economy.

Bassmasters Elite are the top anglers from previous year's different Bassmasters tournaments like open entry ones and the Bassmasters Classic. For 2023, the Elite series will have nine tournaments with a total prize payout of $6.9 million. The angler with the most weight for a four-day tournament will win cash in six figures.

Bassmasters Bob Downey has made his fantasy fishing predictions for the Sabine River tournament this year with Mike Iaconelli coming in first, with other winners Greg Hackney, who won in Orange's last summer tournament, Brock Mosely, Caleb Kuphall, and Bradley Hallman.

More than 100 pro fisherman will launch from the Boat Ramp each morning at 6 a.m., or first viable light. The National Weather Service's forecast calls for sunny, warm days, with maybe a slight chance of showers.

However, even rain doesn't stop the fishing and the fans. One year here, some seven inches of rain fell during the tournament, but hundreds of fans came out in their boots and rain gear to watch the weigh-ins.

The Bassmaster stage is the center of attention every afternoon at 3 p.m. as each angler goes up to weigh their catches and find the standings. Fans bring folding chairs and sit to watch and cheer their favorites.

The organization has a catch-and-release policy, with the fish put in a special tank after they are weighed. The fish are later released back into the river.

In the evenings, live bands will be performing at the city of Orange's covered Riverside Pavilion. Thursday at 7 p.m. will feature Casey Chesnutt with country music. At 8 p.m. Friday, The Molly Ringwalds, a band that plays retro-'80s music, will play. Saturday's lineup has two concerts, Cole Whittlesey will perform at 6:30 p.m. and then the Randy Rogers Band at 8:30 p.m.

It won't be all professional singers, either. Each tournament day at 2:45 p.m. before the weigh-in, an Orange County high school choir will sing.

The Orange County River Festival will officially open at 1 p.m. Thursday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Then, the festival will be open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday.

The fish tank, sponsored by the local Gopher Industrial, will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Young anglers will get a chance to hook a live fish from a special tank. Prizes will also be awarded.


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