The professional bass fishermen, fans, family and hangers-on lured to Rim Country for the recent FLW Bass Tournament dropped nearly $600,000 into the Rim Country economy, according to the results of a spending survey filled out by 80 percent of the fishermen.
In fact, the schools of fishermen provided such sizeable benefits that Payson Mayor Kenny Evans, at an organizing committee meeting on Wednesday, vowed to come up with the $20,000 needed next year to host one of the top bass tournaments in the country, which would not only interject more money into the community but come complete with an hour-long television program that would showcase Roosevelt Lake as one of the top bass fishing spots in the country.
“We’ll find the money,” said Evans, who attended the debriefing. “We’ll do what we have to do.”
The bass tournament gained Roosevelt national exposure as a bass fishing hot spot, since the weigh-in was streamed live over the Internet to an estimated 1 million bass fishing fans. The organization, fishing conditions and size and number of fish caught all won praise from the professional fishermen, although the organizers brainstormed ways to do better next time.
About two-thirds of the economic benefit went to the stores, bait shops, marinas, hotels and restaurants in the Tonto Basin —an estimated $403,000. Participants spent an estimated $178,553 in Payson and another $17,443 in Globe.
All told, 148 boats with 296 fishermen participated. The event drew 482 visitors, many of them spent a week before the actual tournament fishing the lake to figure out the best spots for the two days of competitive fishing. Organizers said they didn’t realize how many people would work the lake before the tournament — since the pre-tournament impact probably exceeded the impact during the actual competition.
The survey indicated that the visitors dined dined out 71 percent of the time and 37 percent stayed in a motel. The rest stayed with friends or camped.
Some 43 percent came from Arizona, 30 percent from California and the rest from a combination of 10 other states — plus one team from South Africa.
Three private donors put up the $8,000 fee to host the tournament, which drew both professional and amateur fishermen. The event included a tournament for college-age fishermen, which drew 30 two-person teams.
The event had such a big impact, that the volunteer group that staged the event agreed they would pursue an even bigger tournament for next year — this one with a $20,000 sponsorship fee and a chance to draw the best bass fishermen in the world.
In effect, this year’s tournament entrants compare to a good, triple A baseball team — but next year organizers hope to attract major league players.
Bigger tourney next time
That next jump up the bass tournament scale would involved a 150-boat maximum, a $125,000 first prize and $10,000 payouts to each of the top 50 fishermen. The event would also result in an hour-long show on ESPN, which would help cement Roosevelt Lake’s national reputation as a bass fishery comparable to places like Florida and the California Delta.
The effort to publicize Rim Country as a fishing hot spot and to connect Payson and Roosevelt Lake in the public mind dovetails with the town’s building effort to promote the Rim Country as a premier outdoor destination — rather than a place you stop for gas and food on your way to some place else.
More fish stocking
Mayor Evans met recently with state Game and Fish and federal Fish and Wildlife officials for preliminary conversations on increasing stocking rates on the East Verde and to consider improvements to create more trout pools and perhaps a trophy trout catch-and-release stretch.
In addition, various groups have started discussions about stocking stretches of the stream with catchable Apache trout, the first fish nationally to be removed from the endangered species list as a result of an aggressive breeding and stocking program that has also created an Apache trout fishery in streams and lakes in the White Mountains.
Promoting the Rim Country as a base of operations for Roosevelt’s warm-water fishery and the trout streams coming off the Rim could play to a strategy of promoting Rim Country as the state’s premier outdoor recreation area — just 90 minutes from the nation’s fifth largest city.
The debriefing on the bass tournament revealed only minor problems.
For instance, the tournament ran afoul of state Game and Fish regulations barring fishermen from keeping bass in the 12- to 16-inch category.
Normally, those rules ensure that fishermen don’t remove the breeding-sized fish — but still allow them to keep the bigger fish. But the organizers couldn’t get an exemption from the slot rule, even though the tournament fishermen returned all the fish alive to the lake once they weighed them.
However, the rule forced the fishermen to immediately release fish in the slot limit, which made it harder for them to accumulate the five fish allowed for weigh-in.
Evans said that Gov. Jan Brewer had agreed to support an exemption to the slot limit for any future event. The state game and fish commission can make an exemption to the size limit for tournaments, in which the fish are released alive back into the lake.
The organizers said that more than 99 percent of the fish caught were released alive, an unusually low mortality rate.
“I didn’t have any trouble at all getting the governor behind it,” said Evans, “but she doesn’t want to go out on a limb if there isn’t actually a tournament.”
Therefore, he said that as soon as the organizers pick a date for next year’s tournament, he would arrange an exemption from the slot limit.
Ironically, that effort to get the fish back into the lake immediately after the weigh-in caused the only significant snafu of the whole tournament.
Some 60 college students participated in their own tournament sponsored by the National Guard. But when the students arrived for the weigh-in, they completely snarled the boat ramp. Initially, the law enforcement officials patrolling the lake blamed the students for not following directions. However, the discussion revealed that the real problem had to do with the location of the weigh station and the need to then rush the fish back down to the water line for release.