The best competitive bass anglers in the world will convene on Grand Lake of the Cherokees near Tulsa Feb. 22-24 to compete for $500,000 and the title of Bassmaster Classic champion.
The event is the Bassmaster Classic, and it is equivalent to the Super Bowl or the World Series of bass fishing. It is expected to draw 70,000 visitors and account for more than 20,000 hotel nights in the region. Even more important, the Classic should pump something to the tune of $24 million dollars into the economy of Tulsa, Grove and other communities around Grand Lake.
In addition to the prize money and the most coveted title in competitive bass fishing, the winner of the Classic can expect a range of inevitable sponsorships.
"It really is the top prize in professional bass fishing," said Gene Gilliland, assistant chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Department. "It's easily the biggest fishing event that will ever come to Oklahoma."
Fans are invited to help kick off Classic competition at 7 a.m. Feb. 22 at Wolf Creek Park on Grand Lake. All 53 qualifiers will launch there on the first two days. The Feb. 24 finale will feature the Top 25 anglers, who will compete for the $500,000 first-place prize and the Classic crown. Daily weigh-ins will be at the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa, which will be filled with 15,000-18,000 spectators at each of the three events. Doors will open at 3 p.m.; the entire event is free.
Additionally, the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by Dick's Sporting Goods will take place at the Tulsa Convention Center from noon to 8 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. The Expo will feature a range of shopping and entertainment activities to visitors.
With over 15 hours of national media attention on ESPN and ESPN2, the Classic will be an enormous asset to the local economies and to the promotion of fishing in Oklahoma, according to officials with the Wildlife Department.
While expressing the magnitude of the event, Gilliland also noted that the Classic represents a tremendous opportunity for developing the region further for recreational use by anglers and boaters.
"The Bassmaster Classic is going to be a starting point for a lot of things that will be happening in the Grand Lake area and 'Green Country' in general," Gilliland said. "As big as Grand Lake is and as popular as it is, it doesn't really have big-time boat launching facilities. The City of Grove has stepped up and is cooperating with us and some other partners to try to make that possible, not only for the Bassmaster Classic, but for the future."
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation will be involved in the event by helping with the live release of fish back into Grand Lake following each weigh-in, through booth participation at the event expo, as well as through an extensive project to help the host community of Grove to develop world class fishing, boating and tournament facilities on the lake.
Wolf Creek Park in Grove has been renovated to provide six boat ramp lanes, parking for up to 300, restrooms, pavilions, a drive-through weigh-in station, courtesy docks and more. The two-phase project will result in a multi-million dollar, first-class facility for the public to use.
"This facility being built at Grand Lake is not just for the big level tournaments," Gilliland said. "But the City of Grove is trying to make something that the local fishermen can use so that they have some nicer facilities to be able to do some of their weigh-ins."
Over the course of the two-phase project, the Wildlife Department will contribute about $3 million, which will be combined with several million dollars provided by the City of Grove, Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Grand River Dam Authority - which operates the lake. The second phase of the project could include other partners as well.
"It's a big deal," Gilliland said. "I'm hoping that the folks at Lake Eufaula and at Lake Texoma and Ft. Gibson and some of our other major reservoirs get really jealous about seeing all this, because we'd like to do this same kind of project at those lakes and put in some really first-class facilities at other places around the state."
A recent episode of the Wildlife Department's Outdoor Oklahoma TV show featuring the upcoming Bassmaster Classic can be viewed on the Outdoor Oklahoma Youtube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/outdooroklahoma.