Massive flooding along the Mississippi River has forced the 9th event of the Elite Series to Old Hickory Lake in Gallatin, Tenn. (View original BASS press release.) Anglers and tournament directors alike were looking forward to fishing the Mississippi, but a lack of dry land will be the undoing of what would have been the first Elite Series event to be held in Fort Madison, Iowa.
"The park where the weigh-in would have been held is completely underwater, and it'll be over a month until it is ready to be used again," said Jim Noll, volunteer tournament director for the Fort Madison area. "This is a big disappointment for all of us here. We were really looking forward to our first Elite event."
Noll has served as director for 20 years, and has only seen a tournament flooded out one other time, in 1993. Most of the town of Fort Madison was spared from high waters as it is built on a bluff, but the park and some factories near the river have been damaged. Noll says the park will be down for most of the summer, as it will take about two weeks for the area to drain, then another month for the city to get the park tournament-ready again. This downtime will affect the town of approximately 10,000 more than the high water.
"We had almost every room in town full before this happened. It's a great source of revenue, and this would have been huge," Noll said. "Living on the river means you have to abide by its rules, and we'll bounce back like before, probably stronger than ever."
Anglers are equally upset about this move, especially ones who have had success in the past on the Big Muddy. Paul Hirosky, who finished fourth in the Northern Open at Fort Madison in 2006 was anticipating this leg of the Elites more than any other.
"I'm really bummed out," Hirosky said, "I was looking forward to having a really strong tournament, but you've got to roll with the punches."
Hirosky thinks the weights will be down at Old Hickory versus the Mississippi because the fishing pressure is considerably lower in Fort Madison. He also notes the fishery is better along that particular stretch of the river than most places. Grass is abundant, there are frequently miles of lily pads, and the town lends itself to a tournament atmosphere better than most places.
"I was shocked at the quality of the fish when I first got there," he said. "While fishing the Mississippi would have been nice, we all fully support BASS' decision to move the tournament elsewhere. Safety is always a priority."