It has been said that behind every successful sporting event is a good sports commission. Witness the March 11 kickoff in California of the 2010 Bassmaster Elite Series, the third time the Stockton Sports Commission will host BASS' top-tier pro fishing circuit.
"The Bassmaster Elite Series is the highlight of our sports schedule," said Don Miller, director of the Stockton Sports Commission, which has been working to attract sporting events to the northern California city for the past 13 years. "There's no doubt that the tournament is a great event."
Of course, easy access to the 1,000-mile California Delta fishery had a lot to do with the Elite Series' return to Stockton for the Duel in the Delta, but a city needs to have enough hotels, restaurants, shopping and other features for an Elite tournament to come to town.
Stockton offers that and more. One amenity is the waterside Weber Point Events Center. Situated on a point of land that juts out into the Delta, the center includes a huge, shaded stage.
"The fishermen are able to dock their boats right behind the staging and walk their bags of fish right up to the stage. It's the perfect setup for a bass tournament," Miller said.
Stockton hosted the 2003 California Tour (equivalent to what is now the Elite Series), and the four-day 2007 Duel on the Delta, which was won by Aaron Martens, a California native now living in Alabama. Miller said the city learned from those tournaments that it wanted the Elite Series to return.
"Saturday and Sunday were our biggest days," Miller said. "We had great crowds of well over 3,500 each day. And not only does the Elite event bring a tremendous amount of business from the fishermen, their families, and fans who come out to Stockton, but there's the added feature of the television coverage on ESPN2. The national exposure that ESPN2 can bring to a city is so valuable."
People may know Stockton as home of the huge Asparagus Festival held annually the last weekend of April; it attracts upward of 100,000 people. Asparagus has nothing to do with sports, but those who go to the festival may learn of what's on tap in their favorite sport. There's hardly a sport Stockton does not host, thanks to the work of the commission.
"We attract everything from national softball to high school wrestling to bass tournaments, junior golf tournaments, and professional golf tournaments — anything and everything that, basically, will last more than one day," Miller said. "We want people to come to town and enjoy themselves, fill hotels, and go to restaurants and shops and spend money."
The city offers a sports arena that seats 10,000 people and is home to the Stockton Thunder pro hockey team and the California Cougars pro soccer team. Next door is a stadium that houses the Stockton Ports, a minor league affiliate of the Oakland A's. The new Lexington Hotel completes the facility.
This year, while Bassmaster Elite Series pros are on the water March 11-14 competing in the Duel in the Delta, fishing fans can come to Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton, Calif., for the Elite Series Expo.
Elite Series sponsors will showcase their products and offer activities for fans. Also planned is Splash Dogs, an event in which dogs can attempt to get some big air over water.
"You can bring your Chihuahua, you can bring your German Sheppard, it's open to all," said Don Miller, director of the Stockton Sports Commission.
The commission and Downtown Stockton Alliance partnered to present an Expo booth. For kids will be cabbage bowling and face painting. For adults will be beer and music, including a pub crawl after weigh-in Saturday.
"Our beer booth will be the first stop in the pub crawl," Miller said.
Also slated is the Bassmaster Shamrock 5K Run & Walk. It will begin at 5 p.m. PT after the Saturday weigh-in. Registration for the run-walk is available online at -5k-run-walk. Weber Point gates will open at noon each day, Thursday-Sunday, March 11-14. Daily weigh-ins will begin at 3:30 p.m. PT.
Everyone who knows bass fishing knows that reigning Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam took his third Bassmaster Classic title Feb. 21. It's said that only first counts in the Classic, that no one remembers other finishes. But there were notable accomplishments by other pros that day in Alabama:
The Alabama Eight: Of the eight home-state favorites, five finished in the top 20. Of these, Russ Lane of Prattville turned out the best performance with a fourth-place finish. Next best was Matt Herren of Trussville, in seventh.
Mark Tucker in 12th: Tucker is the Elite pro from St. Louis, Mo., who initially missed the 2010 Classic qualifying cut by one spot, but later slid into the field when Elite pro James Niggemeyer of Van, Texas, double-qualified through the Bassmaster Opens. Tucker called Niggemeyer his "hero." The Texas pro, plagued by illness during the tournament, finished 18th.
Good things happen when you quit: Kevin Wirth of Crestwood, Ky., finished eighth, proving he can fish well without his longtime companion on the water — cigarettes. Quitting the habit, hard enough in itself, becomes much more difficult under stress, and there's no event in fishing more stressful than the Classic. Wirth has willpower.
Experience helps: Jeff Freeman of Max Meadows, Va., in his second Classic appearance as a BASS Federation Nation qualifier, finished ninth. He was the top Federation finisher. He was 28th in 2008.
Rookie threat: Three of the nine Classic rookies made the top 25. Cliff Crochet of Pierre Part, La., ended 13th; sole woman Pam Martin-Wells of Bainbridge, Ga., was 22nd; and 2009 Elite Rookie of the Year Billy McCaghren of Mayflower, Ark., was 24th.
Sole woman: Martin-Wells, the second woman in history to be in a Classic, held her own throughout. She caught early limits — unofficially, she had the first limits of the entire field on the first two days — made the top-25 cut for the final day, then ended 22nd.
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Mark Menendez of Paducah, Ky., recently teamed up with a new online outfit called Largemouth Mafia. It describes itself as a "fishing social network." The site's "go live" date was during the Feb. 19-21 Bassmaster Classic, in which Menendez competed.
Menendez's 2010 boat wrap promotes the new venture. He said he will contribute to the site's content with fishing tips and how-to articles, as well as assist in growing the pro staff, which was dubbed The Rodfathers.
"We want to find anglers who can contribute to information on the site, those who will work to educate and recruit people back to the sport of fishing," Menendez said.
Fans are invited to become "family members." There's no cost to join and more than 250,000 have registered, according to Mafia Media's CEO, Frankie Marion
And why the name?
"We're a family," said Marion. "We appeal to the 18- to 35-year-old demographic, and the negative connotation of 'mafia' is on its way out."
J Todd Tucker, a second-year Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Moultrie, Ga., is the captain of the new Tucker Team EGGlites.
The name EGGlites comes from "Elite" and Big Green Egg, the company that makes and markets the outdoor cooker of the same name. With the team concept, Big Green Egg expands its sponsorship of Tucker.
Elite pros Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., Chris Lane of Guntersville, Ala., and Bradley Hallman of Norman, Okla., will join Tucker as EGGlites on the 2010 Elite trail. They plan to share fishing and grilling tips with fans at tournaments throughout the season. It begins March 11-14 with the Duel in the Delta out of Stockton, Calif.
Tucker also has two new sponsors, Skeeter boats and Tru-Tungsten.
"One of the great things about being a Bassmaster Classic champ is that it gives you a platform from which to speak. I intend to use my platform this year to speak in favor of recreational sportfishing…" — 2010 Classic winner Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., in his March 1 blog on BASS Insider at www.Bassmaster.com