ORANGE, Texas — Before Thursday’s weigh-in for the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Elite at Sabine River presented by Econo Lodge, I had lunch at a food truck parked near the stage.
You’re probably thinking corn dog, hot dog or hamburger. But I had steak tacos with strips of actual steak on a freshly made corn tortilla with sliced avocado and melted cheese.
As I walked to the media trailer with my meal, I passed 30 other similar food vendors while contemplating how I could sample them all during the next three days.
The weigh-in site at City of Orange Boat Ramp has a true carnival atmosphere — and that’s what we get every time we come to Orange.
It’s why we keep coming back.
The people here give us the royal treatment. If I go into a gas station before daylight wearing a Bassmaster shirt, I’m treated like someone important — even though I’m just a regular guy looking for coffee.
With a start time of 6:05 a.m., this week’s morning takeoffs are some of the earliest we’ve had on the Elite Series. But they’ve been hugely attended by local folks wanting to catch a glimpse of their pro-fishing heroes, and the afternoon weigh-ins could be a huge story by the end of the week.
When we were here in 2013, more than 33,650 fans showed up. That was the most ever for an Elite Series event until we went to Waddington, N.Y., on the St. Lawrence River later that year and drew 34,100.
The crowds were hurt a little bit here in Orange in 2015 by heavy rains that created ankle-deep mud at the weigh-in site. But the good folks who put this tournament together want badly to make another run at the record this week — and from what I’ve seen, it’s not wise to doubt them.
Remember, they had all of this planned once before.
The tournament was originally scheduled for April, and all of the food trucks and merchandise vendors were already planning to be here. The musical acts were booked, and the local business owners who depend on events like this for their livelihoods had already penciled an income spike into their books.
Flood waters washed it away — and it hit them all hard.
But in the true spirit of Texas, they dug in their heels, started over and made it all happen again.
The Orange County River Festival, which is held in conjunction with the Bassmaster Elite Series Outdoors Expo, opens each day during the event at 11 a.m. In addition to fantastic food, it features a wide variety of free activities and the Kids Catch and Release Fish Tank.
Live music will begin at 5:30 p.m. today with the group “Tony Faulk and Chaos,” followed by Dustin Sonnier at 8. On Saturday, Britt Godwin will open the show at 5:30, with country music star John Michael Montgomery to follow at 8.
Montgomery has a string of No. 1 hits to his credit, including “I Love the Way You Love Me,” “I Can Love You Like That,” “I swear” and “Be My Baby Tonight.” A guy with a resume like that playing a free show just doesn’t happen very often.
If you ask the Elite Series anglers about the fishing on the Sabine River, a lot of them will probably grumble — and you can’t blame them. The fishing was always going to be tough in this heat, and it got even tougher when B.A.S.S. was forced to declare the Louisiana portion of the fishery off-limits due to ongoing political issues.
That’s beyond the control of the folks who worked hard twice to put this tournament together — and despite all of that, we currently have a tight race atop the leaderboard between superstars Greg Hackney and Skeet Reese.
It may be tough on the anglers, but this event is a slam-dunk victory for fans.
So, if you’re in the area, come out to the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Elite at Sabine River presented by Econo Lodge.
You should come for the weigh-in, the food and the music.
But most of all, you should come because these folks have earned it.