Looking ahead to Classic 50

Misti Lewis Satterfield swept her hand toward a parking lot in front of Knoxville’s Jacob Building.

“This is where the anglers’ boats will be lined up,” she said.

Satterfield and I were planning Media Day for the recent GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods in Knoxville, Tenn. Media Day enabled as many as 250 credentialed media covering the event to interview Classic contenders one-on-one in the anglers’ boats. The grounds of the Jacob Building provided a great setting for those interviews, but they would have been less than ideal on that late February day when we were discussing preparations.

The parking lot was a lake. “There’s 10 or 12 feet of water over the parking lot right now, but it’ll all be gone by the time y’all get here,” said Satterfield, who is director of the Chilhowee Park and Exposition Center.

How she knew that the historic flood would subside in time for the Classic, I don’t know. But she was confident, and I was too, sort of.

Record rainfall in February — more than 12 1/2 inches — had the Tennessee River up and roiled, and it cost Knox County $43.5 million in damages.

Fortunately for B.A.S.S.’s media-­relations efforts, the floodwaters were gone by March 14, and fortunately for Knox County, the flood of bass fishing fans descending on Knoxville later that week generated $32.2 million in economic impact.

That’s a record revenue total for the world championship of bass fishing, and it certainly far exceeds the impact of any other sportfishing event in the nation. Knoxville also drew a record attendance of 153,809, easily exceeding the total of 143,000 counted at Classic venues in Greenville and Anderson, S.C., a year earlier.

Tourism leaders and elected officials were ecstatic about the event’s success, and several B.A.S.S. staffers were approached by Knoxville residents who thanked them for bringing the Bassmaster Classic to their town.

“The 2019 Bassmaster Classic really blew us out of the water,” said Kim Bumpas, president of Visit Knoxville. “The crowds, the enthusiasm, the economic impact were all but unprecedented.”

As someone who first attended Classics that were held on a lakeshore with, at most, 3,000 or 4,000 fans in attendance, I was blown away, too.

It’s exciting for the sport that so many people are so passionate about their bass fishing that they’ll travel hundreds of miles to a host city and spend thousands of dollars on lodging, dining and fishing gear, as they did at this year’s Classic.

I was especially gratified that a record 18,500 children and parents visited the Get Hooked on Fishing presented by Toyota, Shakespeare and TakeMeFishing.org during the three days it was open.

All of this bodes well for next year’s Super Bowl of Bass Fishing, which will be held March 6-8 out of Birmingham with fishing on Lake Guntersville at Guntersville, Ala.

It’s fitting that the 50th Classic will be held in the state where the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society was founded in 1968. It will be part homecoming, part celebration of the future of fishing.

When B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott conducted the first Classic at Lake Mead, Nevada, in 1971, the audience consisted of two dozen outdoor writers and about that many curious onlookers. From curiosity to economic engine ... my how far the Classic has come.