Fishing towns: Dayton, Tenn.

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Andrew Canulette
A marker stands outside the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, Tenn. noting it as the site of the Scopes Trial in the summer of 1925. At right is the F.E. Robinson Home. Robinson was instrumental in inititating the Scopes Trail in this house. It's still owned by the Robinson Family.

DAYTON, Tenn. - These are historic times for the tiny town of Dayton, Tennessee.

Nearly 400 anglers are crossing the stage for weigh-in during the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open No. 2 on Chickamauga Lake. Many of them are displaying hefty bass to a healthy crowd, and some of the bucket mouths are in the 8- and 9-pound range.

A week later, a record field of high school anglers will be in Dayton for the Costa Bassmaster High School Southern Open presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. Those events traditionally reel in even bigger crowds, as mom, dad and siblings often travel with the teenaged anglers.

A news crew from CBS This Morning is working its way around the Dayton Boat Dock during the Southern Open. A reporter is talking with anglers, fans and Dayton Mayor Gary Louallen. They’re shooting hours of video tape to edit into a story about small towns across the U.S. that are using outdoors pursuits to jumpstart local economies.

And that leads the crew to Dennis Tumlin, who is the Rhea County Economic Development & Tourism Council Executive Director. Tumlin was born in the city of 7,000 and at 49 has seen its highs and lows. After a nearly two-decades long career with Coca Cola, Louallen lured him into civic work in his hometown. Together, they brainstormed ideas that would help revitalize Dayton’s economy, and fishing was a logical choice.

That’s because Dayton sits on Chickamauga Lake, a 38,000-acre impoundment of the Tennessee River, and the fishery has been one of the most productive in the U.S. in recent years. Bassmaster magazine ranked it the 6th best lake in the nation in 2013, and 7th in 2014. BASSfest was held here in 2014, and another pair of B.A.S.S. tournaments here this April are further testament to how good “The Chick” is fishing right now. There are more than 30 city-sponsored fishing tournaments scheduled for Lake Chickamauga in 2017, which is a significant increase from when Tumlin and Louallen joined forces three years ago.

People want a part of Lake Chickamauga, and the people of Dayton are happy to give it to them. For a place known chiefly as site of the Scopes Monkey Trials way back in 1925, fishing is a shot in the arm to the economy, and it’s the opportunity to rebrand itself as a haven to those with a 21st Century hobby – competitive fishing.

“We want to be a destination,” Tumlin said. “We partner with organizations like B.A.S.S. and that gives us credibility. The Elite Series came here for BASSfest and fans followed. The amateurs want to be here, and they’ll follow B.A.S.S. It’s a winning situation for us with tax dollars that come to town, but also for the people that come visit us, because the fishing is fantastic.”

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