Anglers are already registering as the pieces continue coming together for a premier high school bass fishing event in Dayton, Tenn.
The Bass Pro Shops Battle of Chickamauga High School Classic presented by C.A.T.C.H. is expected to be the most exciting high school tournament ever seen in Tennessee – with expectations of becoming one of the biggest high school events in the nation.
"We want to do everything in our power to make sure these kids have a great time," said Dennis Tumlin, executive director of the Rhea County Economic Development & Tourism Council. "Of course we want and expect them to catch fish, but regardless of what they catch, when they leave here we want every one of them to feel like a rock star."
Dayton, Tenn., and FishDayton.com already have impressive bass-tournament credentials including the first-ever tremendously successful 2014 Bassmaster BASSfest. With 10-plus-pound largemouth bass coming from Chickamauga Lake routinely in recent years, the lake has become a powerhouse among the nation's big bass hot spots. It has consistently been ranked by B.A.S.S. in the Top 10 Best Bass Lakes in the nation. Last February, area guide Rogne Brown and his partner caught a five-bass limit that weighed 49 pounds.
The first 100 teams to register for the Battle of Chickamauga will be eligible to win $25,000 for catching a new Tennessee state record largemouth (currently 14 pounds, 8 ounces). With the incredible success of an ongoing Florida largemouth stocking program, area anglers fully expect that someone will catch a new state record from Chickamauga. At least two bass catches have been officially documented approaching 14 pounds.
Bass Pro Shops is the title sponsor of the March 27-28 event. Youngsters will be competing for a top prize that includes a $1,000 scholarship for the team, as well as $1,000 in Bass Pro Shops gift cards. The winning team will also earn an automatic spot into the Bassmaster High School National Championship later this year. The winning school will receive a custom championship Battle of Chickamauga title belt (MMA style) to keep until next year’s event.
"Events such as the Bass Pro Shops Battle of Chickamauga High School Classic provide youngsters with experience in participating in a hugely popular outdoor sport; teaches them the importance of maintaining our natural resources; and exposes them to positive industry role models,” said Katie Mitchell, Bass Pro Shops communications manager. “Bass Pro Shops has always worked hard to make sure America’s children have ample opportunities for experiencing the outdoors."
"It is exciting to have partners out there helping grow the high school realm of bass fishing," said Hank Weldon, manager of the Bassmaster High School Series, also a sponsor of the event. "The guys at FishDayton.com who are running the Battle of Chickamauga are a class-act operation and I am sure it will be a fantastic event.”
“I’ve been acquainted with Keith Gombash, C.A.T.C.H. vice president, and his youth fishing program for many years," said Roxanne Coleman of Pure Fishing. "When Keith told me about this regional high school B.A.S.S. sanctioned tournament, I knew Berkley and Abu Garcia had to be a part of it. Three years ago, Berkley brand launched the first ever initiative to work with high school fishing teams nationwide. The program does not include tournament fishing. I saw Chickamauga as a perfect place to jump in."
The event will kick off with a special dinner where every tournament participant will receive gift bags put together by sponsors. The bags alone will make the tournament well worth the $30 entry fee, plus $10 for "Big Fish" prizes. "This will be an experience these young athletes will never forget," said Gombash. Because this is a Bassmaster High School sanctioned event, all entrants must also be registered with Bassmaster High School ($20), which includes B.A.S.S. and B.A.S.S. Nation membership.
"Twenty-plus years in the fishing industry has shown me that fishing and outdoor activities can truly make a difference in the lives of young people," said Coleman. "I’ve seen it first-hand in the student who stopped skipping school in order to keep a place on the fishing team. The transition from unengaged to motivated is a wonderful thing to see in a young person. And it can happen through sportfishing.”
Event title sponsor Bass Pro Shops understands the importance of getting people interested in the outdoors at a young age.
“Bass Pro Shops is very committed to the youth of America and being a catalyst in promoting events that involve our youth in the great outdoors,” said Chris Vaden, store manager for the Sevierville Bass Pro Shops. “The Bass Pro Shops Battle of Chickamauga tournament is definitely going to be a fantastic venue for young anglers to participate on a scale rarely seen.”
“We are proud to partner with the Bassmaster High School series and FishDayton to bring a tournament to Chickamauga Lake that will offer the high school anglers the look and feel of the Bassmaster Classic,” said Vaden. “Our Bassmaster Elite Series pro, Ott DeFoe, will do a great job representing us at the pre-tournament dinner, and I’m sure the anglers will enjoy his message.”
"When it's all over, how do you want the bass fishing world to remember you?" Defoe asked. "I'd like for people to know that I was a Christian and that I always played the game honestly and tried to grow the sport." That’s an important message for youngsters from a Bassmaster professional with a laundry list of wins, but has also kept sight of the most important things in life.
Register or learn more about the Bass Pro Shops Battle of Chickamauga here. Learn more on the company's Facebook page or by contacting Dennis Tumlin with the Rhea County Economic and Tourism Council at 423-775-6171 or [email protected]ountyetc.com.