“What if…?” That is the way a lot of great ideas begin. The seed was planted, nurtured and this week the fruits of many labors will be harvested with the arrival of 102 Bassmaster Elite Anglers in Orange County.

Although the public events don’t begin until Thursday the competitors are already in town and on the job.

John Gothia said this enormous event started with a discussion between him, David Jones (owner of Gopher Industrial), and Jones’ friend Carl Svebec (pronounced Swayback) several years ago.

Pro Bass Fishermen enjoy meal furnished by Baptist Orange Hospital. Photos by Gunn Studios

“We were just kind of joking around saying hey, wouldn’t it be neat if we could ever get these guys down here and let them see what a real challenge would be,” said Gothia.

Svebec is a good friend with Jerry McInnis, who is one of the three primary owners of B.A.S.S.

“At the time, Jerry McInnis didn’t own B.A.S.S. ESPN still owned it,” said Gothia.

McInnis and his partners later bought B.A.S.S. from ESPN.

Gothia said McInnis then called them and said, “Hey look, are you guys serious about really wanting to do a tournament?”

Jones and McInnis held a video conference in Jones’ office.

“David knows the business side and I know the fishing side of it and we started the conversation off like that,” said Gothia. “We told him straight up that this would be a tough tournament. These are tough waters, it’s not easy.”

McInnis said the pros needed a challenge and it would be a good test of their skills.

“We were just trying to get any of their series. They have four different levels of competition. The Elite is the biggest with the most publicity. We never dreamed we would get an Elite series, we were just hoping to get one of their entry level tournaments here. “

Jones and Gothia then went to the Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce looking for a host for the tournament. “We knew how beneficial it would be for Orange County.”

They had to get money approved from several different sources ahead of time.

Caitlin and Braydon Denison pose with Pro Bass Fisherman Kevin Van Dam.

“We had to sign a commitment letter by March 15 of last year, committing to the funds to bring them here. We worked through all that. The county has been fabulous. Bobby’s group (Orange County Economic Development Corp) and Commissioners’ Court worked with us and got us where we needed to be.”

“This has been a collaborative effort of a lot of people,” said Ida Schossow, president of the GOACC. “We have such good things to offer in Orange County, in our community. We want everybody to know what we have here.”

Schossow says they are aware of at least 80 of the 102 competitors that have been through the area over the last four months, prior to mid-February when the water became off-limits before the tournament.

Orange put out the welcome mat for all of the anglers Sunday, for a mandatory boat check-in held at Baptist Hospital Orange. Fishermen also received their rules and regulations and were treated to a feast of pecan chicken and steamed vegetables.

Jarren Garrett, Baptist Hospital CEO and chairman of the GOACC said “It’s hard to believe we’ve got 102 of the world’s finest anglers here, in Orange. “We’re very proud to host the event with the chamber.”

Many of the fishermen have expressed how welcome they have felt by everyone in the Orange County area over the last few months.

“Every one of them that have been here has said how friendly everybody has been to them,” said Gothia. “When they are out eating, when they are on the water, people walk up to them when they are filling up their boats with gas. They said they don’t get that everywhere they go, so it’s nice to come to a community that wants to have them; that enjoys them being here.”

One fisherman, Bradley Roy, posted on Facebook Feb. 11 how welcome he felt in the area.

Many local businesses have posted signs, while some invested in billboards welcoming the Bassmaster Elite tournament to Orange.

Pro Bass Fishermen line up at Baptist Orange Hospital for sign-in and boat inspection.

“They say it is going to bring $1.4 million in revenue, just this week alone,” said Garrett. “If you believe economists, they say the turn is going to be seven times, so that is a great economic impact for Orange County. We’re excited about that.”

Gothia said they hope this spurs the local chamber tournament. “We were very successful last year and we hope to continue to grow that as a local tournament.”

Gothia said he also hopes it brings other tournaments to town. Smaller contests like to go where the big tournaments have been. A salt water tournament is in the works, but information on that cannot be given at this time.

Pre-fishing has been allowed from Monday through Wednesday to give the fisherman a chance to check out the area, before the tournament begins Thursday morning.

There will be heavy traffic on the water because not only will there the angler’s boats and numerous camera boats, but Gothia said they expect 100-200 spectator boats also on the water.

He recently attended the Bassmaster Classic in Tulsa, Okla. Gothia said there was over 900 spectator boats at that event.

For those not on the water there is plenty to keep them busy too.

“There’s going to be a lot of activity starting Thursday, down at the riverfront,” said Garrett. “The concert is going to be great with Neal McCoy. The laser light show on Friday night, activities pretty much throughout the week. So, fun times here in Orange County.”

Everything at the Riverfront Festival is free except food, things purchased on vendor’s row and the carnival. “The kids can do all kinds of stuff free,” said Schossow.

Pro Bass Fisherman Gary Klein with U.S. Coastal Inspector Mike Bittenbroke.

Saturday they will hold the Bassmaster High School Elite Experience where juniors and seniors from area schools will get a behind the scenes look at Bassmaster Elite tournaments. This is something fairly new for B.A.S.S., it was offered for the first time last year.

Schossow said, “We’ve got people coming from across the United States.” Schossow said there are many organizations coming from across the country just to see how Orange County pulled this event off.

“They’ll be spending money on gas, food and there is so much going on. The city moved Art in the Park up a week so they could have it at the same time.”

Schossow said, “We want people to know about us. We’ve got the museum. We’ve got Shangri La. We’ve got the Cormier Museum. We’ve got Heritage House, lots of things. We’ve got a world class theater here. How do we get people to know about all that?”

Gothia said because of the tournaments TV coverage Orange will be on television several times this year, which will hopefully bring more tourists, fishermen and hunters here when they see all we have to offer.

“We are collectively working on this as a county. We want other things to come from this. We don’t want it to be a one-time thing,” said Schossow.

For a full schedule of events check online at TheRecordLive.com.

Jerry McInnis, one of the owners of B.A.S.S. greets Bassmaster Elite anglers Sunday, and goes over tournament rules and regulations at Baptist Hospital Orange. RECORD PHOTO: Penny LeLeux

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.