The first stop for many of the Bassmaster Elite pros upon arriving in Orange last Saturday was a five hour “meet and greet” affair hosted by Simon’s Outfitters. It had to be a bit of a hassle coming off a long drive as hundreds of well wishers and fans anxiously awaited their turn to shake hands or get an autograph as soon as they climbed out of their trucks.

Pan after pan of boudain, sausage, ribs and brisket that would melt in your mouth kept the majority of those in attendance mopping their faces with paper towels, but those in the know never strayed far from the pit for fear of missing out on bacon wrapped duck breasts and even a little pheasant that came and went unannounced!

The weather was absolutely perfect and the huge crowd was obviously very pleased to welcome these pros back to Orange.Many of them were eager to once again see a particular pro that they met at the 2013 event, but for the most part it was simply an opportunity to shake hands and rub elbows with their fishing heroes.

I spoke briefly with John Gothia, one of the two individuals most responsible for the Bassmasters granting Orange an Elite tournament. He was all smiles as the huge gathering was a very positive beginning to an event filled week of fishing, concerts, art in the park and fun for the entire family. While the Chamber of Commerce, Stark Foundation, hotels and area businesses as well as a small army of volunteers have doubled down to attract even larger crowds than the record setting 2013 event, none of this would have taken place had it not been for David Jones and Gothia.

“David deserves all the credit,” stated a much too modest Gothia.“While visiting with a home town friend of his that was also a good friend of Jerry McKinnis, he mentioned Orange and the Sabine River system as a worthy test for the best bass fishermen in the world.A year later, David’s phone rang and we were told that Orange had indeed been chosen for the first Elite event of the year.”

“David called me and we were initially like “Holy Smoke…..what now,” said Gothia.“The irony in this,” he added, “is that at that time we were just hoping to host any of their tournaments, prove that Orange had a lot to offer and eventually land the same Elite tournament we are hosting this week.Nothing quite like starting at the top!

While it is not in their best interest only two days prior to the first day of the tournament to share any pertinent tips regarding bass fishing on the Sabine River, Paul Elias and Shaw Grigsby did share their different approaches to locating fish while speaking to the CCA Chapter Monday night.

Elias pointed out that the fourteen inch minimum length was the most difficult challenge in this tournament. “The water is high and dirty, but you can still get an incredible number of strikes if you just pick apart any piece of structure with a jig or craw worm,” stated Elias.“The problem is that you don’t really know what you have found until the tournament starts because you can’t afford to set the hook and waste even a single keeper fish!”

Grigsby, a Florida resident, was quick to laud the CCA and what they have done for saltwater fishermen in his state as well before briefly discussing his approach.He, too, pointed out that getting bites was not a problem, but more surprisingly, he added that tidal movement did not play a major role as to where he would start each day.

“I am a spot fisherman regardless of what the tide is doing,” he stated. “I know the fish will position themselves a little differently and I target that depth, but I just decide on several spots, pick them apart and hope that at least a few of those bass will be big enough to get me to the final day!”

Grigsby also pointed out the entire Bassmaster field thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality shown them on their last visit, but were concerned that they might not get a return visit because of the difficulty in locating numbers of legal bass.“By the time we left, however, as the result of the over flow crowds at every weigh-in we all knew that we would be back again!”

“We also fished a similarly difficult tournament in Philadelphia and we will fish there again because those folks turned out in huge numbers just like the folks here in Orange. I can assure you that earning return trips is more about the numbers and support than challenging fishing.”

Well……the hay is in the barn. David Jones and John Gothia made the coveted event a reality, area businesses have gone the extra mile for both the fishermen and the spectators and now it is up to each of us to keep them coming back.Take the time to load up the youngsters and attend the weigh-ins and regardless of which pro drives away with the winning check, Orange will be the biggest winner of all!

Photo – Huge crowd welcomed arrival of Bassmasters!