By Dave Rogers

For The Record

High-dollar pro bass fishing returns to the Sabine River Thursday, Friday and Saturday, meaning the area around the Orange Boat Ramp will be a beehive of activity.

Tents and trailers and carnival rides were being set up Tuesday. Motel traffic was picking up along with wait times at area restaurants.

The Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open will put almost 400 fishermen on the water in 192 boats from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday, with the field being cut to the top 12 pros and co-anglers for Saturday’s finale, with the fishing schedule the same.

The winning pro will take home about $50,000 in cash and prizes while the top co-angler wins $25,000 in prizes.

“We have about 395 anglers from out of town here this week practicing for the tournament,” County Commissioner John Gothia said Tuesday.

“More importantly, they’re staying in our hotels and eating in our restaurants – spending money.

“And we have some great family events planned.”

The Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce coordinates the event, along with the B.A.S.S. tournament organization and hotel occupancy tax monies from the city of Orange and Orange County.

Attendance is free.

Weigh-ins will be held each day at 3 p.m. and live music is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

A kids’ carnival, shows by Gator Country, and a kids’ fishing tank will keep the young ones busy. Food vendors will be on site.

The entertainment schedule has local bands Friday – Curse and the Cure at 6 p.m.; LN and The Crush at 7:303 p.m.; The Ruxpins at 9 p.m.

Saturday, Britt Godwin & Company will open at 6 p.m., followed by Colt Ford at 7:30 p.m.

Gator Country Shows are set for 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday with the Kids’ Fish Tank open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

“There will be a lot of activities other than the fishing going on every day that you’ll see at the weigh-in,” Gothia said. “Of course, it’s a fun, family-filled event. We want people to come and have a good time.”

Orange hosted the Bassmasters Elite tournament in 2013 and drew a record crowd of 30,000. In 2015, weather played havoc with the second Bassmasters Elite event here.

The Bassmasters Open series is a notch below the Elite Series with the top five non-Elite pros in end-of-the-year standings advancing to Bassmasters Elite.

However, Elite fishermen are allowed to compete in Open series events and the top two point-getters in the Southern Open standings this year are Elite fishers —  Mike McClelland of Bella Vista, Arkansas, and Josh Bertrand of San Tan Valley, Arizona. Third in the point standings is Drew Sloan of Scurry, Texas, with Roy Hawk of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and Pete Wenners of Galena, Missouri, next in line.

All five are entered this week.

Also entered in the pro division are six from Orange – John Dickerson, Jonathan Simon, Trey Smith, Corey Stanley, Carl Svebek and Bryan Trahan – and Vidor’s Branden Bearden and Mike Brown.

Gothia said Bassmaster Opens pair pros (also called boaters) by B.A.S.S. with co-anglers (also called non-boaters) for the competition, a bit like a pro-am golf tournament.

The non-boaters fish from the back of the boat and they are randomly paired with pros each day. The pros are allowed to weigh in five fish each day, the non-boaters have a limit of three.

Each keeper must measure at least 12 inches.

The boats are allowed to go no farther than a two-hour’s distance from the boat ramp.

The winning pro will earn entry into the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic as well as a Skeeter boat-Yamaha motor package and cash worth approximately $50,000.

The top co-angler will win a Triton boat-Mercury motor package.

Gates open at 1 p.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Friday and Saturday. The riverfront closes at 10 p.m.

“We started this several years ago,” Gothia said of hosting big fishing tourneys. “It’s grown to be a really good event for Orange County, for Southeast Texas as a whole.

“A lot of people ask me, ‘Why do they come fish here?’ It’s a unique challenge to these anglers, and I think we put on a great show.

“The biggest thing is it’s just fun to come out to.

“In the morning, they do a scheduled blastoff and people come out and watch. It’s before sunup. They do the national anthem and then all these boats take off. We usually average 1,000 to 1,500 at the takeoff each morning.

“And then the activities during the day to do before the weigh-ins start at 3 o’clock. Then you get to see what these anglers can do on our waterways. They run far away and they run close. It’s a very fun time for everybody.”