Anyone that resides in the Orange area could have immediately told you there was a helluva crowd in attendance at the Bassmaster Elite weigh-ins both Saturday and Sunday afternoon well before they neared the launch site. I have never seen trucks and cars wedged into every available space from Green avenue all the way to Bluebird fish camp in my life!

The crowds the first two days of the event had already been praised by the pros, but they easily doubled in size on day three and four. Saturday’s crowd of 15,730 broke the single day Bassmaster mark and the four day total of 33,650 set a new record as well. It took a ton of behind the scene work to even get a shot at hosting the event, but the overflow crowds may well be the icing on the cake that assures that more events like this are all but guaranteed.

At least one official in the know said that they had already been told that the Bassmaster Elite is already considering a return year after next and possibly even next year. Several other major tournament organizers, both fresh and saltwater were on hand and they were looking at hosting tournaments out of Orange as early as next fall!

I would never attempt to try to recognize even a portion of the folks that made this all happen for fear of leaving someone out, but my hat is off to everyone from the folks that started the ball rolling to the volunteers that parked cars and assisted with the boat launches. It was a total effort that will reap benefits for the city for years to come.

Orange native, Bob Crew made every weigh-in and he said that was the biggest crowd he could remember in Orange since World War II. I think about half of the folks that gathered for the Neal McCoy concert and fireworks Saturday night just stayed all night rather than risk lose their parking spot and good seat for the final weigh-in!

I enjoyed my time spent talking with a number of the pros and a few of their family members when catching bass wasn’t the only thing on their minds. I just didn’t realize what a logistical hassle it is to follow the circuit all over the country. Not one of them knew if they were going to be here through the weekend or leaving for Falcon Lake Friday night

“I bet you we’ll come back here,” said a wife of one of the pros while standing in line for another shrimp Kabob.“I don’t know what one of those boudain things are even made of, but they are good, too,” she remarked before closing the deal with, “When the wives are happy all is good and the people and food down here get my vote!”

Todd Faircloth of Jasper was the sentimental favorite of those gathered each day and he rose to the occasion on Day Four. After swapping the lead over the first three days with Dean Rojas he closed the deal with a 14 pound 9 ounce stringer for a four day total of 49.6 pounds. The victory was worth $103,000 and a guaranteed spot in the Bassmaster Classic.

Faircloth found his winning fish in Taylor’s Bayou, but a number of the pros elected to make even longer runs each day. Bayou D’inde located between Sulphur and Lake Charles was one of the Louisiana hot spots that required a long run as well.

Trey Smith said that no one he talked with ran any further than Mike McClelland each day. “McClelland told me that he was fishing north of Galveston and ran over 800 miles in four days,” said Smith. “His gas bill was averaging $265 a day!”

On the other end of the spectrum was fifth place finisher, Bill Lowen, who could have troll motored to his fish each day. He homesteaded the burned out bridge area all four days and his short run served him well. Mark Davis also spent most of his time just a short distance up the Sabine River.

It also didn’t take long to figure out that the pros don’t miss a thing when it comes to getting the most bang for their fishing buck. More than one of them pointed out that there wasn’t much initial monetary value in qualifying for the final day if you had little chance of making up ground on the leader when fishing a tough venue.

Their point was that the 12th place finisher lost two days of practice on Falcon and earned only $500 more than the pro that finished in 50th place. At the same time, they were well aware that the most important benefit of a top finish is the number of points earned toward qualifying for the big show at the end of the year.

All of the strategy was of little or no concern, however, to the sea of elated spectators that flocked to see their fishing heroes in person. The event proved to be even more exciting than it appears to be on television, the patience of each and every pro was appreciated and respected by their fans and even the non-fishermen in Orange are excited about the possibility that they will be back.

Congratulations to Todd Faircloth, the Bassmaster Elite organization, and all of Orange. A world of folks will know where Orange, Texas is after the Bassmaster show Sunday morning on ESPN 2!

Pros were greeted with early morning fog on Day 3 of Bassmaster event. Record Photo: Dickie Colburn