David Jones, member of the board of directors for the Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce, summed up the Orange County River Festival and Bassmaster Elite Series presented by Stark Cultural Venues:

“It’s here, and we’re back,” he said.

The event will be from March 19-22. In addition to the fishing tournament, there will be three free concerts, the Run Your Bass Off 5K Run, sponsored by Invista; the High School Fish with the Pros and Kids Fish Tank, sponsored by Gopher Industrial; the Laser Light Show at Lutcher Theater; and the Fireworks Show on the Riverfront.

In addition, there will be a carnival, food, games, the Stark Museum of Art, Shangri La Botanical Gardens, The W.H. Stark House, Art in the Park at Stark Park, autographs and meet the fishermen and so much more.

It’s been two years since the first Bassmaster Elite Series Tournament was held on the Sabine River in Orange. That event drew more than 33,000 attendees to the city. This time, organizers would like to see 40,000 in attendance, weather permitting.

“Right now, we’re getting the word out. We have the pieces in place. We’re working the media angle,” Jones said.

One example of a bigger and better tournament this go around is with the number of volunteers serving. There were 100 volunteers in 2013. There should be 300 this time and a much smoother operation.

Volunteers may serve even just for an hour as organizers try to fill in the last few spots.

Returning is the High School Elite Experience, presented by Costa.

This event will run from 10 a.m. to the weigh-in on Saturday, March 21 at the City of Orange Boat Ramp.

High school students interested in the sport of bass fishing can join an all-day exclusive lok into the world of bass fishing and get tips form the Bassmaster Elite Series pros.

This is a free event and space is limited. RSVP to Hank Weldon at hweldon@bassmaste.com by March 13, or call 205-313-0900.

Organizer John Gothia said the Top 10 high school teams will fish in a mini-tournament Saturday morning on a private lake in Vidor. They will also weigh in at the Elite Bassmaster’s stage before the pros weigh-in.

“We’ve had an excellent response,” Gothia said. “We knew what to expect this time.”

He believes other events held that day will benefit from the tournament.

For instance, Art in the Park ordinarily has 110 booths in a non-Bassmaster year. This time, they expect to have 160 booths.

All of the Stark Cultural Venues will be opened as well.

A ribbon cutting ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. on Thursday, March 12 at the City of Orange Boat Ramp to kick-off the first day of fishing. The ceremony will be held jointly between GOACC, the Bridge City Chamber of Commerce and the Vidor Chamber of Commerce.

Boats will be taking off around 6:30 a.m. every morning and the public are encouraged to attend.

Pre-registration for the 5K Run starts at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday. The 5K Run/Walk starts at 8 a.m. A Kids Fun Run starts at 9 a.m.

It costs $30 to participate in the 5KRun/Walk and $30 for the Kids Fun Run.

Prices include a performance shirt for the 5k and cotton t-shirt for the kids, light snack and drink and finisher’s gift.

Prices go up $5 after March 18.

Participants can pick up their packet near the corner of Simmons Dr. and Green St. (look for the tall yellow flags). This is the same location as the start and finish line.

The course of the run will be along the shore of the Sabine River and through Orange.

 The start line and finish line are in the thick of the Bassmaster Elite festivities near Coopers Gulley at the corner of Simmons and Green.

All runners and walkers will be chip timed and results will be posted soon after the race ends. Registration fee includes a performance technical shirt for the 5K and cotton T-shirt for the kids race, light snack and drink and finisher’s gift.

Jones said all proceeds go to The Cure Starts Now Foundation to fight DIGP- a brain stem cancer that hits young children.

A few area families have lost children to the disease, including some in Orange.

Two hundred have registered online thus far and organizers are expecting 400 to 500 to register. Participants can enter as a team, as well such as companies creating teams.

Skeeter Boats will be conducting boat rides all day.

Dustin Lynch, sponsored by First Financial Bank, will be the first performer at 6 p.m. on March 19.

Casey Chesnutt, son of Mark Chesnutt, will open at 5:30 p.m. on March 20. He will be followed by Trout Fishing in America, sponsored by the Lutcher Theater.

Tracy Byrd, sponsored by STI Group, will play at 3:15 p.m. on March 21, followed by the Fireworks Show at 6 p.m.

Gothia said most everything at the event is free with family-built activities.

“You don’t have to be a fisherman (to enjoy the events),” he said.

Though every motel room may not be filled up, Gothia said it’s difficult right now to find a room.

“We had a positive impact of $2.6 million last time and this is a chamber event. We want people to know this is a great place to live and a great place to visit. We’re an outdoor society, you can hunt, freshwater fish, saltwater fish, run the rivers and lakes,” he said.

Jones added the chamber wants everyone to know Orange County is a diamond in the rough: a great place to live or to invest in a business here.

Gothia said the Bassmaster anglers qualify at tournaments such as the Sabine River one to reach the Classic which is the Super Bowl for BASS.

“They know where Orange, Texas is now. We have industry here, but there’s other avenues to do here,” Gothia said.

This event will be covered by ESPN and The Outdoor Channel which will air every month after the tournament all year long. There will also be a live streaming feed on the Bassmaster website and there will be GoPro cameras attached on each boat. Consequently, there will be a booth at the tournament with 12 TV monitors so the audience can watch the fishermen.

“This adds a new dimension to that,” Gothia said.

There will be shuttle buses so attendees may park and ride from the Orangehurst Shopping Center, the MacArthur Shopping Center, the shopping center for Orange Trade Days on Simmons Drive and near Stark Park.

As with the fist tournament, Gothia and the others hope everything goes well so BASS will return for another tournament.

In fact, there are seven more tournaments after Orange and representatives from other venues are hosting a festival with multiple activities such as Orange is doing.

“Others only had one piece, we’ll have it all. This will be the best show they’ve ever had,” he said. “At the first one, we hoped to have 10,000 over four days. This is how you do it.”

Gothia, Jones, and Ida Schossow, president of GOACC, all agreed working the tournament is a labor of love.

“We’re all very passionate in the way the area grows. It’s long hours with no compensation,” Gothia said. “It takes teamwork to come together to promote Orange County. We’re looking forward to see them (BASS) again.”

Another new wrinkle added is Spoil the Spouse on Wednesday night. Anglers’ wives and their children will be treated to dinner and shown around town.

The tournament was planned to be held on Spring Break so residents wouldn’t have to travel around or spend a lot of money.

The pros will be arriving in town on Sunday afternoon and line up at Baptist Orange Hospital.

Gothia said many of the anglers will stay in town because they do not have another tournament for two weeks.

“What other town has an Interstate freeway, a rail line, two river systems?” Jones rhetorically asked speaking of Orange. “This will help with Simmons Drive development and it’s good, positive energy. We will set the bar for other towns.”

Photo – Organizers for the 2015 Bassmaster Elite Series tournament to be held March 19-22 at the City of Orange Boat Ramp are hoping for 40,000 in attendance, weather permitting. They are, from left, Ida Schossow, GOACC president, CEO John Gothia and David Jones, co-chairman.