I ducked under an abandoned vendor tent to dig out my cell phone and check on the time.It was 1:45 and the ankle deep water covering most of the park was rushing into the streets on its way into a muddy and steadily rising Sabine River.

Police officers and local volunteers sloshed their way through the driving rain helping hard core spectators navigate the flooded streets and avoid ever widening mud holes in the parking lot. In a word, the Saturday edition of the prestigious Bassmaster Elite weigh-in was a “mess”!

Yet, in spite of the incredibly miserable conditions, no less than two hundred fans huddled under umbrellas in front of the stage in anticipation of the soggy weigh-in.The fact that they had announced earlier that this would be an abbreviated session in order to get the fishermen in and out of the weather was of no consequence to these folks.

John Perry and his two sons drove in from the Woodlands and climbed out of their truck just as the worst of the rain parked on top of Orange.“These boys just want to shake hands with their favorite pros and that should be much easier done today than it was yesterday,” said Perry.“We are going to wait on them to get back to their trucks in the parking lot rather than fight these floating ants any longer!”

Saturday was a major inconvenience for all involved, but the major social event of the year for the entire county was a smash hit Thursday, Friday and Sunday. The overflow crowd that wedged into the park for the Sunday evening finale was indeed “over the top”, but even the pre-dawn fog-delayed launches drew big crowds all four days.

While it was obvious that every pro that walked out on the stage was genuinely amazed at the size of the crowds, it wasn’t until I made my way up to that same vantage point that I appreciated the view.The sea of fans was so broad, deep and noisy that I just savored the moment and didn’t even bother to fish out my camera!

If huge enthusiastic crowds are truly the measuring stick for their return, Orange has to be a lock.On several occasions our enthusiastic support was compared to some little eastern city, but I can assure you that no where else are these anglers fed any better or treated with more respect.To the man, partially because the fishery has also improved since their last visit, they are looking forward to keeping this venue on the schedule.

Thanks to the efforts of David Jones of Gopher Industrial and John Gothia, several area high school bass club teams also enjoyed an unforgettable moment on the big stage as well.The two man teams fished an entire day with pros that volunteered after failing to make the 53-man cut and the kids were ecstatic.The winners were awarded trophies as well as scholarship money, but it was the time spent on the water that will last them a life time!

As the entire community exhales and we reflect on a job well done, every local bass fisherman I spoke with was amazed by the skills of these Elite anglers.Aside from a hard freeze and a howling north wind, the flooded conditions could not have presented a more difficult draw and yet they consistently ferreted out limits of keeper bass.

Perhaps my biggest “Wow” moment came when Chris Lane, the leader from Day 1, made the decision with only two hours remaining and a $100,000- pay check on the line, to leave his spot and make a forty-five minute run hoping a spot he found the evening before would quickly yield the winning fish. It proved to be the right decision!

I know every local fisherman was surprised by the number of limits the pros brought to the scales.These numbers would have been surprising even if they had fished perfect conditions. The pros, however, were not surprised at all.Two members of the Elite field that I showed around prior to the 2013 event assured me that given a second shot at the same body of water, “These guys can figure out the bite and catch bass on dry ground.”

While the field could not share their choice of spots or lures prior to the final weigh-in, many of the fans looking for an edge in the future noticed right off the bat that a jig or craw worm was attached to more than one rod in most of the boats.Chatter baits and spinner baits were a distant second.

Having watched them practice, I would also like to have a dollar for every pitch they made shorter than twenty feet.They will spend fifteen minutes picking apart a single cypress knee…especially if it is surrounded by matted grass.

And last, but not least, Trey Smith was quick to point out that aside from Orange County, the Sabine River may have been the biggest winner of all.“These guys are restocking the river with bass caught from forty to a hundred miles away each day and that’s certainly not a bad thing!”

Photo – A little rain didn’t dampen local support!