Photo: Carl Svebek III of Orange, sponsored by Gopher Industrial, came from behind Saturday to win the Bassmasters Open fishing tournament in Orange.


By Dave Rogers

For The Record

Last weekend’s come-from-behind win by Orange resident Carl Svebek at the $250,000 Bassmasters Central Open on the Sabine River did more than just entertain local event co-chairman David Jones.

“It’s kind of surreal,” he said. “This tournament makes the whole thing go full circle.”

Jones, the owner of Orange’s Gopher Industrial, explained it was Svebek (pronounced sway-BECK) who helped forge the partnership between the folks at B.A.S.S. and the Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce that’s brought to town three major Bassmasters fishing tournaments in the past five years.

Turns out that Svebec, a long-time fishing pro, and a boyhood friend of Jones, had first seen the potential of Orange as a major fishing hub during a local tournament run by the Chamber.
“He said, ‘Man, why don’t we get them to have a Bassmasters tournament here?’” Jones recalled.

“I said, ‘Man, we’d love to, but getting them is like a dream.”

That’s when Jones learned that Svebec, a veteran pro angler then living in Arkansas, was friends with Bassmasters series owner Jerry McKinnis. Within a few days, McKinnis was meeting with Jones, co-chairman John Gothia and other Chamber official via teleconference.

“When we pulled up [a map of] our whole area on Google Earth, Jerry’s whole group said, ‘Look at the mass of water here. We’ve got the Sabine. We’ve got the Louisiana waters. We’ve got the Neches and Taylor’s Bayou,’” Jones said.

“Jerry said, ‘Let’s bring the Elite tournament.’ That’s their highest tournament. They brought that here in 2013. And it’s just been a domino effect ever since then.”

Last weekend’s event was the third Bassmasters tourney here. Orange’s first four-day Elite event in 2013 drew a Bassmasters record of 33,000-plus spectators, a feat that Jones said was equaled by Orange fans in 2015, even though that Elite tourney was rained out to fans one of the four days.

The several thousand spectators who gathered for Saturday afternoon’s final weigh-in was a record for a Bassmasters Open weigh-in, Chamber President Ida Schossow said she was told.

She estimated a three-day attendance of 10,000 for the tournament.

“That was what we were expecting,” Shossow said. “[A Bassmasters Open] is a different type of tournament [than a Bassmasters Elite].

As with past Bassmaster events here, this one included an attached River Festival, which featured a carnival and two nights of concerts.

“This was by far the biggest concerts we’ve ever had,” Shossow said.

The next fishing tournament the chamber president and her crew of 100 volunteers are set to take on is a redfish tournament Aug. 11-13.

Adding to the surreal atmosphere for Jones Saturday was that Svebec’s win came under the Gopher Industrial banner. He works for the company now, in sales.

And as part of the Gopher Bass Fishing Team, Svebec was flashing the company’s logo on his boat, truck and shirt when he rolled up to the weigh-in.

While the Elite tournaments held here have offered top prizes of $100,000 in cash and prizes, Svebec received $50,000 in cash and prizes for besting a field of 182 professionals from 21 states plus Mexico and Japan.

“If you were an author and tried to write a story, you couldn’t write it any better,” Shossow declared.

“Carl was the connection for us to get Bassmasters in, and then to come here and win a tournament is a fantastic ending.”

It gets better for Svebek, who also earned entry in the 2018 Bassmasters Classic, set for Greenville, S.C. March 16-18.

“Can you believe it?” Svebek said of fishing in the Classic. “That’s my lifetime dream.”

The crowd watching the weigh-in roared its support when Svebec was named the winner.

“Orange, Texas, ya’ll rock,” Svebec said. “I moved here a year and a half ago, close to my roots in East Texas. Orange has just been incredible. The people here are second to none.”

The final two pro anglers to weigh in created plenty of suspense.

But the final day was not without suspense.

T-Roy Broussard of Port Arthur, best known as one of the alligator-hunting stars of the History Channel’s “Swamp People” show, led the tournament through two days with a total of 26 pounds, 1 ounce.

He was 1-1/2 pounds ahead of Svebek entering Saturday’s finale.

“Man what a finish! We’ve got two local guys dueling it out!” Chris Bowes, tournament manager for B.A.S.S., told the crowd awaiting the final totals.

Svebek weighed a limit of five fish weighing 12 pounds, 3 ounces for a final total of 36 pounds, 12 ounces.

Broussard’s final-day bag of five bass weighed 10 pounds even, leaving him with a total of 36 pounds, 1 ounce.

Broussard ruefully noted that on his first two days of fishing he’d been penalized 12 ounces because three bass had died in his live well and the final margin was 11 ounces.

Trey Smith and Jonathan Simon were two other Orange fishermen who qualified for the 12-person Saturday finals.

Smith finished ninth and Simon 11th.

Orange’s Michael Soliz won the amateur co-angler division on a tie-breaker with Jordan Burks of Joplin, Mo. They each weighed 19 pounds, 2 ounces of bass over the three days, but Soliz was awarded the trophy and $25,000 bass boat because Burks failed to catch his three-fish limit every day while Soliz bagged his nine-bass maximum.

Mike Soliz of Orange won the co-angler division of the Bassmasters Open fishing tournament Saturday.

In the Open tournament format, each pro angler carried a different co-angler on his boat each day. Soliz and Simon were randomly paired on the first day.

“Local knowledge is important,” Soliz said, noting the hometown of the two big winners. “But as a co-angler, you’re still at the discretion of the three pros you draw. I had three great guys.”