The Bassmaster Classic is like a Super Bowl or World Series for fishing, and the event is headed to Oklahoma this winter.

Grand Lake of the Cherokees will host the Bassmaster Classic fishing tournament Feb. 22-24, 2013. The event is expected to draw 70,000 visitors and account for more than 20,000 hotel nights in the region. Even more important, the event is expected to pump $24 million dollars into the economy of Tulsa, Grove and other communities around Grand Lake.

At its December meeting, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission heard a presentation on the upcoming Classic. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation will be involved in the event by helping with the live release of fish back into Grand Lake following each weigh-in, through booth participation at the event expo, as well as through an extensive project to help the host community of Grove to develop world class fishing, boating and tournament facilities on the lake.

With over 15 hours of national media attention on ESPN and ESPN2, the Classic will be an enormous asset to the local economies and to the promotion of fishing in Oklahoma, according to officials with the Wildlife Department. Weigh-ins will be held at the
BOK Center in Tulsa, which will be filled with an estimated 15,000-18,000 spectators at each of three different weigh-in events. The winner of the Classic takes home $500,000 in prize money plus inevitable sponsorships and the most coveted prize in competitive bass fishing.

“It really is the top prize in professional bass fishing,” said Gene Gilliland, assistant chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Department. “It’s easily the biggest fishing event that will ever come to Oklahoma.”

While expressing the magnitude of the event, Gilliland also noted that the Classic represents a tremendous opportunity for developing the region further for recreational use by anglers and boaters.

“The Bassmaster Classic is going to be a starting point for a lot of things that will be happening in the Grand Lake area and ‘Green Country’ in general,” Gilliland said. “As big as Grand Lake is and as popular as it is, it doesn’t really have big-time boat launching facilities. The City of Grove has stepped up and is cooperating with us and some other partners to try to make that possible, not only for the Bassmaster Classic, but for the future.”

Wolf Creek Park in Grove is being renovated to provide six boat ramp lanes, parking for up to 300, restrooms, pavilions, a drive-through weigh-in station, courtesy docks and more. The two-phase project will result in a multi-million dollar, first-class facility for the public to use.

“This facility being built at Grand Lake is not just for the big level tournaments,” Gilliland said. “But the City of Grove is trying to make something that the local fishermen can use so that they have some nicer facilities to be able to do some  of their weigh-ins.”

Over the course of the two-phase project, the Wildlife Department will contribute about $3 million, which will be combined with several million dollars provided by the City of Grove, Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Grand River Dam Authority – which owns the lake. The second phase of the project could include other partners as well.

“It’s a big deal,” Gilliland said. “I’m hoping that the folks at Lake Eufaula and at Lake Texoma and Ft. Gibson and some of our other major reservoirs get really jealous about seeing all this, because we’d like to do this same kind of project  at those lakes and put in some really first-class facilities at other places around the state.”

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Image courtesy Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

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