Sumner County may be the heartbeat of the country music world, home to the Grand Old Opry and stomping grounds for just about every country music legend, but for a week in May it will also become the center of the world of professional bass fishing. Fortunately, the two slices of uniquely American culture will be able to coexist and thrive together.
The Professional Anglers Association (PAA), the only major bass tournament circuit run by the anglers themselves, will hold a tournament on Old Hickory Lake from May 7th through 12th, bringing angling superstars including Bobby Lane, John Crews, Harold Allen, Guy Eaker and Gary Yamamoto to the area to sample the best urban fishery in the southeast. While fishing will be foremost in the minds of the anglers, the event will have a uniquely Tennessee flair.
Specifically, country music will play an outsized role in this event – Grammy nominated singer/songwriter Rodney Clawson will perform the National Anthem Thursday afternoon prior to weigh-in at the Sanders Ferry Park Ramp, right after fishing the pro side of the tournament. Up-and-coming singer EllieMay Kay, “the girl with the fishing rod,” will sing the Anthem on Friday. She’ll fish the event as an amateur, also known as a co-angler. After the conclusion of Saturday’s final day weigh-in at the Opry Mills Mall Bass Pro Shops, country music star Daryle Singletary will perform a free concert.
“This will make the sport of bass fishing a true family event,” said Jeff Baker, a local angler who will fish the tournament. He also helped to put the program together. “We’ll be able to promote the sport by bringing more fans to the weigh-in.” Baker, who in his day job is a health care executive, is sponsored by Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, the official charity of the event.
For her part, Kay, a native of Illinois who now resides in Nashville, cannot wait: “I came here to pursue my musical career and Old Hickory was the first place I ever fished.” She works closely with Pink Fishing, a charity aimed at “reeling in a cure” for breast cancer. She’s easy on the eyes, but also endeavors to make it easy for women to enter the sport.
Clawson calls Old Hickory his home lake. Indeed, he lives three blocks from the closest boat ramp and fishes the lake as often as his busy schedule will allow. He’s fished several lesser-level tournaments, as well as participating in several tour-level events as an amateur, but he figures this is his best chance to go after the legends of the sport.
“The PAA is perfect for me to jump in,” he said. “It’s right in my backyard so I’m really excited.” He’s friends with many of the full-time pros, so the intimidation factor is minimal. “It’s you against the lake, you against the fish. I don’t worry about the other anglers.”
Clawson added that while he makes his living with music, he gets the same sort of pleasure out of a successful fishing trip that he receives from his musical talents: “In both there is a feeling of accomplishment, a sense that you figured something out.”
Singletary is only an occasional angler, but when he’s on the water his natural abilities shine through. In fact, in his first tournament effort he and Baker won last year’s edition of the annual Porter Wagoner Memorial Artists and Anglers Fishing Tournament. That event was also held on Old Hickory, so he’ll feel right at home. At the concert, he’ll perform his unique style of traditional country music, paying homage to greats like Merle Haggard and George Jones as well as singing his own original compositions.
“We’ll have a big old time,” he said. “I want everybody to come out and enjoy themselves and support Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.”
PAA President Dave Mansue is thrilled that the planets have aligned to allow this event to occur: “Old Hickory Lake is part of the history of bass fishing. From Bassmasters to Megabucks to FLW, it has hosted many remarkable events. Tennessee is also home to legends like Bill Dance and Charlie Ingram, along with many of the best anglers on the tours today. We are so excited to be coming to Sumner County and the City of Hendersonville with the opportunity to listen to some great country artists and benefit a very worthy cause. We’re here to give back to the community and hopefully write a new chapter in the history of our great sport.”