A bass-fishing tournament bringing well-heeled anglers from across the U.S. to New Melones later this month is already generating significant visitor spending in Angels Camp and Sonora, and some locals are calling it a boon to Mother Lode tourism.

It’s called the Wild West Bass Trail Pro-Am at New Melones and tournament director Randy McBride says he expects 150 teams, with one professional and one amateur per boat, for the five-day event scheduled March 29-31.

Registration for the tournament is $755 for pros and $380 for amateur co-anglers, and Glory Hole Sports owner Gene Hildebrand estimates total entry fees for the event are already exceeding $166,000.

A one-day Wild West Bass Trail California Team tournament in February at Don Pedro ended with winners Christian Ostrander and Kevin Nunes taking the top prize of $8,670. Hildebrand estimates the winners’ take at the New Melones Pro-Am will be up around $20,000.

‘All booked up’

McBride estimates each pair of anglers in the Wild West Bass Trail Pro-Am at New Melones will spend up to $300 a day on fuel, tackle, food and lodging, depending on where they stay.

“Some camp and sleep in their vehicles,” said McBride, who is based in Titusville, Florida, and spoke by phone Friday from Melbourne in the Sunshine State. “Some who like to fish more stay at campgrounds closer to the water. Others like to stay at the best hotels and enjoy themselves.”

Hildebrand said Friday some competitors for the Wild West Bass Trail Pro-Am at New Melones are already here in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, fishing the reservoir to prepare for the competition.

“This event here is going to be huge for not only us,” Hildebrand said. “We’ll get great business from this, with 300 anglers plus their families. That equates to a lot of dollars spent in the community, at hotels, Save Mart, other businesses in town, restaurants, the RV park over on 49, Angels Camp RV park. They’re all booked up. These guys are going all the way into Sonora because there’s not enough lodging over in Angels Camp.”

Some guys bring their motorhomes to camp down at the reservoir and it’s going to generate cash flow down there, too, Hildebrand said. This is the largest event that’s come through town in the three years he’s been running Glory Hole Sports. A unique thing about it is that it will be a televised event, and the Wild West Bass Trail people have a big following, Hildebrand said.

McBride said previous Wild West Bass Trail events have been televised on the Pursuit Channel, which airs programming on cable carriers and focuses on hunting, fishing, shooting and outdoor recreation. Wild West Bass Trail promoters and competitors also have videos and channels on YouTube.

More can be done for visitors

A lot of bass-fishing competitors travel constantly on a professional circuit of tournaments, going state-to-state, reservoir-to-reservoir and lake-to-lake, Hildebrand said. They’re from all over the U.S.

“It’s one of the biggest things impacting this area in my mind,” Hildebrand said Friday. “But it seems like the community is not reaching out to the these folks as much as they could, and I think we need to reach out and show support for all these visitors. Their entry fees alone are over $166,000 just for them to fish the event.”

Hildebrand said he thinks there should be some incentives given to the guys running these events. Maybe some lodging or meals or something like that for the organizers because they bring so much business to the Mother Lode. Hildebrand also suggested visitors bureaus or chambers of commerce can build stronger relationships with local anglers clubs and with the organizers of these bigger tournaments.

Competitors who made video of their experiences at the Wild West Bass Trail Team Tournament at Don Pedro in February got up early and talked about how many fish and how big a bass they’d hope to catch to “get a check” at the end of the day. They spoke in hushed tones on their boat when they hooked lively fish, half-whispering, “Got one. Got one. It’s a good one, too. Depends how he’s hooked.”

At the end of the day the pair made video of their weigh-in with seven decent-size bass. They didn’t take home a winners’ check but they raved about the quality of the fishing at Don Pedro, and the opportunity to spend another day fishing, which they called “a blessing.”

Visitors bureaus

Lisa Boulton with the Calaveras County Visitors Bureau said Friday she wasn’t sure how often Wild West Bass Trail events have been staged at New Melones, but she is aware they do bass-fishing tournaments at other locations in the U.S.

Jennifer Lopez with the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau said the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau sponsored a WWBT Pro-Am event at Don Pedro in March 2018.

Lopez said Wild West Bass Trail tournament officials did a basic economic impact report generated by surveying 210 participants during last year's event at Lake Don Pedro in 2018. She said the report indicated competitors stayed in Tuolumne and Stanislaus counties and they directly spent more than $131,000 regionally on lodging and RV sites, meals, and miscellaneous expenses during the tournament, with a total of more than $328,000 generated for the region.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.