SYRACUSE - Oneida Lake is hosting a major fishing tournament that began Thursday, July 6. The event came thanks to a push from the Syracuse Convention & Visitors Bureau (SCVB) to attract such sports competitions. And the bureau already has its eye on reeling in an even bigger fishing tournament in 2007.
About four or five years ago, the SCVB identified a group of sporting events the Syracuse area was wellsuited to hosting and began recruiting them, says John Rathbun, its director of sports development. The events include NCAA basketball tournaments, bowling, winter sports, and fishing.
"We've got a lot of things we can take advantage of here," Rathbun says. "Water is definitely one of them."
The tournament, the eighth stop in the 11-event season of the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series, runs on Oneida Lake through Sunday July 9. It has brought more than 100 professional anglers and more than 100 amateurs to compete on the lake's 51,000 acres. The Bassmaster Elite Series is the fishing world's top professional tour. The anglers who fish these events make it their career.
Oneida Lake previously hosted two smaller events in 2003 and 2005. The success of those tournaments was a major reason BASS, the sport's governing and organizing group, decided to host a larger event here, says Donald Rucks, general manager of BASS.
"The fish-catch ratio and participation from the community were outstanding at those events," be says. "We feel this upcoming event is going to be very successful as well. [Syracuse] is very high on our list of places to return. A lot of it will have to do with the reaction at this event," Rucks said before the event got under way.
Hosting the Elite Series tournament on Oneida Lake was expected to bring about $1.5 million into the community, according to the Visitors Bureau. The SCVB expected an influx of more than 2,000 people into the area thanks to the event.
Fishing has an intense fan base, BASS' Rucks says. Rabid fans follow their favorite anglers around like rock stars, he explains.
The events' weigh-ins typically draw anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 fans, Rucks says. The weigh-ins are held daily during the tournament at 3 p.m. at Oneida Shores Park in Brewerton.
Admission is free. The top prize at the Oneida Lake event is $100,000.
The tournament will also be televised the following weekend, July 15, starting at 10 a.m. on ESPN2.
"It really showcases all the resources we have here," says Rathbun of the SCVB. "It's not just [Syracuse University] or the city. There's more to the area.
"We're trying to show [BASS] we can do large events like this in the community and show them we can be successful."
Seeking bigger fish
Next year, the SCVB hopes the Syracuse area will host a "major" tournament, an invitation-only event that draws the top 50 anglers in the world, Rathbun says.
The bureau is in talks with BASS on that possibility now. Such an event would be held on both Oneida Lake and Onondaga Lake.
"People think [Onondaga Lake] is so polluted, so if we can bring the world's top fishermen there to fish for bass, that would be a heck of a coup for us with the city skyline right in the background," Rathbun says. "It's a resource we can use."
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