If you go
The Bassmaster Elite Series tournament is open to the public at 6:30 a.m. daily June 28 through July 1 at the Green Bay Metropolitan Boat Launch, 102 Bay Beach Road. Weigh-ins begin at 3:15 p.m. daily. Other attractions will include interactive displays, demonstrations and autograph sessions with some of the pros. All events are free.
A professional fishing tournament that will showcase Green Bay fishing to a national audience has been scaled back by state environmental regulators who have declared about half of the bay off limits to anglers.
Officials with the state Department of Natural Resources say the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament could damage the region's fish population if competitors are allowed full access to the 80-mile-long bay.
So the event bringing the nation's top professional anglers to the area from June 28 to July 1 will be limited to waters generally south of Sturgeon Bay.
Some competitors are lambasting the move, saying that overly restrictive boundaries will deprive Green Bay of the chance for positive nationwide exposure as a fishing destination.
"It downright sucks," said Travis Manson, a tournament participant who is from Green Bay. "It's not going to showcase the fishing that's available here, by any means."
Another competitor, Brent Broderick of Oregonia, Ohio, said the tournament in Green Bay had the potential to produce record-breaking catches, which he said would draw fishing enthusiasts to the area for years.
But the DNR's restrictions will force competitors to stay miles away from the region's best fishing spots, Broderick said.
"Unfortunately," he added, "I think we're just going to have an average event."
B.A.S.S. LLC announced in May that the organization picked Green Bay as a stop on its Bassmaster Elite tournament, featuring 99 top professional anglers from as far away as Texas and California. The competition ends in August in New York, where $600,000 in prizes will be awarded, including $100,000 for first place.
During the four days of the Green Bay Challenge, anglers will compete to see who can haul in the biggest bass, measured by their five best fish on each day of the tournament.
With television coverage expected on ESPN networks and the Outdoor Channel, local officials have cheered the event as an opportunity to shine a nationwide spotlight on the quality of fishing available in Northeastern Wisconsin.
But the DNR later surprised organizers with a permit allowing the event to proceed only with the restriction that competitors venture no farther north than Sturgeon Bay on the eastern shore or Oconto on the western shore. Those boundaries cut off competitors from the Sturgeon Bay canal, the Peshtigo River, most of Door County and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Michael Donofrio, a DNR fishery supervisor, said the restrictions are necessary to prevent captured fish from being stored for too long and from being transferred from cool waters to Green Bay's warm waters — either of which could prove fatal.
Other anglers are not subjected to the same regulations, Donofrio said, because they do not have to haul their live catches all the way back to Green Bay, as tournament competitors do. The DNR initially set the tournament's boundaries farther south, but agreed to the current compromise based on appeals from organizers.
"We're trying to work with them," Donofrio said. "But we don't set the limits based on where the anglers think the best fishing is. We set the limits based on protecting the fish."
The DNR issued its final decision to B.A.S.S. officials last week.
Noreen Clough, B.A.S.S. national conservation director, said she expected initially to have full access to the bay, which she said was one of the reasons Green Bay was selected for the tournament. Some competitors are disappointed, Clough said, although she added that they are accustomed to fishing under varied circumstances.
"This just adds to the challenge," she said.
Not all competitors were upset about the geographic restrictions.
Rick Morris of Virginia Beach, Va., said he prefers being in a confined area. He said that makes it feel like all anglers are competing under the same conditions.
"It's more of an equal playing field," he said.
But others expressed frustration and questioned the DNR's stated rationale of wanting to protect fish from trauma.
"Our guys are as good as they get in taking care of fish," said Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif.
Chad Griffin of Cresson, Texas, said he had planned to head out into Lake Michigan and bring back maybe 20 to 25 pounds of fish daily. Now, he said, the tournament probably will be won with 15 pounds a day or so.
"It's just absolutely ridiculous," he said.
Another competitor, Jonathon VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., said the true quality of fishing available in the Green Bay area will not come through under the DNR's restrictions, which he likened to "limiting us to a bathtub."
"It won't show truly how remarkable that fishery is," VanDam said. "It's just a shame."
— swilliams@greenbaypressgazette .com and follow him on Twitter @pgscottwilliams.