Smokey's On The Bay owner Jeff Tilkens, left, manager Ryan Rasmussen and customer Marty Stephanie from Pulaski laugh Tuesday at fish stories at the Green Bay bait shop. Stephanie, owner of Barb's Tackle in Pulaski, is an avid walleye fisherman. / Photos by Corey Wilson/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
The Bassmaster Elite Series fishing tournament this week might be good for as much as $1 million in immediate economic impact, but it’s long-term impact could be worth more.
“I think it’s the longer-term message that’s delivered to the weekend anglers,” said Jeff Mirkes, executive director of Downtown Green Bay Inc. “That’s how a community benefits, by the reminder that Green Bay, Wisconsin, was chosen as this surprise venue. It goes well beyond the million-dollar impact this week may experience.”
Ninety-eight professional fishermen, their support crews and some of their families spent most of a week in Green Bay for the B.A.S.S.-sponsored tournament on the bay, not to mention fans and casual spectators. The tournament includes anglers from as far away as Texas, California, New Jersey and South Carolina.
“It’s going to give us great exposure,” said Jeff Tilkens, an owner of Smokey’s on the Bay fishing supply store, 1122 N. Irwin Ave., Green Bay. “We’re doing anything we can to get the fisheries thing going.”
While Smokey likely won’t sell a lot of merchandise to the professionals, amateurs will be looking to purchase tackle and lures similar to those used by professionals. And a few pros dropped in to find out what local anglers were having success with, as well, Tilkens said.
“Any kind of tournament will put us back on the map again, aside from the Green Bay Packers,” he said. “I don’t think half the people in Green Bay know what we have out our back door.”
Mirkes said the tournament highlights to other groups that might consider coming to Green Bay the lengths local businesses and residents will go to be accommodating.
Quality Inn & Suites, 321 S. Washington St., is the home base for many of the competitors. Its large parking lot provides room for about 30 of the big boats and rigs. Owner Paul Van is providing overnight security, a generator for charging boat batteries, and is opening his breakfast room early.
“Most of the guys have been with us since late last week,” Van said on Thursday. “It’s nice business to have. There was a tournament here at least five years ago. We cut our teeth on that one.”
As word spreads about the quality of the fishery and the hospitality to support it, more anglers will come to the area, Mirkes said.
“The best ambassadors are the 98 pro fishermen who are going back to their communities and will talk about the positive experience here,” he said.
Jay Zahn, another owner of Smokey’s on the Bay and member of the Green Bay Yacht Club, said word of a good fishery on the Fox River and the bay will bring anglers to town.
“Later this year, the championship of the muskie world is going to be here on the lower bay, too,” he said. “A good fishery brings the people here to fish.”
The yacht club is providing some logistical services for the tournament, including food provided by local vendors, such as Door County Meats.
“It will build awareness of the yacht club. We’ve had people say they never knew this was down there,” Zahn said.
Because competitors were here for the week, they also got to experience the community’s other amenities, said Brad Toll, executive director of the Greater Green Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“This is a great opportunity for us to highlight the bay, the river and water recreation,” he said. “The exposure of the fishery is huge, absolutely huge.”
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