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Tourism: County sees fishing tourney as lure for visitors

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County officials thought of just about everything in preparing for the Bassmasters Elite fishing tournament last weekend. The biggest surprise: a traffic jam at the Carroll Ashmore Campbell Marine Complex on the Sampit River.

Cars lined up Saturday and Sunday to get into the tournament grounds in time for the official weigh-ins, which are something akin to stock car racing’s commercialism and a rock concert. Estimates placed attendance at more than a thousand.

“The crowd was all we could have hoped for,” said Sel Hemingway, Georgetown County administrator.

The weigh-ins are staged for television with professional announcers’ voices booming over the air and celebrity anglers in commercial gear holding up big bass to the cheering throng. The Georgetown tournament is scheduled to be televised on ESPN 2 May 8.

County tourism director Lauren Joseph said the broadcast will bring national exposure. “We showed up and showed out,” she said. “It’s going to be a nationwide commercial for Georgetown County.”

The tournament got a lot of regional support, Hemingway said. He saw people he knew from Conway, Aynor, Florence, Charleston and Wilmington, N.C. One of the competitors at the Dock Dog diving event at the Winyah Bay Heritage Festival came from New Hampshire.

Local heritage and national anglers meet at county landing

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Georgetown has a 300-year history of saltwater fishing that is still being written. The freshwater has largely been left to the locals upriver. That reputation could change when the Huk Performance Bassmasters Elite at Winyah Bay appears on ESPN 2 May 8.

Amateur bass fishermen from across the Southeast will be lured to the Carroll Ashmore Campbell Marine Complex on the Sampit River to fish where the pros fish, according to a representative of Bassmaster Magazine attending the tournament last weekend.

Bassmasters Elite is a marketing engine that rides on 250-horsepower boats. It has mastered social media. Video is all over the Web showing Britt Myers of Lake Wylie winning the $100,000 top prize with 56.3 pounds of fish from the Cooper River. Out-of-towners even learned how folks in Charleston pronounce the river’s name: Cup-a.

Unlucky fishermen get air time too. When Davy Hite of Ninety Six tried a short-cut to get home from Charleston, he got stuck in the mud and had to wait on the tide to rise. Not wanting a good story to go to waste, Hite made a video of his muddy feet and put it on the Web.

The anglers left at 7 o’clock in the morning and returned at 3 in the afternoon for the daily weigh-in. That left a lot of time for the big crowd that gathered in the field beside the marina to look at exhibits. Toyota had a big presence with trucks on display. Hostess Dakota Jordan, who recently moved from Maine to Georgetown, was helping attract attention to the display. “This is awesome,” she said, “nice for Georgetown.”

After looking over boats, motors and fishing gear, people drifted to the Winyah Bay Heritage Festival exhibits. Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway said the festival provided an ideal complement to the fishing tournament. The duck calling, hunting dogs, birds of prey and nature exhibits went right along with the weekend’s outdoor theme. Ben Onley, who was selling fishing rods at the Black River Trading Co. tent, was pleased with the turnout. Katie Altman-Goff of Huntington Beach State Park said she found a lot of people who had never touched a snake.

When the fishermen returned for the weigh-ins, all attention moved to the main stage. A young man named Doug from Massachusetts proposed to his girlfriend and offered her a diamond ring on camera. Fortunately, she accepted.

It was all part of the show that had attracted more than 100 fishermen to Georgetown. And there was the prize money. The top 51 competitors received at least $10,000.

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