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Don Griffin of Roswell, Ga., and Gerald Swindle of Warrior at the start of this week's Bassmaster Southern Open on Wheeler Lake. Fishing tournaments help fill Decatur hotel rooms.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Don Griffin of Roswell, Ga., and Gerald Swindle of Warrior at the start of this week's Bassmaster Southern Open on Wheeler Lake. Fishing tournaments help fill Decatur hotel rooms.

Fishing for dollars with Wheeler as bait
9 tournaments in 12 months have $1.5 million economic impact on River City; hotel managers are smiling

By Paul Huggins
phuggins@decaturdaily.com 340-2395

An 8-year-old boy dragging a full stringer away from the riverbank can't be as proud as tourism officials who add up the hotel receipts of fishing tournaments the past 12 months.

The Bassmaster Southern Open that started Thursday is the ninth major or midsized tournament to fish Wheeler Lake since the city opened Ingalls Harbor last November. Six of those tournaments brought in about 200 boats.

Combined, those nine events generated an economic impact of more than $1.5 million, according to the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau. That number calculates the money out-of-towners spend here, the additional jobs their presence creates, and money those employees spend.

Since Ingalls Harbor opened with the FLW Stren Series last year, tournament organizers have been calling it the best facility in the country. They backed up their statements by scheduling more events here.

The Alabama Bass Federation Nation will bring in 200 boats for a seven-day tournament starting Saturday. Two weeks after that, the FLW Chevy Wildcard Series brings in another 200 boats for two days.

The latter will occur the same weekend as the State Cup Soccer Tournament at Jack Allen Recreational Complex, which has already booked 1,268 room nights for Nov. 2-3.

That's every available double occupancy room at the national chain hotels, said Tami Reist, visitors bureau president.

That works out because a lot of the fishermen are not as particular as soccer moms and will stay at bargain chains such as Motel 6 or non-chains like Nitefall Motel on Sixth Avenue Southeast, where they can run extension cords from their rooms to their boats to keep batteries charged.

"A lot of them also like to stay at the Point Mallard Campground," she said.

Every room occupied

The weekend of Nov. 2-3 may be the first time in Decatur's history that every hotel room in the city is occupied, she said.

The following weekend won't have a fishing tournament, but there will be another soccer tournament. Added with a convention at Holiday Inn and the state high school cross-country championships at Oakville, that weekend will be at peak occupancy, too, Reist said.

"When the sales-tax receipts come in at the end of the month, it's going to be a record for November," Reist said.

For 2008, Ingalls already has two major tournaments coming in March, one in April, one in June and one in September.

The June event is the Bassmaster Elite, which Reist said was a special achievement for Decatur because it's a high-profile event with ESPN coverage that traditionally had called Guntersville Lake home.

"And now it will be Wheeler Lake's home," Reist said.

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