TODD NAFE Special for the Tribune-Herald
Legendary Tribune-Herald editor Earl Golding probably had no idea that the bass tournament he held at Lake Whitney in 1955 to settle the debate over who was the best angler in the state would always be just as strong all these years later. At the time, Whitney was a newly flooded lake, and everyone was learning to fish it. Golding announced the tournament, and 73 of the 75 invited teams showed up to prove themselves at the Waco Tribune-Herald Invitational.
Seeing the success of that first tournament and the potential for bigger things, Golding organized the Texas State Bass Tournament in 1956, and the flower of competitive fishing began to bloom. In the decades that followed, competitive fishing would explode into a multi-billion dollar industry.
The Texas State Bass Tournament returns to Whitney on Saturday and Sunday, and anglers from across the state will compete in numerous divisions for awards and, most importantly, bragging rights. Tournament representative Scott Burns of Tyler said the Texas State Bass Tournament is as much about getting together with old friends as it is about hosting the competition.
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“The tournament not only provides the opportunity to fish with amazing anglers, but also to reconnect with amazing people,” Burns said. “Some of our competitors have been fishing it for over fifty years, and there’s almost a family reunion feel to it, kind of like a Texas-style family reunion.”
Unlike club tournaments, no membership is required to participate in fishing.
“It’s an open tournament format. So anyone can come in and compete, and I want to invite everyone to come fishing,” Burns said. “We’ve had up to 300 boats in the tournament, and with all the categories we offer, including a new kayak division, anyone can compete.”
The tournament added divisions over the years, and in 1975, 1,285 anglers participated, which was an all-time high for competitors in a single bass tournament. As interest grew, organizers expanded from lakes in the central Texas region to other reservoirs in the state. Golding, through sponsorship from the Tribune-Herald, served as tournament director for 25 years before handing over to Skeeter Boats, and eventually a tournament committee was formed and took over management.
Since the 1970s, the tournament has taken place overwhelmingly in lakes in eastern Texas, primarily Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn. Burns said getting him back to where he started was as much about economics as sentimentality, which isn’t surprising given the growth in central Texas. It is a short drive from Dallas, Waco, and Austin, as well as many rural towns that are teeming with talented and competitive anglers.
In addition to the new Kayak division, anglers can compete in the Individual, Team, Pairs, Senior Team, Adult/Boys, Adult/Girls and Bass Club Top 6, allowing clubs to send their top six to compete. A Big Bass prize will be included for boaters and kayakers.
“The top five in each division are rewarded, so you can come fish and write your place in the history of the oldest fishing tournament in the world,” Burns said.
Division winners will be eligible for sweepstakes, and Top 6 Division Champions will earn free entry to the 2022 Fun-N-Sun BCT Top 6 Tournament.
Participants or their delegates must check in at the Lofers Bend Day-Use Park Pavilion between 4:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. on Friday, April 29 to register. Fishing will begin at 6:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, with weigh-ins beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. The cost is $60 for individuals and $70 per team. Attendees will receive a free gift bag that includes Strike King gear, a fishing hat and towel, and a Saturday night meal.
For more information, visit texasstatebass.com or the Texas State Bass Tournament social media pages.