Rows of pickup trucks were parked near the boat ramp at Laurel Park on Saturday morning, March 10. Each one had a boat trailer hitched to the back, but there weren’t any boats in sight.
That’s because they were all out on the water piloted by bass fishing professionals and co-anglers hoping to win prizes of $125,000 or $25,000 in the Fishing League Worldwide Tour at Lake Lanier.
Competitors who had qualified for the third day of the event were looking to make the top 10 for a final shot at the money Sunday. Final weigh-ins begin at 4 p.m. at Laurel Park.
FLW Tour tournament at Lake Lanier
Where: Laurel Park, 3100 Old Cleveland Highway, Gainesville
Takeoff: 7:45 a.m. March 11
Weigh-in: 4 p.m. March 11
While the pros were out on the water, though, the kids were back on the bank. The FLW Foundation held its Unified Fishing Derby near the docks and boat ramp, giving anyone under age 18 two hours to catch the most fish.
“There’s so many kids now that don’t get an opportunity to get out and fish,” said Cody Kelley, a FLW Foundation pro who helped with the derby. “And this is a good way for us, when we come into the community, to do more than just come in and fish and leave. And it’s some way to reach the younger generation to keep coming up in fishing. Every event we’ve had, a kid either catches their first fish or their biggest fish.”
For the Smiths, a Lula family there for the fishing derby, it was a family affair and always has been. Ken Smith reminds his 10 kids how being outside is important. He grew up fishing, and he said he wants his children to be active and “experience God’s creation.”
“I think the outdoors are really important to kids today,” Ken Smith said. “Too many kids are sitting around playing video games and stuff like that. So it’s always been important to me, for the kids to be outside playing, getting exercise. And fishing is a great way to do that.”
Not all of his kids enjoy fishing, but they still like to be outside with the family. Mercy Smith, 6, and Eli Smith, 7, were at the fishing derby with their father, but weren’t too interested in fishing. They still enjoyed being near the water and watching everyone else reel them in.
Ben Smith, 16, the oldest sibling there, is quite the opposite. He said he wants to fish for a living, and aspires to be out on the water just like the professionals.
“We don’t live on a lake, but there’s ponds all around our house so we’ll ride our bikes to the pond or walk down there through the woods and stuff like that,” Ben said. “But it’s really something I grew up with.”
He said he wasn’t really there to win the derby, though, just to enjoy being with his siblings. He got to see his brother Sam, 11, catch the first fish of the day.
“It’s fun coming out here with my little brother,” Ben said. “It’s just fun to come hang out with Dad, and we all enjoy fishing. So it’s just a really good time.”