- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Buford Dam, 770-945-9531
- Click to go to the Corps Web site about events on Lake Lanier.
After a year of being shut out of the fishing tournament circuit, Lake Lanier is open for competitions again.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has began accepting applications for daytime tournaments, now that the lake has risen more than 5 feet above its low point in early December.
At about 1,056.6 feet above sea level, Lanier has 13 boat ramps open. That makes it feasible to hold a fishing tournament while still having some ramps available for the general public to use.
"When there were only a few ramps open, there were long waits for people to get their boats in the water," said Brent Cossette, a park ranger with the corps.
Until the lake level reaches 1,059 feet, tournaments will be held mainly at Little Hall Park and Balus Park, where ramps have been extended. Opportunities for tournaments will be further expanded when a major renovation of Laurel Park’s facilities is completed this spring.
The renovation, part of Georgia’s Go Fish initiative, helped lure the 2010 Forrest Wood Cup, a national championship fishing tournament with a $2.5 million purse. That tournament is projected to have a $20 million economic impact for the state, including as much as $5 million locally.
Kerry Hicks, owner of the Smokin’ Fisherman tackle store in Clermont, said the news about tournament applications comes as a big relief.
"It’s killing us, not having tournaments," he said. "Some of the smaller tackle stores have closed down. All the bass clubs have been going to lakes farther north (to hold tournaments)."
Hicks said he plans to submit an application when Laurel Park opens.
"If the corps will allow it, I’m looking at holding a 300-boat tournament at $300 (entry fee) each," he said. "That’ll bring a lot of money into the economy."
Resident and nonresident anglers across the state currently spend $1 billion each year, with $1.9 billion in economic impact, according to state figures.
Skip Collins, fishing manager at Shuler’s Great Outdoors in downtown Gainesville, said the lack of fishing competitions has hurt business.
"It’s been pretty slow," he said. "Even if they have only a few ramps open, every little bit is going to help. But the night tournaments are the biggest draw."
It may be quite a while before Lanier offers nighttime tournaments again. For safety reasons, the corps won’t issue night permits until the lake level is above 1,064.
"Below that, there are just too many hazards that boaters can’t see," said Cossette.
Hicks thinks Lanier can still provide a satisfying experience even without night tournaments.
"Daytime tournaments are fine as long as they start at ‘safe light’ (the earliest time for safe visibility)," he said. "Getting the first bite of the day is what fisherman really like."
Applications for tournaments must be submitted at least 30 days in advance of the planned event. But until the lake level is above 1,059, the corps won’t approve applications more than 90 days ahead of time.
"We can’t predict what the weather will do. We don’t know how much the lake might drop in three months," said Cossette.