FLW Tour regular-season schedule
Jan. 25-28: Lake Okeechobee, Clewiston, Fla.
Feb. 22-25: Harris Chain of Lakes, Leesburg, Fla.
March 8-11: Lake Lanier, Gainesville
April 12-15: Lake Cumberland, Burnside, Ky.
April 26-29: Lewis Smith Lake, Jasper, Ala.
May 17-20: Kentucky Lake, Gilbertsville, Ky.
June 28-July 1: Lake St. Clair, Detroit, Mich.
Lake Lanier is welcoming back one of the more well-known professional fishing circuits in 2018. The lake will play host to a Fishing League Worldwide event in March.
The FLW Tour will make a visit March 8-11 for the tournament, which is being hosted locally by the Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau at Laurel Park. It will be the tour’s third of seven 2018 regular-season events, with the tour’s top fishers advancing to the lucrative Forrest Wood Cup at season’s end.
Regular-season FLW Tour wins carry up to a $125,000 payday, and the top 50 pros in each event earn at least $10,000.
Gainesville resident and FLW Tour pro Jason Johnson is already anticipating the tournament on his home lake.
“It’s the lake I grew up cutting my teeth on learning how to bass fish,” Johnson said.
Gainesville resident Jason Meninger finished ninth in the 2010 Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Lanier, and he said he just missed out on being in the top 10 and advancing to the final day of an FLW Series tournament on Lanier in 2006. He is excited about the March event.
“Any time a major tournament comes to this lake, I’m in contention,” Meninger said, though he added that having the fresh approach of an outsider also can be beneficial in fishing Lanier.
Meninger has almost $333,000 in career winnings and has been an FLW Tour pro for eight years, according to the tour’s website.
Johnson has collected almost $113,000 in career winnings and has spent three years as an FLW Tour pro, according to the website.
Regina Dyer, manager of the Gainesville CVB, said the organization will also sponsor at least five smaller FLW events later this year. March will be the most high-profile tournament, though.
“There’ll be a lot of exposure on Gainesville, which is great,” Dyer said. “FLW has a large following.”
She said anglers will likely spend at least a week in town practicing on the lake and then competing, bringing the business of the competitors and their families to hotels and restaurants
Dyer said the CVB has invested $25,000 so far in the major tournament, which she said should bring in more than $1.5 million from competitors and surpass the $2 million economic impact mark including spectators and time anglers spend practicing before the tournament.
Dyer said the money from the CVB for the tournament comes from the hotel and motel taxes, which are set aside for tourism, and local sponsors.
“The sponsorship fee for the FLW Tour is negotiated between FLW and the sponsoring organization and can include in-kind services, such as housing, meeting room space and also additional sponsorships,” Dyer said. “Each community involved negotiates their involvement.”
She added that she has a feeling major local sponsors will jump on board because of the brand of the FLW Tour.
“A lot of people are going to want to be out there,” Dyer said.
Lanier previously played host to the Forrest Wood Cup in 2010 and 2012. It’s a popular event with anglers because of having no entry fee and a large pool of prize money.
Bryan Thrift, of Shelby, N.C., just won the FLW Tour’s Angler of the Year honors for the second time last month.
Thrift said Lanier is a “great lake” where he’s competed in the pair of Forrest Wood Cups previously, both in the heat of summer. He was 10th in 2010 and third in 2012 in the Forrest Wood Cup on Lanier. He’s looking forward to a spring event on Lanier, which reminds him of one of his favorite lakes.
“It seems to be a lot like Lake Norman,” Thrift said. “It’s got a lot of fish in it, spotted bass and large-mouth.”
Johnson said the time of year for the FLW Tour tournament should better showcase Lake Lanier than the summer events have.
“It’s the best spotted bass tournament lake in the world, I think,” Johnson said. “I think it’s going to draw attention to how special this lake is.”