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Gainesville prepares to host FLW Tour fishing tournament on Lake Lanier
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Jason Johnson casts his line during the FLW Tour’s Mississippi River event in La Crosse, Wis., in May.

Lake Lanier is about to host the big boys of competitive bass fishing as Fishing League Worldwide comes to town.

The FLW Tour will make the third stop of its seven-tournament regular season from March 8-11 at Laurel Park, with both professionals and co-anglers taking part in the event. Four Hall County residents will be part of the field, with some saying the heavy rains and rising lake level have made a major impact on how the competition will play out.

“It’s going to fish completely different than normal,” said Gainesville resident David Nichol, who is in his first year on the FLW Tour. “The high water kind of levels the playing field significantly.”

FLW Tour tournament at Lake Lanier

Where: Laurel Park, 3100 Old Cleveland Highway, Gainesville

Takeoff: 7 a.m. March 8-10, 7:45 a.m. March 11

Weigh-in: 3 p.m. March 8-9, 4 p.m. March 10-11

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.

The Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau is hosting the event and has also sponsored multiple smaller FLW tournaments in recent months, including one last weekend.

“Our community benefits greatly from events like this one that are designed to include the entire family,” said Gainesville CVB Manager Regina Dyer in a news release. “In the past six months, fishing has resulted in more than $2 million in economic impact and showcased Lake Lanier as a world-class fishery and prime location for anglers of all ages. We’re excited to bring the FLW Tour to town and expect a great week of fun for all fans of fishing and the outdoors.”

Dyer previously told The Times the city paid a $25,000 sponsorship fee to the FLW Tour for this event, while also working out other in-kind services. Dyer said the money from the CVB for the tournament comes from 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.”

Jason Meninger, of Gainesville, is glad to be back on his home lake after struggling in the season’s first two tournaments in Florida. He said the stain and color of the lake could have fish biting a good bit in shallow water.

“Every part of the lake is in play,” Meninger said.

Regular-season FLW Tour wins carry up to a $125,000 payday, and the top 60 pros in the event earn at least $10,000. A total of $930,000 in prize money is on the line in the Lake Lanier tournament.

Lake Lanier has previously hosted the FLW Tour’s Forrest Wood Cup, a big-money tournament which serves as a postseason reward for the tour’s top fishers, in August of 2010 and 2012. Jason Johnson, a Dawsonville resident in his fourth season on the FLW Tour, said having a tournament this time of year will “really showcase how special Lake Lanier is.”

He is expecting a lot of large-mouth bass to be caught.

“We’re hitting the lake at just the right time this year, and it’s really going to show that Lake Lanier is the best spotted-bass tournament fishery in America,” Johnson said. “There is not another lake that has the quality and quantity of nice, spotted bass, and I’m anxious to show it off to the world.”

Anglers will take off from Laurel Park at 7 a.m. March 8-10, then at 7:45 a.m. on Sunday, March 11.

Weigh-ins will be at 3 p.m. March 8-9 and 4 p.m. March 10-11 at Laurel Park.

FLW will host a free Family Fishing Expo from noon to 4 p.m. March 10-11. A Unified Fishing Derby is set for 9-11 a.m. Saturday, March 10, which will be hosted by FLW Foundation pro Cody Kelley and other FLW Tour anglers. The derby is free and open to kids younger than 18 and Special Olympics athletes.

Rods and reels will be available, but FLW encourages kids to bring their own if they own one. The two anglers that catch the biggest fish will be recognized Saturday, March 10, on the FLW Tour stage, just prior to the pros weighing in.

FLW Tour anglers will visit students at Chestatee High School in Gainesville on Wednesday, March 7, from 8:30-10 a.m.

According to an FLW press release, the visit will “introduce students to fishing and outdoor activities in their community. During the presentations the pro anglers will reinforce how science, technology, engineering and math relate to outdoor activities as well as boating safety.”
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