Saginaw Bay bass fishing tourneys reeling in big tourism dollars

Walleye and perch aren’t the only fish luring anglers to the Saginaw Bay these days.
Bass – both smallmouth and largemouth – are increasingly attracting national attention and fishing tournaments to the Bay County region.

“The bass fishery on the Saginaw Bay has always been here but has typically been overlooked because of the world-class walleye fishing,” says Michael Kelly, director of the Great Lakes office of The Conservation Fund. “But it’s definitely become more popular over the last decade as a destination for bass – and they’re the major league of tournament fishing.”

Alabama native Logan Parks, 23, loved fishing for bass on the Saginaw Bay. 'It's definitely my new favorite fishery,' he says..In June alone, three different national Bassmaster fishing tournaments took place on the Saginaw Bay: the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series featuring college anglers June 16-17 and the Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Series and the Mossy Oak Bassmaster Junior Series tournaments featuring young anglers on June 19.

The college series drew 170 teams from across the country, including the winning duo of Logan Parks and Tucker Smith from Auburn University. Second-place honors went to Zach Salters and Jenson Kay from Michigan’s Adrian College.

In bass tournaments, the daily limit is five fish and the boat with the highest overall weight in their live well wins. Parks and Smith caught a two-day total of 40 pounds, 9 ounces.

“I’ve been fishing my whole life and the Saginaw Bay is definitely my new favorite fishery, that’s for sure,” says 23-year-old Parks, an Alabama native. “This was my first time to Michigan and the Saginaw Bay, but I’ll definitely be back.”

Parks isn’t the only bass angler impressed with the Saginaw Bay, which is known traditionally for walleye fishing.

Auburn University's Tucker Smith, left, and Logan Parks took first place June 16-17 in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series tournament on the Saginaw Bay. A total of 170 two-person teams competed in the national event.Bassmaster magazine named the 1,100-square-mile bay on Lake Huron one of the decade’s best northeastern U.S. bass lakes. Although nearby Lake St. Clair is ranked as one of the top bass lakes in the country, word is getting out about the Saginaw Bay.

“We had people on our teams catching and releasing over 100 fish a day in Bay City. And the smallmouth were huge,” Parks says.

The tournament’s home base was the Independence Bridge Boat Launch near the USS Edson in Bangor Township. The event was hosted by the township in partnership with Great Lakes Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Michigan B.A.S.S. Nation.

Michigan’s Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry recognizes that outdoor recreation like fishing, boating, hiking and more plays an important role in Michiganders’ quality of life and our economy.

The state department estimates outdoor recreation in Michigan annually generates:
  • $26.6 billion in consumer spending
  • 232,000 direct jobs
  • $7.5 billion in wages and salaries
  • $2.1 billion in state and local tax revenue
Ed Clements, who has been fishing the Saginaw Bay for more than four decades, says tournaments are a great way to reel tourists – and tourism dollars – to the region.

“When these guys come to town, they usually bring their families and stay for a week scouting the fishing before the tournament,” says Clements, who also serves as a Bay City commissioner.
 
Bassmaster magazine named the 1,100-square-mile bay on Lake Huron one of the decade’s best northeastern U.S. bass lakes.
“That’s a week of staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants and shopping in our stores.

“I’d guess a tournament as big as the Bassmaster college series that brought in that many people probably had a $2 million impact over the course of a week.”

The Saginaw Bay is also home to numerous walleye tournaments, drawing anglers from across the Midwest.

And once people visit the region for whatever reason, they’re more likely to return, Clements says.

“If we can attract these tournaments year in and year out, it’s huge for the local economy. It just grows and grows and grows by word of mouth,” Clements says.

The Saginaw Bay tournament was the regular-season finale for the Carhartt Bass College Series.

Of the 170 teams who competed, a total of 17 teams, including Auburn University’s Parks and Smith, advanced to the national championship Aug. 12-14 on New York’s St. Lawrence River.

Parks and Smith are leading the college series’ Team of the Year standings and are considered favorites to take the national title.

“We’re excited to compete in New York … but we’re not going to forget the Saginaw Bay," Parks says.