Three national fishing tournaments already are making plans to come to the Saginaw Bay in 2024

Michael Kelly manages the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network, one of The Conservation Fund’s longest running watershed restoration and sustainability programs. WIN includes a variety of corporate and philanthropic partners and is administered through a unique partnership with the Dow Chemical Company. Michael is also responsible for real estate acquisition and land conservation financing projects, in partnership with other regional offices throughout the Great Lakes region.

Edward Clements, a Bay City Public Schools teacher and Bay City commissioner, has been fishing in the Great Lakes Bay Region for over 40 years. Clements has helped bring several professional and collegiate fishing tournaments to the area.

Edward Clements, who has been fishing in this area for 40 years, says he has seen more and more anglers interested in opportunities in this region.QUESTION: The summer of 2023 was a banner year for fishing tournaments in Bay City. We hosted two high-profile tournaments. Do we expect any more tournaments in 2024?

A (Kelly): Yes! In fact we are already expecting three major tournaments in 2024.

First we will see a return of the Bassmaster Collegiate Bass Fishing Series on June 6 and 7. This event will bring about 200 college-based teams from across the country to Saginaw Bay, launching out of Bay City. As a bonus there will also be an associated high school tournament  on June 9, featuring high school students from across Michigan and the United States.  

Later in the summer, on Aug. 9-11 we'll be visited by the Hobie Bass Open Series. This will be a unique event where anglers compete in kayaks... but not just any kayaks. These boats are designed from the ground up (or water up!) to be sophisticated fishing boats that use electronic and other technology more often found in typical motorized bass boats.  

Finally, on Aug. 29-31, we will once again see 130 professional anglers from the National Professional Fishing League return to Bay City for the third year in a row. This is an exciting event that features the top bass fishermen in the world, and this will be the third year in a row that they visit Bay City. It truly shows how great this fishery is - it's really unprecedented that a major circuit would visit the same site two years in a row, let alone three times.

Q: The hope was that the 2023 tournaments would encourage tourism in the coming years. I know it's early, but are we starting to see any indication that amateur fishermen are making plans to come here?

Kelly: Absolutely, and we expect that to only grow in coming years. Having two of the largest bass circuits visit in 2023, with their online and traditional broadcasting and media capabilities, showed people across the country that the Saginaw Bay system is on par, or better, that most of the other more well-known bass lakes in North America. These tournament circuits have enormous fan bases, and Saginaw Bay is proving irresistible to those people that follow where the pros fish. Our office is constantly getting inquiries as is the Great Lakes Bay Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau by anglers coming from out of town that want to know where to stay, where to eat and where the "hot spots" are for fishing.

Clements: For sure; we heard from a lot of the tournament anglers and staff last year that they planned to return to Bay City for family vacations. We are also seeing more and more boats and vehicles with out of state license plates. When I go fishing I see more bass boats than I ever have in my life.

Two major fishing tournaments this summer drew international anglers to Bay City and the Saginaw Bay. Afterward, the Outdoor Brand Team Writers Conference was held at ATS Printing. (Photo Credit: Scott Baker)Q: Have you heard from businesses in town how the 2023 tournaments affected them? I know the expectations were high for the economic impact of the tournaments.

Kelly: Yes, businesses – especially restaurants, gas stations, sporting good stores, and hotels – saw a definite uptick in business and sales during the tournament events. Having a couple of hundred anglers, their families, support staff, and fans right downtown, within easy walking distance to amenities, was terrific. We did hire Grand Valley State University to do an economic impact analysis of the events just to find out what the impact was. That study is in draft and we'll release more information over the coming months, but the raw data shows more than $1 million in economic activity just in Bay County, and that is the anglers alone. Figure in support staff, fans, families, and more, and that number is exponentially higher.  
Michael Kelly (Photo courtesy of Michael Kelly)
Q: The presence of these tournaments seems to indicate we've made strides in improving our land and water environment. Can you describe a few of the success stories?

Kelly: No question. The bottom line is that when we take care of our environment, we are paid back many times over. These fishing tournament prove that out. We have been able to protect existing habitat, restore impacted habitat, and take steps over the past 30 years to protect our water. Mother Nature has responded by giving us two of the world's greatest fisheries – bass and walleye.  Whether is it wetland restoration that serves as nursery areas for these fish, reef restoration such as the Coreyon Reef that provides important habitat out in Saginaw Bay, or the infrastructure work that has been done in Bay City and Saginaw to eliminate polluted runoff, we're obviously seeing better water, better habitat, and an increased and more healthy fish community.

Q: Do you have any advice to offer amateur anglers? Is there a great fishing spot in the area that you can share?

Kelly: If you come to Bay City to catch fish, plan on catching a lot of them. The Saginaw Bay is known for its smallmouth bass population and the Saginaw River system is known for largemouth. Combined, they make one of the best bass fisheries in the world, and given that, they are easy to fish despite any weather issues. If the weather won't cooperate on the Bay, then you can always fish the river. Tips? There is a bass under every dock and around any type of structure. I personally like swimbaits, but fish can be caught on buzzbaits, plastics, and just about whatever you can throw at them. When the bite is on, you could probably put a piece of ham on a sharpened paperclip and catch fish. That's how good this fishery is.

Clements: Not really a specific spot; but the largemouth bass in Saginaw Bay and Saginaw River are not hard to catch. The shoreline along the Bay is loaded with largemouth. All an angler has to do is find some emergent weeds above the water and you will find largemouth. In the river, the largemouth are relating to structure such as dock posts, bridge pilings, old pilings, sea walls, rip-rap shorelines, and in the marinas around docks. Smallmouths are a bit harder to find, they relate to rocky areas and reefs in a bit deeper water in the Bay.

Q: Anything else you'd like to add?

Kelly: Bay City is a great community, and survey after survey from anglers point out just how much they love being here. We're excited about that. For the tournaments, the community really stepped up, and people are excited to come back. When a community can provide both terrific fishing and a great experience off the water, that is a combination that puts us in a rarefied company of only a few communities in the United States. We're so proud of that.

Clements: I would like to speak to how we are on the brink of becoming the premier destination for bass in the USA. Last year, the tournaments told us that we are close to being this. I was happy to hear that we pulled off last year without really knowing what we were doing. They also mentioned that we needed some improvements to Vets Park boat launch to take us to premier level.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Kathy Roberts.

Kathy Roberts, a graduate of Central Michigan University, moved to Bay City in 1987 to start a career in the newspaper industry. She was a reporter and editor at the Bay City Times for 15 years before leaving to work at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Covenant HealthCare, and Ohno Design. In 2019, she returned to her storytelling roots as the Managing Editor of Route Bay City. When she’s not editing or writing stories, you can find her reading books, knitting, or visiting the bars of Bay County. You can reach Kathy at