The back parking lot of the Colchester Hampton Inn was bustling last week as professional anglers wearing NASCAR-esque jerseys and their sleek, sponsor-wrapped boats returned from a long day on the water during the week-long Major League Fishing Challenge Select bass fishing competition.
The catch-and-release event invited 24 anglers from the Bassmaster Elite Series and the FLW Tour to compete in six days of fishing in Malletts Bay on Lake Champlain. The tournament was filmed and will premiere as a television series on the Outdoor Channel next year.
This was the first time the competition was held in Vermont, to the delight of everyone involved.
“All the anglers always look forward to coming here because the weather’s awesome, the fishing’s awesome, and it has a lot of tournament history,” MLF producer Rob Newell said. “No matter what your style of fishing is, you can find a place to match [it] on Lake Champlain. That’s what’s so cool about it.”
The tournament split up the group into three days of fishing, and the top four anglers went on to compete in two rounds of sudden death. When an angler caught a fish, it was weighed by an on-boat official and immediately released back into the water.
Some rules distinguished this tournament from others, including keeping anglers “in the dark” about the location.
“We get no practice, so you have to get out there and figure it out and just start catching fish and then go duplicate it,” said Scott Ashmore, an angler from Tulsa, Okla., the headquarters of the MLF organization. “We get a designated territory zone in the lake that you can fish, and you don’t always find what you’re looking for.”
None of the anglers in the competition were from New England, but all were excited to fish Lake Champlain when they found out they were coming to the area.
“A lot of the pros, if you ask them where they like to go, they would say Lake Champlain,” angler Dave Lefebre said. “It’s just a totally different class of fish; that’s the first thing people say when they come up north to fish.”
The event was sponsored by a handful of Vermont organizations, including the Town of Colchester and the Vermont Convention Bureau. They worked together to “feature Vermont as a premiere fishing destination,” said Susan Smith, VP of visitor services for the VCB, in a press release.
Kathi Walker O’Reilly, director of economic development was also excited about the visibility and economic boost the tournament brought to Colchester, since about 100 staff, anglers and family members were in town for the event.
“There were 80 rooms rented here, and people go to lunch and dinner and they spend money in our economy and that’s what we want to do,” she said, expressing interest in hosting other fishing tournaments in the future.
O’Reilly said Tuesday the tournament’s economic impact was approximately $500,000.
The tournament also provided tourism opportunities for anglers and their families. James Watson, an angler from Missouri, brought his fiancé and each of their sons to the tournament.
“It’s been a vacation for us so they’ve enjoyed seeing the sights and going to places,” Watson said. “We went to a lot of antique stores and a few different museums so we’ve had a good time. We’ve had plenty to do other than fish.”
Overall, the anglers’ spirits were high during the mostly sunny, warm tournament on Lake Champlain, whether or not they made it past elimination rounds.
“This is as good as it gets right here,” Lefebre added.
The 2019 Challenge Select will air in March 2019 on the Outdoor Channel.