By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Tournament bass anglers who are ready to step up in competition need to mark their calendars for June 1, 2020, and set the alarm clock to 6 a.m. That date and time is when registration opens for the newest bass trail in Alabama aimed at serious tournament anglers.
The creation of the Alabama Bass Trail 100 was announced last week at beautiful Lake Guntersville State Park, overlooking the site of one of the three tournaments on the Alabama Bass Trail (ABT) 100 for 2021. The new trail is open to only 100 boats.
Those anglers who are fortunate enough to grab a slot in the new series will vie for $100,000 in total prize money for each of the three events, with $25,000 going to the winning boat.
ABT Tournament Director Kay Donaldson said the entry fee per event is $1,000, and anglers must sign up for all three events to participate. No single entries are allowed.
The first ABT 100 tournament is scheduled for Lay Lake on the Coosa River on January 9, 2021. Lake Eufaula on the Chattahoochee River in southeast Alabama will be the site of the second event on June 5, 2021, followed by the trail finale at Lake Guntersville on the Tennessee River on November 20, 2021.
Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, represented Gov. Kay Ivey at the trail’s unveiling and conveyed the Governor’s love of the outdoors.
“Gov. Kay Ivey is a huge supporter of hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation,” Blankenship said. “As a matter of fact, we were at an event about a month ago, and right before it was my time to speak, she tugged on my shoulder and said, ‘Remind me to ask you something before we leave.’ She wanted to talk about bass fishing on Lake Jordan. She’s a huge supporter of fishing in our state.”
Blankenship said he is blessed to be the Conservation Commissioner of a state with such outstanding natural resources and fisheries.
“Outdoor recreation is a $14 billion industry throughout our state,” he said. “Alabama has great fishing, both saltwater and freshwater. Just fishing has a $2 billion economic impact on our state. That’s a lot of money from people out enjoying themselves.
“We have such a great bass fishery here in our state, from the lakes on the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers, the Tennessee River lakes, like here at Guntersville, the Tombigbee River, Smith Lake, Lake Eufaula, the Alabama River, and the place I’m most familiar with, fishing for bass in the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta. We have unique bass fisheries from one end of our state to the other. That’s where I think the Alabama Bass Trail is so impressive. It allows people from our state and from out of state to experience the different kinds of fisheries and the different places that make up our great bass fisheries here in Alabama.”
The original Alabama Bass Trail started seven years ago with the idea of promoting bass fishing across the state with Northern and Southern divisions. That tournament trail has become so popular that the slots open for the 2020 ABT were filled in hours.
“The Department works well with the Alabama Bass Trail on multiple fronts,” Blankenship said. “The Alabama Bass Trail works with the Department to provide information for the B.A.I.T. (Bass Anglers Information Team) to provide a clear picture on what’s happening on the lakes where they hold the tournaments. Several of our staff members have been at Alabama Bass Trail events and have witnessed the extraordinary lengths the tournament officials go to to ensure the health and live release of thousands of tournament-caught bass. These efforts are important to maintain the healthy fisheries of our lakes.”
“Tournaments like this highlight the fisheries and bring more people to our state to buy fishing licenses and tackle and those type things,” Blankenship said. “That money is used by the Department to go back into building the high-quality fisheries and install boat ramps and public access areas around the state. We have more than 150 boat ramps in the state that the Department maintains or partners with cities and counties to manage. I really want to say thanks to those cities and counties that partner with us.
“Now we’re looking at building new ramps with big bass tournaments in mind. Kay has been very helpful in discussions about what works better for bass tournaments and helps get boats in and out of the water, parking and what helps facilitate attracting some of the largest fishing tournaments to our state. We appreciate the Alabama Bass Trail and its leadership. All that plays a role in attracting great tournaments to our state. We want everybody, when they come here, to have a good time and enjoy their fishing so they’ll want to come back and so they’ll tell other people about what great bass fisheries we have here in Alabama.”
When the ABT was just a lofty idea, Lee Sentell, Alabama Tourism Director, provided the catalyst to make the tournament trail a reality.
“I’m a member of an organization called Travel South USA, which is the 12 southern states’ tourism departments,” said Sentell, who recognized the ABT as the 2018 Tourism Organization of the Year in Alabama. “Every year I get more questions from my counterparts from throughout the South who will say, ‘Now, how did that Alabama Bass Trail thing get started?’ I tell them some people had a great idea and great vision. Great things happen when you have great talent, great resources and people who want to make a difference and bring more anglers into our state.
“I just want to say a big congratulations to the Alabama Bass Trail and Alabama Mountain Lakes (Tourist Association). It’s hard to believe this has been going on for seven years. But, it’s exciting.”
Sentell recalled a meeting with Don Logan, one of the people who brought BASS (Bass Anglers Sportsmen’s Society) back to Alabama, and Alabama Mountain Lakes about starting the Alabama Bass Trail. The meeting was not progressing well until Sentell stepped up.
“I said the Alabama Tourism Department will put $200,000 a year for three years into the Alabama Bass Trail, and Alabama Mountain Lakes is going to run it,” Sentell said. “They couldn’t say no to that.
“So, what you are doing and where you’re going next is thrilling. This is a state that is blessed with many natural wonders, and our lakes and rivers and fisheries are one of the most important aspects of the quality of life in our state.”
Donaldson said at a meeting in August 2019, the ABT board voted unanimously to pursue the idea of a new tournament series, which would become the Alabama Bass Trail 100.
“The popularity of Alabama Bass Trail was never more realized than last August, when we sold out the 225 boats for the Southern Division in three hours and our Northern Division with 225 boats in 17 hours,” Donaldson said. “People often ask how we pay back 100 percent. It’s because of our wonderful sponsors. Our title sponsor again is Phoenix Boats.”
Guntersville Mayor Leigh Dollar said she is excited that Guntersville was chosen as the final tournament of the 2021 season.
“The Alabama Bass Trail has always been a great asset to our community,” Dollar said. “They bring lots of people. It’s great publicity. We love our anglers.”
Eufaula Mayor Jack Tibbs, an avid bass angler who competes in the ABT South Division, echoed Dollar’s sentiments.
“The Alabama Bass Trail is a great tournament trail already,” Tibbs said. “This is just going to be an expansion of what they already do. It’s going to be great for Eufaula. We’re excited.”
Donaldson said registration is open to all anglers with no priority registration for current ABT anglers. Only one pro angler is allowed per boat. Visit www.alabamabasstrail100.org for details and rules. Tournament information will also be available on Facebook and Instagram at albasstrail100.
PHOTOS: (Billy Pope) Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship, left, Alabama Bass Trail Tournament Director Kay Donaldson and Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell show off the new prize belts that will go to the winners of the three tournaments scheduled for 2021. Commissioner Blankenship explains how the Alabama Bass Trail has raised the profile of Alabama's great fisheries. The anglers on the winning boat at each Alabama Bass Trail 100 event will receive prize belts and $25,000.