One of competitive bass fishing’s longest running rites of spring marks a historic milestone this season. The Sturgeon Bay Open Bass Tournament is celebrating 25 years of team-format action on one of the world’s premier smallmouth bass fisheries.
Held May 15-17 on Lake Michigan’s legendary Sturgeon Bay in Wisconsin, the non-profit event has donated more than $250,000 to local charities since its inception, including a college scholarship program for fisheries and conservation. It is also a boon to local businesses. With an annual economic impact topping $450,000 the tournament has generated more than $8 million in new revenue for Door County merchants over the past 24 years.
Timed to coincide with the pre-spawn push of giant Lake Michigan small mouths into shallow water, the Open has also fueled Sturgeon Bay’s rise to prominence among North America’s best bass destinations. In fact, B.A.S.S. recently rated Sturgeon Bay as the nation’s top small mouth bass fishery. Allowed to weigh six bass each day during the two-day event, competitors routinely rack up weights that grab headlines across the continent. In 2014, for example, John Allen and Scott Ourada claimed victory with an incredible 65.62-pound, 12-fish total.
The event also highlights Sturgeon Bay’s trophy potential. Each of the last two seasons, it has yielded a small mouth topping the magical 8-pound barrier, with many fish over the 7-pound mark taken as well. Given such a track record, many predict even larger bass will come to the scale. “I believe there is a 9 pounder out there just waiting for someone,” says SBOBT president Ken Ellis.
Not surprisingly, the event has become a fixture on the Midwest bass fishing scene. From humble beginnings with 24 boats in 1991, it now routinely attracts 150 or more teams from across the U.S. and Canada. Along with the great fishing, the lucrative 110 percent payback is a top draw. Payouts often top $100,000 and last season’s winners, Allen and Ourada, claimed a brand-new Ranger Z118 powered by a Mercury 150 Optimax, plus $7,000 in cash for their efforts.
The 2015 Open is set for May 15-16, with May 17 reserved in case bad weather forces the cancellation of one of the first two days. Entry fee is $510 per team, and the field is limited to 200 boats. Weigh-ins begin at 3 pm daily at Sawyer Park in Sturgeon Bay and are open to the public. A full slate of additional activities are planned, including a Dock Dance and fireworks on Friday night and ‘Kids’ Day’ festivities on Saturday while the teams are on the water.