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Kevin VanDam might have walked away with the Advanced Auto Parts Blue Ridge Brawl trophy and the $100,000 champion’s check, but in the end it might just be the Smith Mountain Lake area which comes away as the real winner.
This past week’s Bassmaster Elite series event showcased some great fishing among the world’s best 100 bass anglers. It displayed why they’re the best — they know how to catch ‘em — but also why SML is becoming one of their favorite stops on the tour. The Elite anglers first came here in 2007 and said then they wanted to come back. Last year when the 2009 and 2010 schedules were released the tour was slated for a return visit not once, but twice, and last week’s stop left them looking forward to the August 2010 date.
In their own words:
“It will put a smile on your face the rest of the day,” Jeff Connella said about a greeting he received from a Lake resident while fishing on the final day. He said that resident yelled to him from the dock, “We’re so glad you are here.”
“It’s a fantastic fishery,” noted Elite rookie angler Matt Herren of Trussville, Ala. Herren had plenty to be happy about, finishing second in the tournament.
Trip Weldon, the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament director spoke of the Lake’s beauty, especially with the pink Dogwoods in bloom and Keith Allan, the ESPN weigh-in announcer for the week reminded the crowds that they were among the best and rowdiest on the tour.
“What a great community, what a great Lake,” noted long-time Bassmaster angler Gary Klein. “I’m really looking forward to coming back.”
And then, of course, there was the winner.
“This is a great Lake,” added VanDam, the Tiger Woods of bass fishing. “It’s right up my alley.”
There are plenty of kudos to go around. Franklin and Bedford counties are to be commended for their work in sponsoring the event and the committee members and sponsoring agencies put on a great show. Parkway Marina and Mariner’s Landing were great hosts and all the volunteers who helped make the event run smoothly deserve thanks.
The national attention the Elite series brings is beneficial both in immediate and future tourism dollars being generated for the area. But the impact is even greater as SML’s reputation grows as a must-visit destination. The fishing is good and the experience of being here is even better. One angler described the interaction as just like being home with his neighbors.
The community and its residents have left an impression on the anglers that goes far beyond cashing a paycheck in a tournament. They’re discovering what those of us around here already knew and we’re looking forward to having them back real soon.