ROANOKE, W.Va. — Among tournament bass fishermen in West Virginia there is a non-stop conversation about who is the best among them. There are three major fishing trails in the state, a host of smaller tournament organizations, and four West Virginia colleges have their own bass fishing teams. An idea which sprouted last year at the end of the season has blossomed into a high stakes tournament next month which will answer the question for at least a year.
“It’s going to be the ‘Best of the Best,'” said Lyle Atkins, who handles promotional work for the Trail of Dreams Tournament Trail in West Virginia. “It all came about last fall when we were talking at the tournament championships, everybody with the three big players, Trail of Dreams, B.A.S.S., and the Bass Federation, thought it would be cool to have one TRUE state champion.”
The idea took hold and Atkins along with Trail of Dreams owner Bob Burgess decided if everyone was in agreement they would execute such a tournament.
“In order to qualify through your respective group, you’ve got so many slots to fill according to the size of your group,” said Atkins. “The slots included the TBF Federation, the B.A.S.S. Federation, and Trail of Dreams, Poor Man Trail and USA Bassin’. We also invited two teams from each college, WVU, Marshall, Fairmont State, and Glenville State.”
Each organization was responsible for working out the logistics of who would fill their respective slots. Once those slots were filled, there were some spots leftover which enabled some individuals to get into the tournament with provisional spots if they couldn’t qualify through their organization. The final lineup includes 120 boats and 240 anglers. The top prize for the one day tournament on Stonewall Jackson Lake will be $10,000. The tournament will pay several places back, but the top prize and the title is what everybody is fishing for.
“The Best of the Best, the tournament champion, will receive $10,000,” said Atkins. “That’s guaranteed, the money will be there no matter what.”
As excitement for the May 13th event has built, sponsors have jumped on board and sweetened the event. The Division of Tourism, DNR, and West Virginia State Parks are also on board with the idea. Tourism hopes to use the event as a showcase for the state and for the lake. Atkins says in addition to the top prize, there’s some added incentive for each organization.
“If you win, Trail of Dreams will donate $1,000 to your organization’s youth program,” he explained. “If somebody from the Trail of Dreams wins, we’ll take that money and donate it to Make a Wish which is our charity of choice.”
If the champion is one of the college fishing teams, the money will be donated to their school’s team.
Atkins, Burgess, and the rest of the bass fishing organizations in West Virginia are hopeful the tournament will become an annual gathering and grow in the years ahead. All believe the inaugural event is the first step toward making it a coveted title every year.