SPECIAL REPORT: Big bass capital

EUFAULA, AL (WTVM) - We picked a gorgeous day to enjoy Lake Eufaula when we went to file this report, but we knew that we needed a knowledgeable tour guide to show us around.

The mayor of Eufaula was ready to step in and lend a hand.

"I've been fishing Lake Eufaula since I was old enough to hold a fishing pole," Mayor Jack Tibbs says. 
He was kind enough to give us a look around at the 31-mile lake which is home to wildlife such as eagles, gators, and of course, plenty of fish.

"The pan-fishing is great especially right now in springtime. The fishing is really great," the mayor says.

Of course, many fisherman head to the lake for one thing and that's the big bass!  Lake Eufaula is home to dozens of tournaments every year including, from time to time, some of the prestigious Bassmasters events.  In fact, you could say that the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) can trace its roots back to the area.

"Anyone that's old enough to remember Tom Mann knows he started his business here back in the mid-1960s. It was called Mann's bait company," adds the mayor.

Mann designed fishing tackle and electronics like the Hummingbird depth finder and even had his own television show.  He formed a friendship with Ray Scott, another Alabama native who with his guidance, went on to found B.A.S.S. in 1967.  The sport is a multi-billion-dollar industry and has a big influence on the local area.

"There's an economic impact of these tournaments when these fishermen come. They're going to stay in hotels, they're going to eat at the restaurants, they burn a lot of gas and use a lot of oil. You know, ice and drinks and everything you need to go fishing, they're going to purchase it," Tibbs says.

In fact, fisherman across North America might even be carrying a little bit of the Chattahoochee Valley with them in their tackle box.

"Really and truly, Eufaula could claim to be the fishing lure capital of the world.  Odds are, if they are fishing a plastic worm or plastic bait of any kind, it was made in Eufaula, Alabama," adds Tibbs.

And it's not just the big bass the people are hooked on. The lake provides a place to camp, a place to swim, and is surrounded by plenty of good places to eat!

We took a trip to Downtown Eufaula and the River City Grill.  It's a place that serves up great burgers, salads, and seafood.  It's also a place where business picks up as the fish start biting.

"Usually in spring, fishermen start around February usually with the tournaments, and all the way through we have spring break traffic and beachgoers and campers," says Lindsey Marshall, the front of house manager.
Now if fishing isn't your thing, the area offers plenty of other outdoor activities.  On the Georgia side of the river, George T. Bagby State Park sits near the Fort Gaines area.  

"Lakepoint State Park is right here, and bordering the park is a national refuge. It's 11,000 acres of national refuge.  They have observation areas out there where people can come and watch the wildlife," says the mayor.
The folks at the park are quite proud of what it has to offer the area.

 "We probably average around 110,000 visitors a year in our park.  Between reunions, the conventions, the weddings, the fishing tournaments, and just the local people coming out and enjoying themselves, we have a pretty good thing going here," says Lakepoint administrator,  Sharon Matherne.

With that many people coming in, their economic impact isn't just felt around the lake or the state parks.  The city of Eufaula sees a big bump this time of year from lake visitors.

"We depend on it.  Our stores downtown actually thrive from it.  It's huge for Eufaula," adds Ann Sparks, executive director for Main Street Eufaula.

"Actually, we are a triple threat. We have all the historic homes, we have the lake, and we have a thriving downtown, so that puts us in a unique position," she says.

It's not just local folks that flock to this area for everything it has to offer.  Hang around long enough, and you'll need a geography lesson to keep up with the out of town visitors.

"You see people from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, places like that," the mayor says.

"Oh gosh, Argentina, London, and Japan," adds Sparks.

"In late summer we had a family from Switzerland in here," Marshall says of the River City Grill.

After all, it is the big bass capital of the world, not just the Chattahoochee Valley!

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