Lewis Smith Lake, which spans three counties near Jasper, Ala., defies all the criteria that make a good fishing lake. Smith Lake, as it is known by the locals, is deep. And clear. And chock full of big, hungry fish. Rumor has it there is a 50-pounder swimming around taunting anglers of all ages.
Home to Open-Series Angler Tournaments
Combine the excellent fishing conditions with more than 500 miles of shoreline as scenic as it is accessible, and it becomes clear why Smith is the only lake in Alabama slated to be a repeat host for the Bassmaster Open Series Tournament.
Numerous tournaments, sponsored by B.A.S.S. (the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society), have landed at Smith Lake, and Michael Mulone, director of event partnerships for B.A.S.S., says his organization looks forward to coming back each year.
“The community does a great job of taking care of that fishery,” Mulone says. “We won’t continue to get anglers to our tournaments if we put them on waters that can’t produce catches. The water is crystal clear, it’s gorgeous and people can catch all kinds of fish, and that’s a big deal. “
The Open Series tournaments draw anywhere from 175 to 200 boats – that’s 350-400 anglers in town for three days. The economic impact from a single tournament can reach upwards of $2 million.
Few anglers know Smith Lake as well as local pro fisherman David Kilgore. Born and raised here, Kilgore has been fishing the lake his whole life.
“The lake is more diverse than people think,” Kilgore says. “It is a beautiful lake. There are plenty of boat ramps, plenty of hotels ... During the springtime it’s the best lake in the state.”
Fish Generate Tourism Dollars
But the lake isn’t just a natural beauty. It’s a powerful economic driver and revenue generator because of its tourism draw. The fishing tournaments alone, which have happened annually since 2003, generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in hotel stays and restaurant purchases and also produce media exposure in outlets such as ESPN, Bassmaster Magazine and numerous daily newspapers.
In addition to fishing tournament revenue, 2010 census data show that the seasonal and recreational housing market over the last 10 years has had a $270 million to $400 million impact on the three-county area around the lake.
The Lewis Smith Dam, which rises 300 feet out of the Black Warrior River, draws upwards of 40,000 visitors per year. Neighboring 163-acre Walker County Lake, although too small to host a major tournament, is also known for its fish.
Smith Lake Lures Bassmasters
Mulone says Smith Lake's prominence as a good fishery gets it considered as a tournament site, but when the rich waters are combined with an enthusiastic and welcoming community, it’s a home run.
“We were blown away by the support from the local area at past tournaments,” Mulone says. “We had a lot of local businesses who put out signs saying ‘Welcome Anglers’. That means a lot to the anglers and us as well. When the community gets behind us it makes it easier for us to come back for future tournaments.”
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