Toyota Texas Fest On Sam Rayburn Expected To Become Instant Favorite For Fishing Fans
LUFKIN, Texas — Sam Rayburn Reservoir is on a very short list of the all-time best fisheries to host a major bass tournament. Not surprisingly, more professional Bassmaster tournaments have been held on the 111,400-acre impoundment in east Texas — 31 — than on any other fishery in the United States.
Beginning with the 1968 All-American won by Bill Dance and continuing through more recent victories by current stars like Rick Clunn, Kevin VanDam, Edwin Evers and Shaw Grigsby, the events have thrilled and entertained fishing fans for nearly five decades.
But none, it is safe to say, have offered bass fishing fans the wealth of things to see and do and experience that will be available at the upcoming Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), to be held May 17-21.
That’s not surprising, since Texas Fest is the result of a merger of the fan-friendly Bassmaster BASSfest Elite Series tournaments of recent years and the uniquely formatted Toyota Texas Bass Classic (TTBC), conducted on Texas lakes for the past 10 years.
“We’re excited to develop Texas Fest into one of the biggest events in competitive fishing while featuring the great work Texas Parks & Wildlife Department does to ensure the quality of outdoor recreation for the future,” said Brent Hillyer, vice president/Marketing for Gulf States Toyota, which created and sponsored TTBC from the beginning.
“Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest will combine the best features of the Toyota Texas Bass Classic and our own BASSfest tournament — both of which had become immensely popular among anglers and fishing fans,” said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin. “Texas Fest will host a special Fan Appreciation Day offering anglers and their families opportunities to meet, greet and learn from the world’s best professional anglers.”
And, borrowing a page from TTBC, the event will feature a catch-weigh-release format. Anglers’ catches will be weighed on identical scales by judges assigned to each boat. Immediately after being weighed, the fish will be released back into the lake. The Top 5 weights will be counted in each competitor’s daily catch, and the pros will bring in their largest bass, if 21 inches or longer, to the weigh-in stage at the George H. Henderson Jr. Expo Center in Lufkin each afternoon.
Dave Terre, Texas’ chief of Inland Fisheries Management and Research, said Texas Fest will showcase the catch-weigh-release system, which can enhance fish survival.
“This is a big deal for tournament bass fishing, no doubt,” Terre said. “We did it in TTBC for 10 years, and it really has its feet now. It presents an alternative format for the world of professional bass fishing and has moved the needle in the direction of fish care and conservation.”
Terre is also grateful that the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest continues a tradition of providing funding for his agency. Over the years, TTBC has generated more than $2 million for TPWD.
“We now have Gulf States Toyota, Toyota Motor North America and B.A.S.S. all coming together to provide this new tournament to benefit Texas Parks and Wildlife Department,” Terre said. “The tournament is under a new sponsorship arrangement — and a new name — but the funds that are generated out of this event will continue to build and continue to support youth fishing outreach initiatives in the state.”
With a $1 million payout available to the 109 Bassmaster Elite Series pros, including $100,000 to the winner and a $50,000 Toyota Tundra truck to the angler who catches the heaviest bass of the week — along with an automatic entry into the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods — competition can be expected to be fierce.
Fans onshore will be able to follow all the action as it happens on Bassmaster LIVE and through the BASSTrakk leaderboard. Plus, they’ll have plenty to occupy their time — and their children — between LIVE updates.
On Friday and Saturday at the George H. Henderson Jr. Expo Center site, a “Get Hooked On Fishing” interactive children’s program will be open from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Activities include casting lessons, fishing in the Bass Pro Shops Catch & Release Pond, and a chance to meet bass pro and former NFL wide receiver Kendall Newson, founder of the Teach a Child to Fish Foundation. School children from Lufkin area schools will be taking part in activities as part of a special field trip opportunity on Friday.
Youngsters will also be able to test their abilities to fish, pitch and cast on the popular Toyota CastingKids range, which will also be in operation during the Bassmaster Elite Series Outdoors Expo through Sunday.
Fan Appreciation Day is Saturday, May 20, when the Elite anglers take a day off fishing to participate in activities at the Expo and in Bassmaster University seminars, all taking place at George H. Henderson Jr. Expo Center. Festivities begin each day, Saturday and Sunday, at 10 a.m. Sunday is Military and Public Safety Personnel Day.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Adventures Area at the Expo is designed to entertain outdoor sports enthusiasts while teaching them about activities and resources. Among displays and hands-on activities are Archery, Boater Education, Casting, Coastal Fisheries Expo, Daisy Air Gun, Fish Fundamentals Aquarium, Invasive Species Awareness, Operation Game Thief Trailer — Wall of Shame, River & Stream/Texas Paddling Trails, Vamos a Pescar/Take Me Fishing Trailer — Learn to Fish, Texas State Fish Art, Texas State Parks, Toyota ShareLunker Trailer, TPW Bass Management, Water U Doing Road Trip and Wildlife Crime Scene Investigations.
In addition to its CastingKids course, Toyota is offering an experience geared to adults: the Toyota Ride and Drive obstacle course, open to qualified drivers 18 and over. Fishing families in the market for a new bass rig can take part in demo boat rides provided by Skeeter, Yamaha, Nitro, Triton and Mercury at Cassels-Boykin Park. Free shuttle transportation is provided between the Expo Center and the park.
Among dozens of vendors at the Outdoors Expo, leading manufacturers will be displaying and/or selling their products. Fishing fans will certainly want to tour the Berkley Experience Trailer. In addition, they can check out products and displays from Huk Performance Fishing, Power-Pole, Humminbird, Minn Kota, Phoenix Boats, Carhartt, Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels, Livingston Lures, Phoenix Boats, Shimano, T-H Marine and many others.
Also on Saturday of Texas Fest, the most exclusive high school bass tournament will be held on a nearby body of water. To qualify, students have to be named one of the 12 members of the 2017 Bassmaster High School All-American Fishing Team presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. In addition to being honored as one of the most outstanding student anglers in the nation, the All-Americans will get to participate in a one-day fun-fishing tournament as the teammate of one of the Elite anglers.
The standout anglers were selected from among more than 380 nominations of students in grades 10-12 representing 40 states across the nation. After reviewing tournament résumés, community service activities, academic achievement and recommendations from coaches and school officials, a panel of judges selected the Top 12 high school anglers in the country.
From watching the first boats take off from Cassels-Boykin Park at 7 a.m. CT on Wednesday, May 17, to the final weigh-in at the Henderson Expo Center on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. — and including the family-friendly activities and seminars in between — all venues are free and open to the public.