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Bassmaster pros glowing over Mille Lacs fishing

Elite bass anglers from throughout the United States are experiencing first-hand this weekend what Minnesotans already should know: Mille Lacs Lake is one of the nation’s premier bass fishing destinations.

Fifty of the country’s best anglers, displaying their catches during Thursday’s weigh-in at the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship and visiting with Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, praised the lake for its abundance of big bass.

Later, when the weigh-in at Grand Casino Mille Lacs concluded, tournament emcee Dave Mercer put the day’s tally in perspective.

“There have never been this many big smallmouth bass caught in Bassmaster tournament history,” Mercer said. “Nothing holds a candle to this.”

Mille Lacs Lake has long been known as premier lake for smallmouth bass fishing, and the tournament taking place Thursday, Sept. 15, through Sunday, Sept. 18, is a major event – open to spectators – at a lake that long has been a tourist destination.

Enthusiasm about the Mille Lacs bass fishing was a sentiment shared by Louie Stout, Bassmaster senior writer. Stout said anglers in southern tournaments often catch some bigger bass than those in Mille Lacs but Thursday’s total large-fish catch was unprecedented.

“Typically, the angler who brings in five largemouth weighing 19 pounds on the first day of the tournament has his head held high,” Stout said. “Today, there were a lot of low heads when the scale read 19 pounds.”

Indeed, a 19-pound, one-ounce tally put Florida’s Randall Tharp in 31st place. The first 23 places went to anglers whose five-fish limit averaged at least four pounds a fish.

Takahiro Omori of Emory, Texas, is the tournament leader. His first-day catch totaled 26 pounds, seven ounces. He told the weigh-in audience “this is my best smallmouth bass fishing ever.”

Tied for second after day one were Minnesota’s Seth Feider and Jason Williamson of South Carolina. The three-day tournament continues today and concludes Sunday. The winner will receive $100,000. The rest of the field shares the remainder of a $1 million purse. All bass are returned to the lake after weigh-in.

Perhaps Mille Lacs highest praise came from Kevin VanDam, the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society’s all-time money winner. An advocate for his home state of Michigan, VanDam said Mille Lacs was quite the surprise.

“I have been to great smallmouth bass lakes in Michigan….. to Lake Champlain…..to Lake St. Clair. No place has as many big ones as Mille Lacs. The bass are crazy big in this lake,” VanDam said.

“People across the country are seeing what a great fishing lake this is,” said Tina Chapman, director of the Mille Lacs Tourism Council. “We’re looking forward to the national exposure this tournament is bringing to our area.”

Although the tournament’s focus is bass, what anglers are catching is broadening Mille Lacs’ reputation as a multi-species lake, she said, noting that Bassmaster emcee Mercer caught a 52-inch muskellunge while fishing with a local guide.

“It’s a lake with a lot of big fish in it, and it’s a great place to be any time of year,” Chapman said.

“An event like this lets us shine a spotlight on the Mille Lacs area and introduce a much broader audience to the many exciting things to see and do here,” said Sarah Barten, public relations manager for Grand Casino, host sponsor of the tournament. “Mille Lacs Lake is a jewel of Minnesota – not only to the pro anglers competing but for the many fishing enthusiasts that the event will draw to the region.”

John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota, agreed. “There are so many reasons why the Lake Mille Lacs area is one of Minnesota’s most popular travel destinations, with fishing chief among them. It’s great to see the area in the national spotlight as part of the Bassmaster championship.”

The public is welcome to watch weigh-ins happening today and Sunday. They will be at 3:45 p.m. in the front parking lot of Grand Casino Mille Lacs. Also, on Saturday and Sunday afternoon the parking lot will be the site of arts and crafts vendors, food and beverage vendors, kids’ activities, interactive displays and more.

More information on the Bassmaster Mille Lacs tournament, including a schedule of public events, is available at www.bassmaster.com.

Fishing is a major draw for out-of-state visitors, generating $2.8 billion in retail sales and 43,000 Minnesota jobs.

Information about the Mille Lacs Lake area and the opportunities it offers visitors are online at www.millelacs.com. Mille Lacs Lake information is available at www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake. The lake’s bass season is open through Feb. 26, 2017.