Do You Like Fishing? $4.3 Million Now Up For Grabs For Amateur Anglers – Forbes

do-you-like-fishing?-$4.3-million-now-up-for-grabs-for-amateur-anglers-–-forbes

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Fishing has boomed in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic. Now there's a lot of money in it ... [+] for recreational anglers.

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More than half a century ago, Johnny Morris fell in love with fishing. He grew up frequenting the streams, rivers and lakes of his beloved Missouri Ozarks. He tried to make a living at it, competing for five seasons on the professional bass fishing circuit, starting with a tournament on Table Rock Lake, just outside of the vacation and entertainment hotspot of Branson.
Morris’ aspirations as a bass champion did not quite materialize, but in the end, he made out “okay” with his love of fishing. In 1972 he started selling lures and gear out of his father’s liquor store, and that little endeavor is now celebrating its 50th anniversary as Morris’ better known outdoor recreation retail empire—he owns both the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s national superstore chains. He also owns White River Marine Group, which claims to be the world’s largest manufacturer of boats, with leading brands in several categories including Tracker, Ranger, Nitro, Mako, Tahoe, Regency and Sun Tracker. Just to round out his portfolio, he also has a hospitality division with two major resorts, five golf courses, two more resorts under construction, and he mostly funded the nonprofit that built and operates the award-winning Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium.
Fishing has been very good to Johnny Morris, who is no stranger to Forbes lists, and in turn he has given a lot back—tens of millions—as a conservation focused philanthropist.

Fishing has also enjoyed a recent resurgence and big jumps in participation and equipment sales as a socially distant outdoor activity that many took up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Johnny Morris, founder and owner of the Bass Pro Shops retail empire, doing his favorite thing, ... [+] fishing.

Bass Pro Shops

A showman known for his hands-on involvement with his whimsical museum-like stores, he has been called the “Walt Disney of Retail,” and tends to undertake projects in a big, dramatic way. For his latest such endeavor, he just announced the launch of a huge amateur fishing tournament, featuring a guaranteed purse of $4.3 million and first prize of $1 million – which he says is the largest cash payout of any single freshwater fishing tournament in history. On top of that, Morris has pledged a minimum of $1 million from the contest for conservation projects to improve fish habitat.

The just announced Johnny Morris Bass Pro Shops U.S. Open National Bass Fishing Amateur Team Championships, is a long-winded name, and Morris describes it as “the ultimate owner’s appreciation event,” as the tournament is open to anyone who owns a Tracker, Ranger, Nitro, Triton, Sun Tracker, Tahoe or Mako brand boat. Entrants form their own two-person teams and as it is exclusively for amateurs, Morris hopes to see diversity, with everyone from serious weekend tournament anglers to everyday fishing fans, friends, and families, with parents, grandparents, and youngsters forming teams. To encourage this and help grow the sport, regional and international qualifier events will feature prize payouts in a number of specialized divisions such as youth, family teams, all-female teams, veterans, and more. One lucky junior angler (ages 11 – 18) will score a $250,000 scholarship toward a conservation-related area of study.

Big Cedar Lodge, Morris' flagship sporting resort in the Missouri Ozarks, has two full service ... [+] marinas for guests and will host the National Finals.

Edward C. Robison III

The event begins with a series of regional qualifying tournaments starting this spring, ultimately culling the field to 350 two-person teams. For the finals they will compete in an internationally broadcast (NBC) 3-day championship finale this fall, held at Morris’ own hospitality flagship, Big Cedar Lodge, which sits on the same 43,000-acre Table Rock Lake where he began his fishing career. “America’s Premier Wilderness Lodge,” Big Cedar is a massive 4,600-acre sporting resort, with two exhaustively equipped state of the art marinas and is generally considered the finest resort bass fishing venue in the nation. But it also has multiple hotels, cottages, cabins, homes, even a boutique glamping resort, a world class shooting facility, every conceivable outdoor activity from cave tours to hiking to horseback riding, and five golf courses, including the top two ranked layouts in Missouri and the only public course in the nation designed by Tiger Woods—and it’s a stunner.

The Big Cedar Lodge resort has hotel rooms and a variety of private cabins like this one on the ... [+] banks of 43.000-acre Table Rock Lake, famous for its bass fishing.

© Matt Suess Photography All Rights Reserved Worldwide

There are two ways regular anglers can qualify for a chance to reach the national championship event:
1. Finish in the top 40 at one of eight regional qualifier events hosted around the country. These will each be open to 250 two-person teams, for a total of 4,700 anglers. Qualifiers begin March 13, 2021 at Lake Okeechobee, FL and continue to Dallas; Las Vegas; Chesapeake Bay, MD; Detroit; Nashville; Tulsa; and finally, Bull Shoals Lake, AK on November 17, 2021. The National Finals begin November 19. Each qualifier will feature a festive environment with activities for the whole family and celebrity hosts from the worlds of fishing and country music.
Online registration for the first three regional qualifiers will be open for 24 hours. beginning at 10 AM Central Time on February 10, 2021. Entry fees are $450 per person, $250 for youth ages 12 – 17, and free for kids under 12 and includes a US Open Gift Bag valued at $150 for each team member. One third of all entry fees will go to conservation and the future of fishing, an amount that will then be matched by both Bass Pro Shops and Toyota, for a charitable amount equal to the total entries, more than $1 million. In addition, Bass Pro is partnering with local conservation agencies to help ensure all fish are released responsibly following a fish-friendly weigh-in.
Due to anticipated high demand, boat owners can only register for one qualifying event, with all entrants placed in an independently verified drawing to determine the 250 teams eligible for each event. Individuals who do not receive a slot in the regional qualifiers can register for the “last chance” qualifier in Arkansas, with registration opening later this year. There is no additional fee for those who make it to finals.
2. Win one of several existing fishing competitions across the United States and around the world organized by authorized independent dealers of Tracker, Ranger, Nitro, Triton, Sun Tracker, Tahoe and Mako brand boats, with details available at the tournament site.
As a continued investment in the future of the sport, the collegiate fishing champions of the three major national collegiate championships will also earn special invitations to the finals.
“Fishing in the first national BASS tournament on Table Rock Lake in 1970 rewarded me with friends for life and served as my inspiration to start Bass Pro Shops. Fishing on the BASS Tournament Circuit also helped keep us abreast of the latest emerging trends in fishing and enabled me to stay closely connected to our customers. And without our loyal customers and industry-leading independent boat dealers, we simply wouldn’t be here today. This tournament is our way of giving thanks and rewarding our customers with the chance to land the catch of a lifetime. Beyond offering the ultimate prize in fishing, we’re excited to celebrate our heritage, raise funds for conservation, and have some big fun with people who love fishing as much as we do,” said Morris.

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