ATLANTA — Georgia's ambitious proposal to promote fishing in the state has landed its first big catch: A $2.5 million bass-fishing tournament that will be held at drought-squeezed Lake Lanier in 2010.
Gov. Sonny Perdue said Tuesday that the "Go Fish" proposal helped reel in the 2010 Forrest Wood Cup, an annual tournament put on by FLW Outdoors. The initiative calls for ramps, promotions and a new fishing hatchery to turn Georgia into a national fishing destination.
"Some have laughed at Go Fish, some even in the media have laughed at this program," said Perdue. "This is the first example of Georgia having the last laugh. Frankly, that's because this is what we envisioned."
The four-day tournament will be staged at a "mega-ramp" being built at Lake Lanier, and organizers say it's likely to attract tens of thousands of spectators. Perdue said it will have an estimated $30 million economic impact — and bolster Georgia's allure to anglers.
"The exposure is incalculable," the governor said.
Perdue announced the "Go Fish" program in January 2007, and made it a focus of his legislative agenda. The governor argued that luring lucrative bass tournaments to Georgia would translate into tourism dollars for the state.
Some $5 million in state dollars were approved in the 2007 budget for the ramps, with local communities providing matching funds. The governor has also thrown his support behind a $22 million warm-water hatchery and visitor center to be built in middle Georgia.
Perdue's unabashed advocacy for fishing tourism has led to some snickering from some in the Capitol. It was also victim of bad timing, as an epic drought forced the cancellations of smaller tournaments as Lanier and other reservoirs dropped to record-low levels.
The tournament's timing is welcome news for North Georgia fishing shops suffering from the double-whammy of a down economy and dwindling lake levels. Lanier is down more than 19 feet from its full pool, and nearby lakes are treading similar depths.
Jeff "Buddha" Powell, the owner of The Dam Store bait shop near the lake's barren banks, said eight smaller rivals in the area have already gone under.
"What's killing our business now is the drought. It's going to do a world of good for the economy up here," Powell said. "I know this lake could use it — it's going to absolutely help this lake and the people around it."
The governor acknowledged that Georgia's waterways still need months to recover from the historic dry spell, but he said he was confident that winter rains will help replenish the lakes.
Besides, he joked, the low levels are better for anglers.
"The fishermen, as I understand it, they like to hem 'em up," he said with a chuckle. "They don't need all that water, they just need a ramp to get in that water. Would you rather catch a big fish in your bathtub or your swimming pool?"