DAYTON, Tenn. - The premier event for the world's largest tournament fishing organization began on Lake Chickamauga Thursday morning with a local angler competing to become just the second person to win the seven-event series as a rookie.
Miles Burghoff, of Soddy-Daisy, leads both the Rookie of the Year and Angler of the Year point races through five events of the Fishing League Worldwide FLW Tour. It is the second-to-last event of the tour and stretches through Sunday with a prize purse of $860,000. The top 50 fishermen at the end of the season will compete in August's Forest Wood Cup.
"Lake Chickamauga has world-class features, monster fish and lots of them," FLW Director of Public Relations Joseph Opager said. " Miles has been a pretty special angler for FLW this year. He is leading guys who have been fishing with FLW for more than 20 years."
Burghoff grew up in California and moved to Hixson in September 2017 specifically for fishing. He recently bought a house near Lake Chickamauga in Soddy-Daisy. The move to the region gave him access to one of the top bass fishing lakes in the country and a central location to many professional fishing tournaments.
The 32-year-old Burghoff has long wanted to be a top professional fisherman.
"I started tournament fishing when I was 12 in California and got hooked," he said.
He moved into a trailer in Florida to fish smaller tours and learn tournament skills. He tried to put himself into uncomfortable positions that didn't match his skill set to improve his capabilities for when he ultimately joined the FLW Tour. He would be the second rookie to ever win the Angler of the Year race, the first being Japanese angler Shin Fukae in 2004.
Burghoff joins a growing list of professional anglers who live locally near Lake Chickamauga. John Murray and Jacob Wheeler moved to the area in recent years. Michael Neal, Andy Morgan and Wesley Strader also live in the area. Local fishermen Buddy Gross and Hensley Powell joined Burghoff in fishing this weekend's FLW tour.
Morgan recently won the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour against a loaded field on Lake Chickamauga through a stormy weekend - which he credited as working to his advantage. Burghoff will have to follow Morgan's playbook to find similar success. It's expected to storm through the tournament, with rain ultimately expected to let up in time for championship Sunday.
The tournament began at 6:30 a.m. Thursday with 165 fisherman. The entire field will compete for two days before the top 30 move on to Saturday's semifinal round. The top 10 will then fish Sunday for the championship grand prize of $125,000. The weight for the four-day tournament is cumulative. There is a five-fish limit each day.
FLW will host a free family fishing expo from 2-6 p.m. at the Dayton Boat Dock each day before weigh-in. A free youth fishing derby will be held Saturday from noon-2 p.m. for anyone under 18 years old. Rods and reels are available, but youth are asked to bring their own if they have them.
Tournament fishing has been a boon to the Rhea County economy. Its Fish Dayton initiative launched in 2012 and brought its first national event, which was the FLW Tour, in 2013. The county recruited 33 events in 2014, including the Bassmaster Bassfest which aired on ESPN and jump-started the Fish Dayton brand and its national recognition, according to director Dennis Tumlin, also the executive director of Rhea Economic and Community Development.
The county has received a 42% increase in lodging taxes, 18% increase in sales taxes and seen an extra $15 million in brick and mortar businesses, which produced an extra $200,000 in property taxes.
"I call it the tax trifecta," Tumlin said. " Our goal is to have the best facility anywhere on Lake Chickamauga but also, really, anywhere in the Southeastern United States."
The FLW Tour will be televised on the World Fishing Network as part of the FLW television show that airs each Saturday night at 7 p.m.