Chattanooga will follow the lead of Rhea County, Tennessee, by marketing and coordinating tournament fishing to address concerns by local fishermen while using it as an economic driver for the region.
Chattanooga and Hamilton County — in coordination with Rhea County — will launch Fish Lake Chick, a marketing campaign aimed at promoting tournament fishing on one of the country's top-rated bass fishing lakes. The campaign will officially launch online in early January with information about tournaments, fishing in the area and a schedule of events on the lake. The partners also will work to spread traffic between the north and south ends of the lake to avoid overcrowding. The news comes on the heels of a large uptick in visitors coming to Lake Chickamauga and high national rankings.
"We have some wonderful assets down here, like Chester Frost [Park], that we want to start highlighting at a higher level," Chattanooga Sports Committee President Tim Morgan said. "This regional co-op will make that happen. It's about marketing the second-best lake in the nation and doing it at a higher level than we've ever done it before."
Rhea County began a similar initiative in 2013, called Fish Dayton, that helped pull the county out of the great recession. The county was searching for a way to increase commerce and believed using the existing boat ramp could increase revenue at a low cost. County officials began planning in 2011 to get major fishing tournaments on the lake within two years.
Now, Rhea County's hotels are overflowing and businesses have seen an uptick in customers. The city and county have an executive director of economic development and tourism to travel the world to pitch economic development ideas and share the success of Dayton, Tennessee.
"It was an untapped resource," executive director Dennis Tumlin said. "We were chasing dollars, outside dollars to come into town We've hosted right at 150 events now going into 2019, and 2019 will be our best calendar year yet."
The county saw a 19 percent increase in lodging tax collections between 2016 and 2017, with a 9,600-room increase for hotel stays directly correlated to fishing events, according to Tumlin.
He expects the 2018 numbers to reflect a continued increase.
"There's so much benefit working together," he said. "With how many resources there are in Hamilton County, we can regionalize and promote different venues
"This regional co-op just makes sense for the Lake Chickamauga region," he added. "The visitors do not see the Hamilton County/Rhea County line, but they known about Lake Chickamauga."
For local fishermen, communication between the two counties is going to be key.
It will involve more fluidity between the two and tournaments in the area. It will make it easier for locals to know when the big tournaments are taking place and how to avoid them.
"I think it's always good when the north end is talking to the south end. We're going to be able to have good communication to not double-book and overbook, so the locals will see some synergy," Tumlin said. "But another benefit, and from what I've seen up here, most of all, is better local access points. This additional focus on the lake and the local economy, as that improves the ramps improve."
Dayton is in the midst of using a $400,000 grant to expand its boat ramp. The Appalachian Regional Commission was looking to give money to a place that would use it to further boost economic opportunities. Tumlin pitched them on the idea of expanding the boat ramp to better manage large tournaments, demonstrating both a need and a benefit.
For Hamilton County, local leaders believe the Chester Frost Park boat ramp could eventually see similar expansion as well as other smaller ramps along the lake. Chester Frost hosts major local tournaments, has a weigh-in area and accommodates larger crowds. An expansion of surrounding ramps would give locals a place to launch to avoid tournament crowds and spread out the boat traffic while giving a boost to local businesses.
Local fishermen seem cautiously optimistic. The plan addresses some key concerns: it could lead to better ramps, more access and will coordinate tournament traffic.
It also will continue to use Chester Frost Park as the hub of bass fishing in Hamilton County, which is relatively large, maintained and positioned alongside the county parks and recreation department headquarters.
"I'm glad they're trying to get the ball rolling in the right direction," local fisherman Chris Sumrell, who owns Bass Attitude fishing apparel, said. "But [we need] nothing more than a dang calendar on a website to track it and then to cap the number of people fishing on a particular day at a particular time. We'll split the ramp traffic up, but that won't stop Joe Shmoe's club from coming up from Georgia and Jimmy Bob's benefit tournament paired with a high school tournament at the same time. I'm glad they're going to use Chester Frost; it's a great location and spreads some of that out. Hixson can host that stuff really well, but at the same time, something needs to be regulated."
Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Chester Frost as a state park. Chester Frost is not a state park; it is a county park. The Times Free Press regrets the error.