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Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest on Lake Travis

A Bassmaster Elite Series angler lands a fish during the 2017 Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest on Lake Sam Rayburn in East Texas. This year, the event, which features 108 of the best bass anglers in the world, is coming to Lake Travis. The four-day tournament May 17-20 in Jonestown also features an outdoors and fishing expo Saturday. Photo courtesy of B.A.S.S.

JONESTOWN — All eyes in the sport fishing world are on Lake Travis as the 2018 Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest hits the lake for four days. It will feature the top anglers in the Bassmaster Elite Series.

“This is the highest level of tournament bass fishing, the Elite Series,” said Michael Mulone, director of events and tourism partnerships for the Bass Angler Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) “It features the 108 best bass anglers in the world. This isn’t a series anyone can fish in; you have to qualify, be invited.”

The anglers are competing for $1 million in prize money with the top competitor earning $100,000. The winner of the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest also earns an invite to the 2019 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’s Sporting Goods.

The Lake Travis tournament is also big for fishing and outdoors fans.

Texas Fest, which is Thursday-Sunday, May 17-20, at Jones Brothers Park, 10301 Lakeside Drive, also raises money for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Since 2007, Texas Fest and its predecessor, the Toyota Texas Bass Classic, have generated more than $2.7 million for TPWD’s fisheries and youth fishing and urban outreach programs.

Mulone pointed out that while the stop on Lake Travis features the best bass anglers in the world, the four-day festival isn’t just about them.

“There will also be an outdoor expo held in connection with the tournament,” he said.

TPWD is hosting an Outdoor Adventures Area, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday at the park. The event is free to attend and features activities such as archery and fishing as well as state parks information, a fish fundamentals aquarium, and more.

B.A.S.S. also has lined up some activities. On Saturday, the organization holds Fan Appreciation Day, which includes Bassmaster University, where Elite Series anglers will hold free fishing seminars. This would be the equivalent of PGA tour professionals who played the Masters Tournament holding free seminars.

“We’ll also have boat demonstrations with complimentary rides,” Mulone added.

On top of that, all the weigh-ins, which tentatively start at 3 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, are open and free to the public. The anglers will take off at about 6:15 a.m. each day of the tournament.

It’s not uncommon for a Bassmaster tournament to draw 10,000-17,000 fans over the course of four days.

This is the first time B.A.S.S. has held a tournament on Lake Travis. Last year’s inaugural Texas Fest was on Lake Sam Rayburn in East Texas. Mulone said B.A.S.S. has had its eyes on Lake Travis for awhile. The organization watches local and regional tournaments to gauge a lake and its fisheries.

“There are so many factors that go into selecting a lake,” he said such as the time of the year for a tournament, historic catches, stockings, local tournament averages, and other recent data related to fishing.

Something Mulone and B.A.S.S. officials noted about Lake Travis is the number of quality fish the reservoir has produced in recent years and the amount of bass the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has stocked in the lake. In 2011, the department stocked more than 230,000 Florida-strain largemouth bass fingerlings followed by more than 424,000 in 2015 and more than 340,000 in 2016.

The drought years prior to 2015, when Lake Travis levels dropped, caused a lot of brush and trees to spring up in the lake bottom. When waters inundated Lake Travis in 2015, that growth became significant habitat for underwater species.

Mulone said the lake is now reaping the benefits.

Many of the bass coming out of Lake Travis might fall in the 4- to 5-pound range, but Elite Series anglers have the skills to lure out the monsters.

“When we have a tournament and anglers see these big fish these Elite pros land, they’re amazed and like, ‘I never caught anything that big out of the lake’ or ‘I didn’t know fish that big were in there,’” Mulone said. “But these Elite pros, they’re fishing almost every day. They have such high-level skills, they can find those bigger fish. It’s like a golfer hitting an 80 or something on a course, but then (PGA) pros come in and they shoot in the 60s or 70s. Same course, just the skills are better.”

The 2018 Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest also shines a spotlight on Lake Travis and the surrounding area. B.A.S.S. will livestream portions of the tournament online through Bassmaster Live and WatchESPN.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to catch some big fish, and Lake Travis, I think, is going to shine,” Mulone added. “Lake Travis is a fantastic fishery, and we think it’s going to show will for the national audience.”

Texas Fest also includes the Bassmaster High School All-American Fishing Team on Saturday on a nearby lake (B.A.S.S. hasn’t disclosed which one). Twelve top high school anglers get paired with Elite Series anglers for a day of fishing.

All in all, Texas Fest is a four-day fishing and outdoors experience. It’s a chance to meet some of the top bass anglers in the world and even learn a little from them. Plus, the outdoor expo on Saturday lets folks — especially families — learn some things about fishing and more.

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