South Carolina's world-class fishing opportunities are helping to drive an economic boom that depends on continued conservation and management of our state's natural resources.
by David Lucas
Next month, for the third time in the past 10 years, the FLW (Fishing League Worldwide) organization’s premiere professional bass-fishing tournament, The Forrest Wood Cup (FWC), will return to the Midlands of South Carolina for a three-day extravaganza that will have fans flocking to Columbia’s Vista entertainment district for weigh-ins, concerts, BBQ-cooking contest, displays and deals from major tackle and apparel companies, and assorted other exposition hoopla.
Meanwhile, out at Dreher Island State Park, the top professional anglers in the bass-fishing world will blast off at daylight every morning in pursuit of slab-sized largemouth bass, which Lake Murray has in abundance. Make no mistake about it, winning this tournament and the $300,000 prize that FLW will award to the first-place angler will entail consistent catches of large fish. In 2014, local favorite Anthony Gagliardi, a Prosperity resident and successful pro angler, staged a dramatic come-from-behind victory on the final day of the FWC by netting a 5-fish limit of 13 pounds, 14 ounces – enough by just a single ounce to take first place prize!
The competing anglers aren’t the only ones who will be looking for a big payday during the August event. Local hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other businesses are gearing up for a big weekend as well. According to the Capital City/Lake Murray Regional Tourism Bureau, the economic impact of this tournament will measure easily in the eight-figure range. The final tally on the 2014 FWC was more than $25 million pumped into the local economy, based on an estimated 65,000 visitors in town for the event spending an average of $250 on meals, hotels, shopping and other expenses. Communities across the state, from Anderson to Georgetown, have been investing in the infrastructure needed to draw these types of tournaments.
That is a significant development that has come about over the past decade or so, but perhaps not a very surprising one. Simply put, South Carolinians love their fishing. The Palmetto State boasts 11,000 miles of rivers and streams (almost one-half mile for each square mile of land surface), more than 1,600 lakes greater than 10 acres in size, including 19 reservoirs greater than 1,000 acres in size. And that’s not even considering offshore fishing. So maybe it’s no surprise were a little bit fishing obsessed.
The SCDNR’s Freshwater Fisheries Section is charged with managing the species in those lakes and rivers, and with providing the fishing public with recreational fishing opportunities – a mandate it fulfills by operating a robust hatchery and stocking program, regional management operations, maintaining state public fishing lakes and through scientific research projects and investigations. All of that hard work pays off, in the form of abundant great fishing for our citizens and visitors, but also, again, in terms of economic impact. A recent report put together by economists at Clemson University pegged the average annual economic impact of freshwater-fishing in the state at $686 million. That breaks down to approximately 744,000 folks engaged in fishing (based on 2014 USFWS survey data) and spending on average $910 each on trips, equipment and other expenses.
And that’s just the folks actually going fishing! The report didn’t include an accounting of the dollars spent by spectators at tournament-style events such as the FWC, which continue to grow in popularity. Another segment of the outdoor economy that is taking off in South Carolina, manufacturing and distribution – of fishing tackle, rods, gear, and apparel is really taking off in the state, with the North Charleston area in particular becoming a hub for such activities. At the recent I-CAST fishing industry trade expo, no fewer than 19 companies with South Carolina ties were represented. Fishing and bicycle component giant Shimano has had a presence in South Carolina since 2003, but the company announced last year that it would be relocating its North American fishing tackle operations to the state, and in March, company officials cut the ribbon on their new corporate headquarters in Ladson. Advertisements for good-paying jobs in sales and marketing and warehouse operations soon followed. And Shimano is far from alone. One of the fastest-growing lure brands in the country, Z-Man Fishing Products, also based in Ladson, makes soft plastics and bladed jigs that are among the world's premier freshwater and saltwater baits; Charleston’s Huk Performance Fishing Gear is making a huge splash is the outdoor apparel market, and Columbia-based PURE Fishing continues to be a global leader with multiple lines of fishing tackle, lures, rods, and reels, just to name a few.
All of these companies are providing good jobs for many of our citizens, and if you ask the leaders at any of these companies why they chose to locate in South Carolina, our state’s stellar access to fishing opportunities played a big role. And it’s not just fishing companies – ALL companies looking to relocate are interested in quality-of-life amenities for their workforce, and great outdoor recreation and natural resources are high on everyone’s list.
On thing’s for sure, when the FWC Cup rolls into Columbia and Lake Murray next month, or the Bassmaster Classic hits Greenville/Lake Hartwell in 2018, or at the hundreds of smaller tournaments that will be held around the state this year, South Carolina will be putting its best foot forward, showing off to the rest of the country and the world one of most valuable economic assets.