TVA: Casting Lines, Shaping Lives

Bassmaster Tournaments Showcase Region’s Reservoirs

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TENNESSEE VALLEY-All her life, Kristine Fischer has traded screen time for time on the water.

Growing up in the quiet plains of Weeping Water, Nebraska, in a house without television, where fishing photographs adorned the walls, fishing was more than recreation.

It was a way of life.

“I was pretty fortunate to be brought up in a very outdoorsy household,” Fischer said. “It’s such a huge part of our family and where we come from.”

That wild sense of adventure she developed in her formative years remains even today, as she travels the country competing in bass fishing tournaments.

Her launch into the professional world of bass fishing started while working at an outdoor retailer. While stringing a customer’s bow, she saw a flyer for a local fishing tournament.

She purchased a $700 fishing kayak off Craigslist and marked her entry into the sport.

“I took third place out of 50 people and, ultimately, got very, very hooked,” she said.

Now 36, Fischer is a champion angler competing on the Bassmaster Kayak circuit and sharing her love for the sport with more than 170,000 followers on Instagram, at @midwestfishergal.

To prepare for competition, she centers herself on the intimacy and connection to nature.

“I try to make sure I keep a very good head game,” Fischer said. “I don’t feel like I’m competing against other anglers. I feel like I’m competing against myself and Mother Nature.”

She hopes younger generations find themselves, as she does, out on the lake.

“Getting more kids out on the water helps hardwire that connection to nature,” she said. “It teaches them respect for our earth and ecosystem. It teaches us about empathy and conservation.

“There are so many lessons in nature that are crucial for humanity to understand.”

Kristine Fischer holds up a catch during a fishing tournament.

Reeling in Benefits

Fischer and other solo competitors are setting their sights on a new challenge.

Destination: Scottsboro, Alabama. Here they’ll compete in the upcoming Bassmaster Kayak Series, sponsored by Tennessee Valley Authority.

The two-day tournament, May 18-19, brings the nation’s top anglers to Guntersville Reservoir – a TVA-managed waterway and prime location for anglers like Fischer.

“Every time I go to Guntersville, I’m like a kid at Christmas,” Fischer said. “The whole lake is extremely healthy and well-managed. It caters to so many different techniques and types of fishing.”

This year, TVA sponsored three Bassmaster tournaments: the Bassmaster College Series in April on Kentucky Reservoir, the upcoming Bassmaster Kayak Series and the Bassmaster Elite Series in June at Wheeler Reservoir.

The sponsorships are a natural choice for sharing TVA’s commitment to maintaining more than 11,000 miles of shoreline with younger audiences, Angie Epps, TVA’s senior manager of brand marketing, said.

“It aligns well with our mission to make life better – and not only to make life better where you work, but also where you play,” Epps said.

On top of recreational opportunities, these events help bring economic benefits to the region.

In 2022, nearly 40 million anglers spent $99.4 billion on fishing equipment, transportation, lodging and other expenses, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service national survey.

Fishing League Worldwide, another professional bass fishing organization, estimates that just one of its tournaments is enough to bring $1.6 million into the local economy.

Two people in a fishing boat.

Winner Takes All

On tournament days, the excitement is palpable.

Opening day of the Bassmaster College Series at Kentucky Reservoir welcomed 216 college teams competing for bragging rights, trophies and $18,400 in scholarships.

Anglers were out on the reservoir at 6 a.m., trailing the waters for glory.

At around 2 p.m., they returned for weigh-ins.

Brightly colored tents proudly displaying college mascots dotted the parking lot. The smell of grilled hot dogs and patties danced in the air.

Competitors placed their fish in bags and transported them to the weighing station. Each team weighed in up to five fish – their biggest catches of the day.

Along the way, oxygenated and temperature-controlled tanks ensured the fish were protected at all times.

“Conservation is taken very seriously at Bassmaster,” Glenn Cale, tournament director, said. “Anglers take care of their fish throughout the day, catching them and weighing them alive to avoid penalties.

“Our live release folks take them back to the water to be caught and fished again.”

The combined weight of each team’s catch echoed over the speakers as competitors took the stage.

“18 pounds and 7 ounces,” an announcer said. “These kids are showing up here on Kentucky Lake.”

Another team stepped onto the stage and the announcer held up their catch. It was a bit on the smaller side.

“Momma said there would be days like this,” the announcer said. “But you went out there, you didn’t throw the fish back and you still have tomorrow. Shake and bake.”

Emotions ran high among the young anglers.

Some strutted with heads high, others bore the weight of disappointment on their shoulders.

But opening day was just the beginning.

Hope was not lost for those with lighter catches, and victory not guaranteed for those who came out on top.

As dawn broke over Kentucky Reservoir on the tournament’s second day, a thin fog rolled across the dew-kissed grass.

Paris Landing was dotted with spectators – parents, siblings and sweethearts of those competing.

In the distance, LEDs on fishing boats pulsated in the mist, casting an almost mystical glow.

In the end, University of Montevallo’s Jackson Pontius and Blair Erickson clinched victory with a two-day catch of 42 pounds, 1 ounce – outperforming teammates and the defending champions, Easton Fothergill and Nick Dumke, who placed second.

Two anglers hold up fish caught during a fishing tournament.

Beyond Bassmaster

For young competitors looking to ascend the ranks, the hard lessons of victory and defeat help forge their resiliency.

“These student anglers are the next level,” Cale said. “They’re not just competitors to us – they’re part of the Bassmaster family. We want them to be successful from junior all the way up to the Elite Series.”

The top four college teams will vie for a chance to compete at the Bassmaster Classic, launching their professional careers as they potentially compete against anglers like Fischer in the future.

As a Bassmaster sponsor, TVA uses these opportunities to instill values of water conservation and natural resource preservation in younger generations.

Both Millennials and Gen Z look to align themselves with companies that support their values of promoting clean air, land and water, Epps said.

Sponsoring events like Bassmaster allows TVA to connect with younger audiences and introduce them to its role in promoting quality of life and environmental stewardship across the Valley region.

The upcoming Bassmaster Kayak and Elite Series will feature a TVA booth, educating attendees on the importance of managing waterways and protecting natural resources for generations to come.

“We’re inviting people to come and use our reservoirs,” Shannon O’Quinn, TVA’s senior specialist of water resources, said. “It’s a way for us to connect with people face to face, share information and answer questions.”

TVA’s Elite Series booth features an interactive exhibit where visitors can capture their perfect catch moment.

At the Kayak Series, visitors might spot Fischer, clad in a TVA-branded jersey.

“Partnering with TVA made sense to me,” Fischer said. “The Tennessee River boasts numerous outdoor and recreational opportunities, and it just so happens to be one of my favorite river systems to compete on. I chose to make this area home for a reason.”

The experience of being one with her catch, she said, never gets old.

“When you make a good cast and you have a good hook set, and you get that fish into the boat, it’s that moment when it all comes together,” Fischer said. “I just get this extremely overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and gratitude. That’s the feeling I love.”

Media Release/TVA Riverkeepers/Photos/TVA

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