With the 2009 Bassmaster Classic tournament and trade show drawing record-breaking crowds over weekend, representatives of the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship who went to Shreveport, La. to market Fort Frances as a bass-fishing destination got all the exposure they could ask for.
Jim Cumming, who returned to town Monday night with Doug Cain, called the experience “overwhelming,” noting the previous attendance record for the Bassmaster Classic was just under 70,000 people but this year’s event attracted well over 100,000, including 65,000 on Saturday alone.
“This isn’t a boat show, it isn’t an outdoor show—it’s all about fishing,” said Cumming. “Shreveport. La. markets itself as the outdoor recreation centre, and the community and the region went all out for this tournament and the response was overwhelming.
“The exposure for Fort Frances and Rainy Lake was really, really good,” he added. “We had over 400 people stop and fill out a survey that we have to spend the next two or three days inputting into the computer just to get the information back and see what we’re looking at.”
This survey will provide valuable data, such as how many people have been to Canada before, how many people fished in Canada, how long did they stay, how long would they travel to fish, what would attract them to Canada, etc., that could be used for future marketing purposes here.
Those who completed the survey were entered into a draw for a three-day fishing trip at Campfire Island.
“There’s a definite interest in Canada. There’s a definite interest in smallmouth fishing,” agreed Cain. “We had the [FFCBC] trophy as part of our booth, and it’s a replica of the world-record smallmouth and that would stop people.
“We also had some really good pictures for our backdrop and that would stop people.
“The interest is there definitely,” he stressed. “It’s a long way to get them to come [to Rainy Lake], but we talked to a lot of people who fished in Canada, whether it’s here or Lake of the Woods or Red Lake or Sioux Lookout—they are familiar with it.
“The awareness is there, and it’s nice to know that rather having to create a market.”
Cumming noted the expo attracted very enthusiastic anglers, who spend an average of 100 days out of the year fishing.
“Many of those are looking for the ultimate fishing adventure, like catching big, quality smallmouth,” he said.
“There isn’t a huge amount of name recognition for Fort Frances, there is some of Rainy Lake,” Cumming admitted. “But we were able to promote Rainy Lake, show pictures of the size and the quality of the smallmouth bass caught on Rainy Lake.
“We could talk about other tournaments in the area, in the Rainy River District, and we could talk about other species of fish caught in the Rainy River District.”
Cain called the expo a “great networking opportunity,” whether it was putting faces to voices he’d talked to or names he’d seen, or connections made on their behalf before they went down to Shreveport.
Cumming also noted FFCBC mainstay Phil Bangert, who has fished the Bassmaster Elite Series in the southern U.S., knew many anglers who didn’t make the Bassmaster Classic this year but were at the tourney, and talked to them about the quality of fishing on Rainy Lake and the FFCBC.
He added anglers in the south are very passionate about their largemouth bass fishing, and so fishing for smallmouth up here is a novel attraction.
A trio who fished the Women’s Elite Series also came by the booth and asked for registration forms for the FFCBC, noted Cumming.
Cain said he expects to see “a couple new faces” at the 2009 FFCBC.
The delegates also met several media reps. Some notable contacts included the editor of Bassmaster magazine, a writer from a French fishing magazine (distributed in France, Belgium, and parts of French-speaking North America) who may do a story about Rainy Lake and the FFCBC, and a writer from South Africa, as well as a film production company that potentially may do a fishing show on Rainy Lake and a feature on the FFCBC.
“Overall, I think it was successful in that we made some contact with people that were interested in doing other stories about Fort Frances and Rainy Lake and the Rainy River District fishery, and if that comes to fruition, then we gain whole lot more publicity about the area and about our fishery,” said Cumming.
The pair also made some contacts with representatives from companies dealing in everything from tackle, rods, and reels to rain gear, and traded business cards in the hopes of doing business here, whether that be as sponsors for the FFCBC, by testing products on Rainy Lake, or distributing products within Canada.
Cumming said it’s difficult to know how many of the contacts will materialize into something more, adding it now will depend on he and Cain doing follow-ups with them.
“That’s the next stage. The fact that we have heard back already means there is some interest,” he mentioned.
“There’s some definite follow-up that has to happen,” echoed Cain. “There’s a lot of homework that has to be done yet. There’s some interesting possibilities out there—nothing we can definitely say, ‘This is going to happen now.’
“But that’s a trade show—you can’t measure it when you tear down your booth. You have to do the follow-through,” he stressed.
“We did a good job with the prep, we did a good job while we were there, and now we just have to do the follow-through.
“I’m happy. Things seemed to fall into place, whether it was contacts or people who knew people,” Cain added. “Someone would mention a resort, and we would know the lake or who owned it—it was kind of neat.”
While Cumming and Cain, as well as volunteers such as Bangert and Robert Weaver of Camp Ontario on Rainy Lake (who also helped out at the booth), were able to hand out plenty of maps and brochures detailing Fort Frances, Rainy Lake, and the district, along with testimonials from Rapala and In-Fisherman about Rainy Lake, Cumming admitted that, at times, people weren’t able to stop at the their booth because they simply were carried on by in the tide of expo attendees.
To give people a better idea as to how crowded it was at the Shreveport Convention Center, Cumming recalled the bathrooms were maybe 150 feet away from their booth, but it would take a half-hour just to get to them and back on Saturday.
Another example was during the weigh-ins at the CenturyTel Center in Shreveport’s twin city, Bossier City. The maximum capacity of the CenturyTel Center is about 10,000 and on both Saturday and Sunday, the local fire marshal had to come in and lock the doors when the numbers started to exceed that.
Cumming estimated 5,000 people were lined up outside the CenturyTel Center just to listen to the weigh-ins broadcast over loudspeakers (there was a shuttle bus running between the Shreveport Convention Center and CenturyTel Center during the expo and bass tournament).
As for the fishing tournament itself, Cumming said they didn’t get much of a chance to see it. They got to watch the boat launch Friday morning while Cain also saw the weigh-ins later that day. Beyond that, they only managed to catch some of the weigh-ins on TV screens at the ESPN booth.
The trip was a joint effort of the Rainy River Future Development Corp., Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship, Town of Fort Frances, FedNor, and the private sector, and part of a larger strategy to market Fort Frances as a tourist destination adjacent to Rainy Lake—one of the top bass-fishing destinations in North America.
Before their heels get a chance to cool, Cumming and Cain will be heading to Winnipeg this weekend for the Mid-Canada Boat Show to promote the FFCBC and meet face-to-face with tournament sponsors and anglers.
As well, the Rainy River Future Development Corp. will be using the booth and banners from Shreveport at an outdoor fishing show in Edmonton next month.
In related news, Coun. Ken Perry will be promoting Fort Frances, Rainy Lake, and the FFCBC in Las Vegas, where he often goes at this time of the year to watch auto racing.
He noted there is a one-day bass fishing tournament this Saturday at Lake Mead, and has arranged for half of the 50 brochures he’s been given to be handed out at the weigh-ins.
“And in the hotel that I stay in, they are the main sponsor for this bass tournament, and they have a lot of bass fishermen that show up there, so I am going to give out brochures and entry forms and my card with it, so they can get a hold of me in Vegas, and I will put them onto the people up here,” Coun. Perry added.
Hopefully, I will get rid of all the 50 brochures that I have.”