published Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Dayton buzzing for FLW event


Dayton’s Andy Morgan pulls a fish out of Grand Lake on June 6 on the way to the Walmart FLW Tour points lead.
Dayton’s Andy Morgan pulls a fish out of Grand Lake on June 6 on the way to the Walmart FLW Tour points lead.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

As mayor of Dayton, Tenn., Gary Louallen is proud to be presiding over the city's visit this week from the top level of FLW fishermen. And he's very hands-on about it. He took some of the participating pros Saturday to the cabin they're renting through next weekend.

Previously as a city councilman, Louallen pushed for the town and Rhea County to take advantage of their location on Lake Chickamauga and make a play for better fishing revenue and even big-time tournaments.

The results were major renovations to the Dayton Boat Dock, with Michael Neal taking over the lease to run the facility, and already some big tournaments that used to go elsewhere.

This week it's the regular-season finale of the Walmart FLW Tour with $125,000 going to the winning pro and $25,000 to the top co-angler. The 330 or so anglers and their families and other followers are filling up the available lodging in Dayton, as well as Spring City's lone motel and a number of rental cabins and motel space also in Athens, Cleveland, Hixson and Chattanooga.

"The Heartland Anglers Tour fished out of here last October and had 276 boats (552 anglers)," Louallen said Saturday, "and they have committed to come back this October, and their directors are predicting 350 boats. And we have already secured the Bassmaster Regional Classic for September of 2014. That will be 200 boats -- five divisions with 40 qualifiers each."

The Heartland is mostly for weekend competitors and had a shorter stay than the FLW major leaguers, who can practice on Chickamauga today through Tuesday. After Thursday's and Friday's rounds out of the Dayton Boat Dock, the co-anglers will wrap up Saturday while 20 pros will be trying to make the 10-man cut for Sunday's final.

Also Saturday, the Walmart Bass Fishing League All-American tournament being conducted Thursday and Friday out of Ross's Landing in Chattanooga -- officially, that's Nickajack Lake -- will have the bags of its 10 finalists weighed at the Dayton Walmart store, where the FLW Tour will have weigh-ins beginning at 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Thursday's and Friday's weigh-ins will start at 3 at the Dayton dock.

An FLW Outdoors Expo from noon to 4 Saturday and Sunday at the Walmart store will give fans a host of opportunities for fun and interaction with the pros, and Louallen said four of the FLW Tour pros will be helping on the Wednesday off day in building a wheelchair ramp for a local senior citizen in a United Way project. Some of the anglers visited Saturday with high school anglers in a tournament at the Dayton Boat Dock.

"These pros do a lot over and above to do nice things for the communities they visit," said Louallen, who grew up in Dayton.

When talk began about tearing down the old dock building and fixing up the docks themselves and making other improvements, there was some "negativity," he admitted. But the city council and county commission have worked together with civic-minded businesses and others to make the improvements "a total team effort."

"The naysayers after this weekend are going to way, 'Wow!'" Louallen said.

Dock operator Neal, the son of Rhea County Sheriff Mike Neal, has been a regular on the FLW Tour this year and is in 37th place in the standings. Fellow Dayton resident Andy Morgan is first and trying to hang on for the Kellogg's Angler of the Year bonus, and Spring City's Wesley Strader is 32nd.

"Michael is a fisherman, and that's part of what has made the dock improvements work. He knows what to have in the tackle shop," Louallen said. "We have a new building with a nice place to eat, and the docks are and everything else are new. We absolutely have a place to be proud of, and this is going to be a great event.

"Every time we've had a tournament, we've done things to make the next one better, and we expect this one to go off without a hitch. We even have painted parking spots on the grass."

Contact Ron Bush at rbush@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6291.

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