published Sunday, June 30th, 2013

Dayton, Tenn., fishing tournament means a lot to town, man and his sons

Co-angler Rick Harkness, center, greets his sons Jon, left, and Scott, right, as he gets off the water Saturday at the Walmart FLW Tour at Lake Chickamauga in Dayton, Tenn. The Harkness boys (including their third brother Matt) left at 5:30 a.m., from just outside of Parkersburg, W.Va., to surprise their father.
Co-angler Rick Harkness, center, greets his sons Jon, left, and Scott, right, as he gets off the water Saturday at the Walmart FLW Tour at Lake Chickamauga in Dayton, Tenn. The Harkness boys (including their third brother Matt) left at 5:30 a.m., from just outside of Parkersburg, W.Va., to surprise their father.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter.

PRO STANDINGS TODAY

• 1. Casey Martin

• 2. Michael Neal*

• 3. Wesley Strader

• 4. Jim Moynagh

• 5. Larry Nixon

• 6. Dan Morehead

• 7. Andy Morgan*

• 8. Luke Clausen

• 9. Todd Auten

• 10. Tom Redington

* From Dayton, Tenn.

MORGAN CLINCHES A.O.Y.

Dayton's Andy Morgan enters the final day of the final regular-season tournament in seventh place, but he already clinched Angler of the Year honors Friday. This is Morgan's first time winning the award, which comes with a $100,000 prize.

Three boys hid at the edge of Lake Chickamauga on Saturday afternoon. Two stood with their backs to the water while the other faced forward, his body concealed by his brothers. The smallest boy, 16-year-old Jon Harkness, giggled.

"We're surprising our dad," said Scott Harkness, 29, the oldest. "We drove eight hours to watch him weigh in."

The Harkness boys -- Jon, Scott and 18-year-old Matt -- got up at 5 a.m. Saturday and drove from just outside Parkersburg, W.Va., to the Dayton Boat Dock, host of this weekend's Walmart FLW Tour fishing tournament.

The day before, Matt had watched online as each fisherman weighed the day's catch. When all had finished, Rick Harkness sat in second place among the co-anglers. In his four years on the tour, he has never finished a tournament in the top 10. This was his chance, and his boys wanted to be there.

There were two types of fishermen competing in Dayton on Saturday: pros and co-anglers. Pros have their own boats and face stiffer competition. Co-anglers are amateurs who fish on the backs of pros' boats and don't win as much money.

After two days of fishing, both fields had shrunk from about 140 to 20 before Saturday morning. Of those, the best 10 pros will compete for the tournament championship today. But for co-anglers, like Rick Harkness, Saturday was the final day.

As he got out of his boat around 3 p.m., Harkness did not see his sons standing at the end of the dock. He walked forward, his head down, and Jon Harkness continued to giggle. Scott Harkness stepped forward.

"How'd you do?" he asked.

Harkness froze. For a second, he did nothing. Then he grabbed Jon's hand.

•••

The FLW is the second tournament in Dayton in a year. The city hosted a Heartland Anglers' tournament last October, which is coming back this year. And in September 2014, Dayton will host a Bassmaster Regional.

Mayor Gary Louallen said this has been his hope for the city for years. Lake Chickamauga is perhaps Dayton's best resource, Louallen said. Enticing the best fishing tours here would generate tourism revenue for Dayton.

  • photo
    Co-angler John Kite, from Festus, Mo., holds up a bass during the Day Three weigh-in of the Walmart FLW Tour at Lake Chickamauga bass fishing tournament on Saturday. The weigh-in was held at the Walmart at 3034 Rhea County Highway in Dayton.
    Photo by C. B. Schmelter /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

This contest brought 291 fishermen. Some brought families. And all of them spent money in the city. Money at restaurants. Money at hotels. Money on gas.

Louallen said the city won't know exactly how much the FLW Tour generated for Dayton until next month when he sees the sales tax revenue. But, he said, the overall value could be in the millions.

But before the anglers could get here, city leaders had to rebuild their crumbling, 50-year-old boat dock. Construction started in April 2011 and finished last summer. In all, according to city records, Dayton spent $167,000 on the new structure.

But, Louallen argues, without the building, you don't get the tournaments.

•••

About an hour after his boys surprised him, Rick Harkness waited next to a stage in a Walmart parking lot to weigh the fish he caught Saturday and do the math. Was this catch, plus his catches on Thursday and Friday, heavier than all the others?

He was not hopeful. Harkness told his sons he'd had a rough day. He and his professional partner drove their boat all over the lake, looking for a spot where the fish flowed. They didn't find it. He caught just two fish all day.

On Thursday, Harkness' catches weighed 13 pounds, 4 ounces. On Friday, they weighed 15 pounds, 12 ounces. On Saturday, if those two fish weighed a combined 9 pounds, 13 ounces, Harkness would jump into first place.

"Let's do it again, Rick!" Jones yelled as Harkness stepped toward the stage. "Let's do it again, man! Rick Harkness from St. Mary's, West Virginia!"

Beyond the crowd, in a part of the parking lot that served as an expo Saturday, people packed up their booths. A Power-Pole fishing anchors employee helped a customer fill out a survey.

"Here we go!" Jones said.

In the children's section of the expo, a bounce house slowly deflated. A man pulled a bass out of a shallow pool.

Harkness put his fish on the scale.

"Two bass," Jones said. "They go 3 pounds and 9 ounces."

Harkness finished in 11th place. He told the crowd it had been a fun tournament. He loved the city.

Then, he walked off the stage, and he found his sons.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.

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