Hotels, shops hope to profit as anglers arrive
Fishermen practiced reeling in big catches Monday on the St. Johns River, three days ahead of a bass fishing tournament that draws nearly 100 of the best anglers from across the world.
The AFTCO Bassmaster Elite Series begins Thursday on the Palatka riverfront, and local officials are hoping the series brings economic growth amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.
The event can be held because social distancing could be observed throughout the four-day series.
Palatka City Manager Don Holmes said the city wanted a safe event while also remaining on Bassmasters’ circuit. City commissioners unanimously approved the special event permit for the tournament two weeks ago after Holmes reviewed and recommended the plan.
“You see a substantial increase in hotel and motel rooms that are filled,” Holmes said. “The restaurant industry feels the impact and even with gas and fishing supplies.”
The Hampton Inn in Palatka is already fully booked Wednesday through Sunday and the Holiday Inn Express Palatka had only one standard room or one suite available those days, as of Monday.
Dana Jones, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce president, said people started coming into Palatka for Bassmaster on Sunday. Not only will the anglers help local economic growth amid the coronavirus pandemic, but family and fans will, too, she said.
“We all know what was hit the hardest was our hospitality industry. So, I think those restaurants, those hotels are probably ecstatic,” Jones said.
This year, 99 anglers will participate in the tournament Thursday and Friday. From there, the top 50 will compete Saturday, and on Sunday, the competition will be narrowed to the top 10.
Jones said throughout those days and the days leading up to the event, the fishermen will be eating in restaurants, shopping in grocery stores and stocking up on local goods.
“I think (businesses) will see a boost from this event,” Jones said. “Just anytime people are in your market for that long of a period of time, they’re going to be making purchases at various places.”
Officials said last year’s tournament had about a $2 million economic impact in the county.
Anglers launch their boats 7 a.m. Thursday and the first weigh-in will be at 3 p.m. Fans can watch the event on bassmaster.com
“I want to remind people to do their own due diligence. If they want to see the event, they can watch it streaming online or they can come (to the riverfront) in person,” Jones said. “But to come in person, they’re supposed to wear masks and maintain social distancing from others present.”
Palatka Daily News reporter Nick Blank contributed to this story.
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