by Anastasia Penchi5 Things You Need to Know Before You Go: Fish Hook Festival

The bass boats are coming.

The Fish Hook Festival is a new celebration tied in with the Bassmaster’s Elite Series fishing tournament that takes place in the Coulee Region Sept. 8-11.

The tournament allows locals who dream about getting paid to fish for a living to drool over the fancy gear and big boats, as well as meet the people who actually get paid to catch fish. And now in addition to weigh-ins and other tournament appeal, there will be country, bluegrass and gospel music nearby, with proceeds benefitting breast cancer research and patients.

Bass fish are appealing for fishing tournaments because they are known as strong fighters and are both scent and visual predators. Bassmaster Elite SeriesMost professionals are looking for large-mouth bass here, but that’s not to say they would refuse a hog of a small-mouth either.

Modern bass fishing is a multibillion-dollar industry that includes the development and sales of specialized rods and reels, boats, lures, and electronic depth and fish-finding instruments. Here are five things you should know about the Fish Hook Festival before you go:


1) The weigh-in is the ticket.

Like the idea checking out the bass being pulled out of our Mississippi River waters? Head to Veteran’s Freedom Park, 200 Clinton St. (the peninsula off to the left when you head west on Clinton Street toward French Island, just across from Copeland Park). This is where the tournament’s fishing professionals take-off from in the early morning hours and come back to for weigh-in by about 3:15 p.m. Competitors are allowed five fish with a 14 inch minimum. While tournament records don’t show the Mississippi River as a record maker for size (heaviest bass is listed as 11 pounds, 10 ounces caught by Preston Clark in the Kissimmee Chain, Fla., in 2006), that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to see what can be caught from our shores.

2) Fans can mingle with “top bass.”

The Bassmaster Elite Series is the highest level of professional bass fishing tournaments. Competitors must qualify through other events, and many pros are approachable and willing to sign autographs. These professional anglers compete all season to win points toward the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year award and to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic. Only 111 anglers are competing in the Elite Series during 2016. While I can’t guarantee the big names will be here (Michael Iaconelli,Kevin VanDam, and Rick Clunn are some you might recognize), someone’s got to claim that $100,000 first prize purse.

3) Who doesn’t love live music?

Celebrate fishing with live music at the La Crosse Loggers ball park Friday night – it’s not far from Veteran’s Freedom Park where the tourney is based, and it is also along the Mississippi River. Listen and experience “Midwestern freewheeling old time indie ­string ­music” with Pert Near Sandstone, a band that includes entertainment via mandolin, fiddle, banjo, acoustic guitar, upright bass and clogs. Dave Simonett is bringing Dead Man Winter, which is his electric rock & roll band featuring musicians who are also close friends. Them Coulee Boys describe themselves as “folk-rock Americana” from Eau Claire, with a recent single, “Hammer,” featured on Wisconsin Public Radio. It seems a fun arena for an outdoor concert along the river.

4) It’s a fund-raiser, too.  

Five dollars of every concert ticket sold above will benefit Steppin’ Out in Pink, a fund-raiser walk for local breast cancer research and services, which is also taking place the same weekend. Proceeds raised primarily fund the breast cancer research initiatives at Gundersen Medical Foundation, according to its Web site, but a portion is dedicated to providing assistance to breast cancer patients in need, subsidizing mammograms for the underinsured and uninsured patients in the region and lending support to the Center for Cancer & Blood Disorders and Norma J. Vinger Center for Breast Care. Read some of the stories at if you want to learn more.Steppin' Out in Pink

5) The lure of the lure.

Still dreaming about how you might obtain that perfect gig as a pro angler? On the Opens circuit, an angler must finish in the Top 5 of the season standings for the Northern, Southern or Central division to be invited to fish the Elite Series. Anglers can qualify for the Elite Series through: the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens, the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship and the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro. The Elite Series are featured on ESPN2 television coverage on The Bassmasters, on, and in Bassmaster and in B.A.S.S. Times.

If you would like to learn more about the Fish Hook Festival, visit the Web page at, or to learn more about the Bassmaster Elite, go to

Anastasia Penchi

Anastasia Penchi

Freelance writer

Anastasia Penchi is graduate of UW-La Crosse and a long-time Coulee Region writer who has written for area newspapers and magazines (