The professional angler was expecting to be welcomed by a few people on a chilly morning.
That’s not what he got.
“There were volunteers everywhere,” said Christie, who is from Oklahoma. “You roll in and there are usually a few volunteers. At Smith Lake there were about 30 at the boat ramp. People were parking you and getting you back and forth to the lake. They just did an outstanding job.”
Christie’s view was common among the hundreds of anglers who competed in the Walmart FLW Tour Event held on the lake last week. The four-day tournament wrapped up Sunday with the final weigh-in at Walmart. Christie finished in fourth place overall, three spots behind wire-to-wire winner Brent Ehrler.
“Towns like this make it fun to go fishing,” Christie said. “It’s Alabama. People know their fishing and they come out to support the tournaments. It reminds me a lot of home.”
The FLW Tour was at Smith Lake for the first time in five years.
Ray Shiede, of Dover, Ark., said he always looks forward to competing in the state.
“This rivals the best places we’ve been as far as community support goes. What a great area.
“Alabama is always great to come to,” said Shiede, who also spoke at Cordova High School last week. “The people you meet in the morning want to have you over for dinner that night. I love coming to Alabama. They have the friendliest people you will ever meet. It’s always fun to come here, especially when you make the top 10.”
Tournament director Bill Taylor expects a return visit to the lake.
“We have to come back,” Taylor said. “It’s been a great event. The local support from the county, the city and the folks at Walmart has been incredible. They’ve got my vote. I think the southern small-town atmosphere here is great. The people respect the sport of fishing. They love their lake. They love their county and they love their country. What else could you want out of a community. They’ve got my vote.”
Taylor has high praise for Linda Lewis, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Walker County.
“I’ve done events all over the United States, from New York to California. Her organizational skills along with her leadership in the community as the president of the chamber is phenomenal. This is her community and she loves it,” Taylor added.
Lewis was first contacted by the FLW Tour last year about hosting a tournament at Smith Lake.
She didn’t need long to give a reply.
“They asked if we would like to host the event. I said, ‘Yes. We would love to,’ and it happened,” she said. “After that, we immediately start planning. It’s a huge undertaking and it’s a true partnership with everybody involved. It takes many, many people a lot of hours of working to bring this all together. My hat is off to my volunteers.”
Lewis and her volunteers also put in countless hours once the event began.
“A typical day for myself and my volunteers (last week) has us getting up at around 2:45 in the morning. We are the first people there and the last to leave. It’s long hours, but I will tell you what, it’s well worth it. When you can come out and see the crowds at the weigh-ins and you see these anglers that are buying gas and eating at our restaurants and shopping local — there is a great return on investment by bringing these tournaments here.
“I can’t wait to see when it’s televised. A total of 559 million viewers will be watching Walker County and Smith Lake. You can’t put a price on that.”
Last week’s tournament marked the third FLW Tour event since 2001. The tour also competed on Smith Lake in 2008.
“I think they will be back,” Lewis said. “You heard the testimony of these anglers. They want to come back. They love it.”
Professional angler Zell Rowland, who placed sixth in last week’s event, agrees.
“This area is terrific. The people are great and the crowds are great. I think FLW will definitely be back,” Rowland said.