Note to self: Remember the knifeBy Steve Estes
So we have put another Old Wooden Bridge Kid’s Fishing Tournament behind us.
We got caught a little short when we planned for 115 kids and wound up getting more than 125, but it’s a lesson learned and next year we’ll be tapping the community for enough to supply 150 or more fishing rods for the once-a-year, only-one-of-its-kind fishing tournament for youngsters in the Lower Florida Keys.
This tournament showcases some of the best of what the Florida Keys has to offer our young people, and is an attempt to excite a love of the environment and all the creatures that inhabit that environment.
We are greatly appreciative of the many sponsors and volunteers who have stepped forward, both this year and in the preceding 12 years, to make this tournament a truly fun day for more than a hundred kids and their families.
Holly and I are actually latecomers to the party, even though we’ve been part of it for the last four years or so.
The event got its start 13 years ago when Don Pollock, then owner of Jig’s Bait & Tackle on Big Pine Key, got together with then Big Pine Deputy Sheriff Tom Peteck and they decided that this town needed to do something to develop a love of the water in the youth here.
And they knew even back then that parents were working hard to keep their financial heads above water.
Thus was born the Old Wooden Bridge Kid’s Fishing Tournament. Volunteers canvas the community for prize donations for the tournament winners as well as monetary donations to purchase the fishing rods that are given free to every tournament participant and are theirs to keep after it’s over.
Because Don had the industry connections and Tom had access to some willing manpower, they decided to brand the tournament a joint operation and drug along the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.
After a run of seven successful years, the Sheriff’s Office whittled back participation until manpower was too scarce to keep the tournament alive. It takes dozens of volunteers to put on this event. We need folks to canvas for donations, we need folks to haul tables and chairs, we need folks to string the fishing rods, we need people to cut bait and deliver bait, to deliver and serve the pizza and sodas and shaved ice that are given free to every family member of every tournament participant. We need people to walk the bridge and help the kids measure their fish, sometimes to bait hooks, sometimes to repair rods and reels, sometimes to install new terminal tackle, but mostly to encourage our kids to seek out that elusive big one that hiding just under the bridge somewhere.
It was at that point that we entered the fray and made a case with the Sheriff’s Office that this tournament was an absolutely incredible way for the deputies to interact with our youth in some fashion other than breaking down the door and dragging Mom or Dad away, or stopping the car at the side of the road, or frightening everyone with holstered guns and evil-looking night sticks.
And with Don and Tom’s help, we got the tournament back off the ground under the auspices of the Big Pine and Lower Keys Rotary Club as a charity through which to funnel cash donations and provide event insurance in case of calamity of some type, with a pool of volunteers from the Sheriff’s Office.
This is truly a community event. Thanks for all your help.
But the event doesn’t come without some moments of comedic relief. The bomb squad robot the Sheriff’s Office brings every year usually makes one or two little people giddy with joy with its antics, or run off in terror.
It’s when things go wrong that the best moments occur.
We had a blistering rain last year on the morning of the event so the crowd was lighter than normal. We planned for a bigger year, but not a hugely bigger year.
We should have.
Last year, we put out 50 pounds of chopped squid on the bridge as bait. My Jeep smelled like squid for weeks after I had to haul the unused stuff away after the event. So we put 40 pounds out this year.
Halfway through the tournament, kids were clamoring for bait. Julie, the proprietor at Old Wooden Bridge Fish Camp who has always been a staunch supporter of the event by loaning us her grounds and help, dug into her bait freezer and tossed me another 22 pounds. It was frozen.
Since I wasn’t fishing, I didn’t have any of my gear. No filet knife. She tossed me a pocket knife to use to cut the squid.
My Dad was driving the bridge handing out cold water and what extra supplies we had to the kids and parents on the bridge. He also had a pocket knife.
Together, we used these silly little knives to cut the frozen bait while we drove the length of the bridge handing it out as fast as we could cut it into chunks.
No sooner did we get a handful cut than some intrepid fisherman was standing there with a wistful look waiting to take it back to the bridge rail and commence to landing that big one.
I can’t imagine the scene we made standing there in the warm sun, covered to our elbows in semi-frozen squid guts with a passel of young kids surrounding the truck waiting to haul off fresh-cut bait.
There is no running water on the bridge. Squid thaws quickly in the sun. We were cutting so fast we didn’t have time to wipe up the pools of squid guts.
Once we had all the extra bait cut and distributed, it remained only to travel back down the bridge.
I hopped on the tailgate for the ride down.
And set my ever-increasing butt right down in a pool of fresh squid guts. It made no sense to get up at that point so I rode the length of the bridge with my shorts soaking up every stray molecule of squid guts on the tailgate.
I won’t try to explain the feeling, but I probably haven’t felt that sensation since before I was potty trained.
But the smiles of the kids were worth it all.
We’ll be back next year. Hope you will be as well.