There’s never been a fish story competition like this one in contest history.
For the first time ever, the two finalists’ stories unfolded on the same waterway — Lake Brittany in Bella Vista. Both authors are from the same town and both stories involve kids and catfish.
A tip of our fishing hats today for Barney Kunkel of Bella Vista, winner of the 2018 Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette fish story contest. Kunkel carted off our grand prize, a fine selection of fishing lures.
He barely edged out runner-up Kristen Musteen, also of Bella Vista, in a contest filled with great stories then tense drama at judging time. Here’s how the judging played out among our trio of fish story magistrates.
Esteemed judges this year were stream angler extraordinaire Becky Roark, Beaver Lake Park Ranger Alan Bland and my cat, T.C. Roark and Bland carefully read each story from the pile of entries you readers sent in during May. Bland was smitten with Musteen’s story of catfish adventure, so she became our first of two finalists.
Roark was torn between Kunkel’s story about his catfishing grandson and the story by Ben Barry of Goshen about fishing the Fourche La Fave River in the Ouachita Mountains.
“It’s a toss up,” Roark said. “I love the detail in Ben’s, and I definitely relate. Barney’s story is funny in that you never know what you can reel in with a little kid’s pole.” After more pondering, she chose Kunkel’s story.
If the two human judges pick the same story, it’s the winner. But that’s never happened.
So we have our two finalists, Musteen and Kunkel. Enter my cat, T.C., chief judge of the contest court. Here’s how a cat judges a fish story contest.
While T.C. is on the back porch in the throes of a 19-hour power nap, both stories are placed side by side on the living room carpet. An equal number of cat treats is placed on each story. Shaking the treats bag gets her attention, and she prances in, tail held high. Whichever story she goes to for her treat is the winner.
Tadah! Kunkel is the 2018 fish story champion.
Our champ seemed tickled to get the bag of lures when I drove over to the Kunkel household to deliver the goods. He and his wife, Kathy, are bass fishing fans, and they catch some big ones in the Bella Vista lakes, mainly with minnows.
Barney promises to put his lures to the test to gather material for next year’s contest and defend his title. After reading his story, maybe he should let his grandson Owen do the fishing.
Thanks to War Eagle Custom Lures in Rogers and Arkie Lures in Springdale for providing our grand prize. Thanks so much to everyone who took the time to write such fabulous stories. Every one in the batch is a winner.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at email@example.com
Sports on 06/26/2018