Golf-course saga pays it forward
Some exciting firsts have unfolded in the long history of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette fish story contest. Yet no competition has seen such historic drama as the 2020 contest.
Now that the writing is finished and the judging complete, we’re proud to announce the 2020 fish story champion is — tadah! — George Rowland of Fayetteville.
Rowland’s story about catching bass at a golf-course pond and releasing them to grow into hard-fighting lunkers for others to catch won the hearts of our judges and won the grand prize for Rowland — a fine zipper bag packed with lures nearly guaranteed to catch the big ones.
We here at fish-story central jumped for joy when Rowland won the prestigious contest for true fish stories. You see, Rowland has entered the contest faithfully year after year for 10, maybe 15 years without fail. His is always the first entry to arrive, even before we announce the contest.
But he’s never won. We’re happy as can be that Rowland now basks in the fame that only a fish story victory can bring, and the fortune of a bag of fine fishing lures.
It’s historic that the contest’s most avid participant, Rowland, got the win. It’s also a first that the winning story was the unanimous choice of the judges. That’s never happened until this year. Here’s how the scientific judging works.
Three judges team up to pick the winner. This year Bruce Darr and Linda Oletti, who live on Beaver Lake out by Rocky Branch park, were fish-story magistrates along with our chief judge, my cat, T.C.
If the two human judges pick the same story, as Darr and Oletti did, it is the winner. Every year before we’ve ended up with two finalists. We set both stories on the floor here at fish-story central and place an equal number of cat treats on each story. Then we shake the treats bag. That gets T.C.’s attention and rousts her from her 19-hour power nap.
Whichever story T.C. goes to for her treats is the winner. So the cat was off the hook for judging this year, but we gave her some treats anyway.
Rowland came within a whisker of victory a few years back. He was a finalist, but T.C. zigged, then zagged and went to the other story. His story this year was the judge’s unanimous choice because, Darr and Oletti said, it’s about paying it forward by helping others feel the thrill of catching big fish.
The 2020 contest is also historic in the number of entries received. Most years we get 15 to 20 stories. This year we got two — Rowland’s entry and a great catfish story from Andy Black of Fayetteville.
This has been one weird year, and we can only guess it trickled down to the fish story contest. As Judge Darr put it, one would think there’d be a record high number of entries with so many more people fishing and, in many cases, having more time for important things like entering a fish story contest. Go figure.
It takes two stories to have a contest so a thousand thanks to our authors for entering. When Black found out Rowland had won, Black was happy for him as well and offered heartfelt congratulations.
“I’m glad Mr. George set the hook and reeled in a win this year,” Black wrote in an email. “If he’s been fishing that long, he certainly is the worthy winner of this year’s contest. “
We couldn’t wait to drive over to Rowland’s home to deliver his prize, take his picture and finally visit face to face. We’ve been reading his fish stories so long we felt like we already knew him. Plus he’s been so kind to mail a hand-written note from time to time when he read a story in NWA Outdoors that he liked.
It’s also historic in a way that Rowland has entered the contest all these years and has never sent the same story twice. So he has written more stories than any other contestant. Growing up fishing, hunting and exploring in southeast Arkansas, Rowland has a lifetime of fish stories to tell.
You can bet he’ll be back to defend his title next year. But Black plans to give Rowland a run for his money. He’s not giving up his quest for that bag of lures.
Fishing lures and fish-story fame could be yours next year. When the white bass start running and the crappie start biting, you know it’s contest time.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at email@example.com