History unfolded before our very eyes when not one, but two scribes emerged to bask in fish-story fame as winners of the 2021 Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette fish story contest.
Our trio of fish-story magistrates picked a story by Jason Harmon of Buffalo City to win. For the first time ever, readers could vote for their favorite story online in the people’s choice category. Readers cast the most votes for the story by Pat Bodishbaugh of Fayetteville as people’s choice champion.
Harmon won by a whisker, which is always how the drama unfolds as judges make their pick, especially when chief judge is my cat, T.C. Here’s how the high-tech judging played out.
This year’s fish-story judges, Gina Scott of Rogers and Mike Shirkey of Fayetteville, got this prestigious literary competition off and running by reading and rereading the 48 true fish stories entered.
No tall tales allowed in this contest with so much fame on the line.
Gina picked Harmon’s story about the old Brainard’s Bend resort on the White River because it was well written, entertaining and easy to read. Shirkey was torn between four of the stories, but decided on the entry by Jerry Felts of Rogers telling of a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters with three buddies and a favorite fishing lure. So Harmon and Felts emerged as our two finalists.
Now it was time for T.C. to pick the winner. But lo, she’s somewhere outside on yard patrol, hopefully shedding the last of her winter coat. While T.C. was away, we set the stories by Felts and Harmon side by side on the living room floor.
We quietly grabbed the bag of cat treats and placed an equal number of treats on each story. Eventually T.C. returned and wanted in. You know how cats are, always on the wrong side of every door. She saw the treats bag and that, ladies and gentlemen, got her attention.
Whichever story she goes to for her treat is the winner. The moment of truth was at hand. We let T.C. in and she made a bee line for Felts’ story. But wait. She came to a screeching halt. In the video of her judging (go to nwaonline.com/629/judging/), you can see her paw stop right by Felts’ entry. The cat changes course and goes to Harmon’s story to scarf down her treats.
Tadah! Harmon is our winner.
People’s choice was an equal nail biter. A story by Elaine Holloway about a flathead catfish swimming in her bathtub was close behind Bodishbaugh’s stinging saga of using wasp larvae for bait. When voting was over, Bodishbaugh got 62 votes to Holloway’s 48. A total of 247 online votes were spread across the 48 stories.
Our fishing caps are off to Harmon and Bodishbaugh, our champion 2021 fish story authors. Each got a nice bag packed with fishing lures, a $100 Visa gift card and a $200 package at Indigo Sky Casino and Resort, including food and lodging.
No fish in warm nor cold water stands a chance when our two winners cast a line. Bodishbaugh is a warm-water specialist at catching smallmouth bass from our area streams. He and his bride, Robin, like to fish for bluegill at Lake Fayetteville, mostly with crickets and not wasp larvae.
Harmon is a White River trout fishing ace and fly-fishing guide where he lives at Buffalo City. It’s where the Buffalo and White rivers meet.
Thanks to our judges and to everyone who entered the contest. Thanks to this newspaper for providing the gift cards and a big shout out to Indigo Sky Casino and Resort for sweetening the pot.
A big thanks goes to Tony Reyes, online editor here at the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He handled all the chores of getting the stories online so everyone could read them and vote in the people’s choice division.
Word from the water is the fish are biting. Time to reel in your limit of fish-story fodder for next year’s contest. No telling what might happen when that hook hits the water.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org