No paperback detective thriller novel can hold a candle to the drama that unfolds each June when judging of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette fish story contest take place.
It was a nail-biter again this year in this prestigious literary competition for true stories from fresh water or salty, from waterways near or far.
Congratulations to Randolph Stainer of Tulsa for his victory in the judge’s category as determined by this year’s trio of fish story magistrates. Cheers go out to James Fisher of Bella Vista for winning the reader’s choice division. Both fish story scribes received a swell grab bag of fishing lures almost guaranteed to catch the big ones wherever they hit the water. Our champions also get a Stay ‘N Play package from Indigo Sky Casino and a $100 gift card.
Here’s how the drama played out, first in the judge’s category. Our judging threesome this year were fly fisher extraordinaire Bryce Watson, a college student, and Barbara Schorpp who lives out on Beaver Lake. As she does every year, my ornery girl cat, T.C. is chief judge.
Bryce and Barbara carefully read each entry. If they pick the same story, that is the automatic winner. If not, we have our two finalists.
I used to say our human judges rarely pick the same story, but it happened last year and again this year. Both picked Stainer’s story about hooking more than just fish, so he is the automatic winner of the judge’s category.
That’s the good news. The bad news is, chief judge T.C. won’t get to don her black robe and judge the contest as only a cat can do. Or will she?
Meanwhile, you readers voted online each day for your favorite fish story. As the voting progressed, it got tighter and tighter. By the end of the voting we had a reader’s choice tie for the first time in contest history. Stories by Gloria Garrison-Spalter and James Fisher each got the same number of votes, so we have two reader’s choice finalists. Chief Judge T.C. will get to do her cat thing after all and pick the winner.
I take the two finalist stories home, place them side by side on the living room carpet and put an equal number of cat treats on each story. Of course, chief judge T.C. is deep in the throes of a 19-hour power nap while the treats get put on paper.
I shake the treats bag and T.C. is awake now like she’s been shot out of a cannon. Whichever story T.C. goes to for her treats is the winner. Oh the drama! Who’s it going to be?
She makes a beeline for Fisher’s story, stops and only sniffs at the treats. But wait. She takes a step to the right then comes back and eats those treats right up. Tadah! James Fisher of Bella Vista wins the reader’s choice category. Check out the video of T.C. judging the contest that’s here with this column.
Thanks to everyone who entered this year’s fish story contest. A special thanks to Bryce and Barbara for taking the time and effort to judge the contest. Of course, T.C. says in her special cat language that she knows we are honored to be graced with her acclaimed judging presence. She’s a legend in her own mind.
It’s that fishing time of year. Now’s the time to be out there hooking material for a winning story next year. Strange things do happen when that hook hits the water.