I discovered this past weekend that there is something even more challenging than fishing two tournaments at the same time and that is trying to cover both weigh-ins!

As it turned out, I had to bale early on the Cops Helping Kids weigh-in as I have been working John Thomas’ O.C.A.R.C. event for the past 25 years and I wasn’t going to be late for this year’s edition.

Jim Morrissey really did me a solid by emailing me the final stats for the Cops Helping Kids Tournament. I can assure you that I wasn’t the only one making that run between Dick Dowling Park and the OCARC center in Orange.

I was surprised at the number of fishermen that hustled to make the 3 p.m. weigh-in at Dick Dowling and the 6 p.m. weigh-in in Orange. The weigh masters from the S.A.L.T. Club handling the Cops Helping Kids weigh-in didn’t keep the fish so that folks fishing both tournaments could weigh the same fish.

I talked with Chris Romano at the OCARC weigh-in and he had driven all the way back just to donate his fish for the Sunday evening fish fry for the kids at the center! At least a dozen or more fishermen that I talked with at the OCARC event were looking forward to fishing both tournaments next year and were hoping the Cops Helping Kids event could be scheduled a little earlier or later.

Viator told me at their Captain’s meeting the night before that he was simply trying to avoid several other tournaments when initially planning this one and wasn’t even aware of the annual OCARC date at the time. “Both tournaments are benefit events that help folks in their communities that really need it,” said Viator, “and we will try to find a date next year that accommodates the fishermen, sponsors, and both organizations.”

The format for both tournaments is really on the opposite ends of the scale, however, and for the most part, neither attracts the same core group of fishermen. Perhaps no other tournament in this part of the state does more to get not only the kids, but the entire family involved in fishing than the annual OCARC tourney.

The kids fish free, the entry fee for the parent or guardian is still only $25 and every kid that weighs in a fish earns at the very least a trophy and in some cases, a check as well. At least half of the winners are always the kids and no young fisherman will ever forget their minute of fame on the stage with weigh master Joe Persohn!

Eleven different categories pay 31 places so lots of winners walk off with some money at the end of the day.

While it is definitely a laid back family atmosphere, it usually takes a solid fish to win one of the $250 checks each year and this year was no exception. Luke McFarlane took the bass division with an impressive 3.56 pound fish. Mike Foreman’s 4.02 pound flounder turned more than a few heads, Eddie William’s 27-inch 6.87 pound red couldn’t have been any fatter and Ricky Adams took the speck division with a solid 4.69 pound trout. Ricky also took home an extra $250 for catching the red with the most spots! The remaining first place winners were: black drum-Kevin Speight, sunfish-Debbie Mouton, grinnel-Hayden Reed, croaker-Rae Lynn Evans, catfish-Eddie Williams, and white perch-Lucas Hebert. Austen Borel kept the winning streak alive for the Borel’s by winning the coveted “Don Hubbard’ mudcat division.

I don’t think that Tony Viator and the rest of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Association will have to worry about the competition in picking any other weekend next year. This is one event that has continued to grow at an amazing rate every year.

It is a team event with a $200 entry fee that demands a little more expertise and experience of its anglers, but the prize money is considerable and no organization takes better care of its field of contestants!

While it is a very competitive team event, there is no good reason not to fish this one in 2013. I attended the Captain’s meeting the night before and they fed every contestant a huge steak along with potato salad, beans, cold drinks and beer. There was a live auction for fabulous trips and prizes, raffle drawings for everything from rod and reels to shotguns and every one there was walking around with a towel or t-shirt or both!

The following numbers will give you some idea of just how fast this thing has grown in only three years. The team entries increased from 93 last year to 142 this year and they paid 25 places a total of $10,720 in cash and prizes. An additional $500 was awarded the team with the winning flounder stringer when their fish were all released alive. Fifteen of the twenty-three flounder weighed in were released alive! Numerous side pots yielded some serious extra cash as well, but first, second and third in each division paid the biggest bucks with a total of $2250 up for grabs in each.

Team Daley’s Hunt N Fish #2 won the red division and a $1,000 with two reds that weighed 15.18 pounds. Team Spanky’s Wrecker #1 won the trout division with 11.95 pounds, and Team County Home and Ranch #2 won the flounder division with 5.82 pounds. Team Jordan won the largest red pot with an 8.66 pound fish, Team Spanky’s Wrecker #1 won the largest trout pot with a 7.64 pound trout and Team Rising won the flounder pot with a 4.43 pound fish.

There is no doubt that the Jefferson County Sheriffs Association needs a few weeks to catch their breath before making plans for next year’s event, but you need to mark that date down on your calendar as soon as it is released. Congratulations to not only both organizations for a job well done, but to the sponsors and fishermen that support them each year as well.

Fishing for a cause is far more gratifying than fishing for a prize!

Photo: Keaton Nation and his brothers all won trophies in the OCARC Tournament! RECORD PHOTO: Dickie Colburn