The timing for the AustynStrong Benefit tournament could not have been any better.Not only did they raise a whopping $50,000, but the twenty five teams also weighed in some very solid catches in spite of little or no help on Mother Nature’s part.

Bubba Sparrow and a dedicated group of volunteers quickly pulled together a group of equally dedicated fishermen and sponsors eager to make this fund raising event a reality.“Austyn’s smile and determination made this a heartfelt work of love for all involved!”

The fact that the popular Cops Helping Kids Tournament had been put on hold for a year gave Sparrow and his volunteers a leg up in the planning phase.Tony Viator and his Cops Helping Kids group of volunteers were quick to join in the effort and a large percentage of the teams entered consisted of anglers that fish that event every year.

“Everything about this tournament was a blessing for those who participated,” said Sparrow.“You quickly realized that it was much more about helping Austyn and her parents than catching fish.”

Sparrow was equally quick to point out that the support of the sponsors all but guaranteed success.“Tony and the folks that have made the Cops Helping Kids event such an anticipated event each year, Outrage Tackle, the S.A.L.T. Club, Sarge’s Custom Rods, JBS Packing and County Home and Outdoors all stepped up to the plate in a big way.”

Even the less than perfect weather didn’t stymie the fish catching.The winning trout, redfish and trout stringers were based on a total of two fish.It took 9.07 pounds to win the trout division, 17.15 pounds to win the redfish division and 6.35 pounds to win the first place flounder money.

The largest trout weighed 5.38 pounds, the heaviest redfish weighed 8.72 pounds and the heaviest flounder weighed 3.66 pounds.It took ten spots to win the side pot for the red with the most spots and the heaviest cumulative weight for all three divisions was 26.72 pounds.

Austyn is the daughter of Josh and Sarah Halter.In talking with Sparrow after the tournament he was quick to point out that most of the folks that fished, sponsored or volunteered had never even met four year old Austyn or her parents.“Through her courageous battle with this rare form of leukemia, she has become both a hero and inspiration for us all.”

“In most cases, winning is the main reason for fishing any tournament, but that proved not to be the main goal in our event,” added Sparrow.“I’m sure bragging rights were still important,” but the winning anglers donated $3000 of the $6900 in prize money back to Austyn!”

Hats off to Sparrow and everyone that had anything to do with the tournament.Austyn and her family are in our prayers.

Per OCARC Director, John Thomas’ strategy, I will only remind you that we are less than two weeks away from the annual OCARC tournament.Several years back Thomas decided that pushing the much anticipated event too early was a marketing mistake.

“Too many negative things can happen a month ahead of time,” said Thomas.“New folks can forget about the date, others want to watch the weather right up to the last minute and on and on.”I reluctantly followed his instructions and his hunch proved to be right on the money.The last two years have proven to be two of the largest in the event’s history!

Part of that can be attributed to moving the weigh-in site to the City Boat ramps on Simmons Drive.More parking space, great facilities, right on the river and all of that certainly helps.Having said that, however, I recently received a note saying that they needed even more room and will set up on Destroyer Street by Simmons Drive.

Virtually nothing else will change. The entry fee is $30.The tournament will start at 5:00 p.m. Friday afternoon August 4^th with the weigh-in set to start at 5:00 p.m. Saturday afternoon August 5th.Winning money for the heaviest trout, red, flounder and bass is $250 and the redfish with the most spots will win you $250 as well.

As promised, I will have more details in next week’s column.You can sign up between now and then, but you can sign up as late as the 4^th .