I was on the way to church Sunday morning when I noticed the O.C.A.R.C. fishing tournament signs strategically planted along my route. Currently on a run of 23 successful years, the signs now serve only to remind local anglers and fans of the actual date. Many of them have been fishing the tournament since its inception and they will be there once again this Saturday….signs or no signs!

You know that your tournament has attained star status in the community when folks are discussing where they are going to sit to watch the weigh-in a week in advance. “I heard John did away with the gar category this year and we have always set up our lawn chairs right by the scales so that we could see everything,” stated the woman blocking my access to the cereal aisle in the grocery store Monday evening. “I guess we’ll just have to get there early and beat Tom and Elaine to the shade tree next to the stage.”

The weigh-in site has changed over the years, but the core spectator group has not….in fact, it has only expanded regardless of the site. Everyone seemingly knows everyone and while winning one of the eleven categories and a check is a primary reason for fishing any tournament, it’s more about visiting with old friends and supporting the work of the Center.

By the time the first contestant ascends the stairs with his or her catch Saturday afternoon, John Thomas will already know how much money this year’s event generated for the Center.

From that point on it is an afternoon celebration as Moms and Dads and Grandmas and Grandpas proudly snap photographs of their children and grandbabies with everything from a four ounce croaker to the largest trout in tow.

There will be an even larger group of amateur photographers crowding the stage this year with the addition of the sunfish category. The fish may be small, but the thrill of climbing those stairs and having Mr. Joe introduce you to the crowd has absolutely nothing to do with the size of the fish. If this is your first O.C.A.R.C. tournament bring more than one lawn chair and make sure the battery is charged on your camera!

We won’t know the winners in each category until Saturday evening, but Thomas announced this year’s winner of the coveted Don and Evelyn Garrett award earlier this week. The popular annual fund raiser very well may not even exist had it not been for their support and the Center honors a group or individual that makes significant behind the scenes contributions in their name each year. The Orange Boat Club is this year’s winner!

So, what do you do if catching a fish and winning some money is one of the reasons you are fishing this year’s tournament? It gets a little tougher considering the fact that you have to fish only public waters within a 40 mile radius of the weigh-in site. Eliminating both Toledo Bend and Rayburn, however, basically only affects the white perch and bass categories.

The addition of the sunfish division will surely extend the weigh-in line as they are not only easy to catch, but can be found anywhere there is fresh water. The black drum was also added to the list for the first time this year, but winning that category may require a little more work. I would think that any angler fishing the ship channel with cracked crab or live mullet would have a distinct advantage.

There is a very good chance that we will see the largest croaker weighed in that we have seen in years. We have already caught croaker up to two pounds fishing plastics under balls of shad in Sabine Lake, but once again I give the edge to the bait fishermen. Fresh shrimp fished on the bottom would be my choice and I think someone fishing the river has just as good a chance as the lake fishermen right now.

The largest grinnel is usually the bi-product of someone fishing for bass in the backwater off the river, but cat fishermen are in the hunt as well. Depending on the weather conditions for the weekend, we could also see some huge catfish. I don’t fish for them, but I can assure you that no one shares their secrets when it comes to catching catfish. The winning fish should come off the lower end of the Sabine or Neches.

You just never know about the white perch category, but the rains of late should help with that bite as the high salinity levels well up the river had scattered them. There is a good chance that the winning fish will come out of one of the logging cuts off the river.

Catching the winning redfish is dealer’s choice.I think the marsh would be a good place to start, but we are catching redfish up to 27-inches all the way from the I-10 Bridge to the jetties. More often than not the winning redfish is won by anglers chasing trout in the lake.

The big trout have been elusive this year, but if I were looking for only one fish I would take my chances in the ship channel or the ICW fishing with live mullet. I think the winning flounder will come out of the same areas with the same choice of baits. If you are very lucky you could catch the winning trout on a topwater behind one of the islands right at daylight.

The best bet for fooling the largest bass may be to talk with some of the fellows that have been fishing the Neches and Taylor’s bayou lately. I saw two pictures of bass over five pounds last week and I haven’t heard of anything close to that coming off the Sabine lately. There is talk that fishing at night is the secret around the Sabine area right now, but you may need a blood transfusion by midnight!

I might just get John Thomas to set my lawn chair up tomorrow. See ya at the weigh-in.