14th annual Fall Classic fishing tournament was a family affair
For Dick Winter, serving as weighmaster at the weekend's 14th annual Fall Classic fishing tournament was a humbling experience.
Winter is usually the impatient fisherman on the other side of the scale, pacing while he waits for his results. He spent nearly two hours Saturday carefully weighing each fish caught on Long Lake. That's what a weighmaster does.
"This is good for you!" joked one angler, chomping at the bit for the results Winter would soon pronounce, the angler exaggerating his arm movements to indicate time was a-wasting.
But the oblivious Winter, a cancer survivor, made sure he got everything just right. Twenty-nine teams of anglers just had to wait their turns.
"He's a tough S.O.B.," said fisherman and tourney statistician Kirk Brock.
Winter enlisted his son, Joshua, to be his assistant, giving Josh the smelly, wet, slimy job of measuring each fish to make sure it was eligible to be weighed - after struggling to catch each feisty fish in a holding tank. Josh was soaked midway through his stint.
"He's young, what the heck," Dick said of giving Josh the grunt work.
The 14th annual fishing tournament, held Saturday, was a family affair for the Winters. Dick's wife, Kay, has been a volunteer statistician for years, meticulously writing down each catch.
The tournament is a high stakes endeavor, with more on the line than just fish. The winning team pockets $2,500, so every ounce counts.
The three-species event is a final hurrah for the local fishing season. The Park Rapids Tennis Association hosts two such events each September. On the 26th, the tourney moves to Fish Hook Lake.
The events raise about $1,000 for tennis-playing teens and grew steadily, thanks to a large volunteer force, from those humble days when it was hatched over a cup of coffee, Brock said.
Brock, a Park Rapids business owner, has developed a computer software program that spits out results moments after the last fish is weighed.
"These volunteers are really the unsung heroes," he said. "They deserve a big thank you."
But it was volunteer Dick Winter who captured the spotlight Saturday, standing on a platform before anglers and audience members anxious to hear what he had to say - or weigh.
He showed off a 4.6-pound small mouth bass, a relative rarity in Long Lake.
"Everybody got their pictures?" he growled. He didn't want to keep the fish out of water too long. The fish made many appearances out of the tank for "photo ops," but did survive to spend more days in the lake.
"It was horrible! Too hot!" Dick said Monday, recounting his job on stage. "I was glad there wasn't 50 boats. I wouldn't have made it."
The impatience Dick shows toward waiting served him well in his cancer bout. It all started when he bumped his head on a conveyor belt several years ago at Cumber Construction's gravel pit on Highway 40. That's where he was Monday, washing gravel, not fish, at his day job.
The bump, eventually found to be a sarcoma, grew to the size of a tennis ball before it was surgically removed a few doctors later. He remembers asking one specialist, "Is it fatal?" and the response was silence. For an impatient guy, it was an eternity.
Dick had a year of good health after that, although the skin graft site was bothering him. One year later, another bump spontaneously formed, another skin graft occurred.
"The first time they took a bunch of skin because they didn't know how much they'd need. The extra went to other patents, which was OK," he said. But the second time, he impatiently told the doctors to do a more precise measuring job. They did, but it still hurt and didn't take. He wears a large padded band-aid on the spot. He's not about to have a third graft to cover it.
"I set small goals for myself," he said after the initial diagnosis. He wanted to see his youngest child graduate from college. Check. Then he wanted to be around for his first grandchild. Check.
He'd like tournament sponsors to weigh bags of fish, not individual catches, then remove the lunkers for weighing if an angler wants to compete for the biggest fish prize. He said it would be faster and allow more fish to survive the tournament. But it wouldn't allow Brock's computer program to tally individual results.
Even though it was a calm warm day both above and below the waters, Dick said most of the tournament fish caught survived, so he feels he contributed to that survival rate. He knows a thing or two about it.
" A lot of tourists don't put 'em back at all," he said. And he's against a noon weigh-in, where anglers come in at midday to record their catches and release the fish, rather than leaving them in a live well all day.
"I don't want to take that time away from fishing," he said, then caught himself. "Yeah, I'm one of those impatient guys."
After work Monday, he was headed for a cancer checkup. He'll fish the next tournament, not be the guy everybody is trying to hurry along. And he'll no doubt be the impatient angler urging the next weighmaster to get the lead out.
Didn't did his experience behind the scale teach him that patience is a virtue?
"Probably not," he admitted. "But every day that goes by is another day that I didn't die yet."
For a complete list of winners, see Gravy's outdoors column in Saturday's Enterprise.