By Benjamin Cohn
Woodfin – Hundreds of local anglers endured heavy rain for this year’s Fins and Gills Classic fishing tournament where nearly $10,000 in prizes were awarded to competitors in numerous categories and divisions.
The contest took place Saturday at Woodfin’s Riverside Park, alongside the banks of the swollen French Broad River.
Categories included largest stringer (fish with overall biggest weight), biggest fish, smallest fish, first fish, biggest game fish (including bass and trout) and something called the French Broad buffet, which is “total weight for five different fish,” according to event literature.
Tournament entrants were divided into age-based divisional groups, kids under 12, teens and adults. Radio personality John Roten, from WWNC News Radio 570, was on hand to weigh fish. Roten spoke briefly to the Tribune.
“All these folks who have caught catfish, bream, smallmouth bass, redeye bass, trout, they all come here [to be weighed officially],” Roten said. “No matter what size they are, some have been about two ounces.
“We get those [fish], we weigh them, write it down, keep a record of everything that everyone catches, and then we turn them back into the river.”
In addition to the river fishing, a plastic pool filled with water and fish was set up on the shore for kids to use. These fish, however, were just for entertainment value and did not count towards the fishing contest.
All the fish entered into this year’s Fins and Gills Tournament were fished directly out of the French Broad on the day of the contest. Judges kept a running tally of contestants and their entries so that final tabulations could be done at the end of the afternoon.
“The biggest fish we’ve got is an almost two-pound catfish,” according to Roten. “You’re talking about 18 inches from head to tail. Another was a pound and three quarters. We had another catfish that was just over a pound, so some pretty big catfish. The two trout there that were caught were not that big.”
He noted the high quality of some of Woodfin’s local fish, saying “the French Broad provided some nice bream. The bream in here are really looking healthy. They’re fat, they’ve got great color. Interestingly enough, every time [the rain] slacked up, for maybe a half hour or 45 minutes, they’d start biting again. We get more weigh-ins when it slacks up a little bit.”
Event host and organizer Phil Martin provided some details to the Tribune about the tournament’s history and the source of some of the wonderful prizes awarded to winners.
“The Fins and Gills Classic has been going on for 11 years [as of] this year,” Martin said. “There were thousands of dollars of prizes there. If I had to guess, I’d say in the neighborhood of $7,000 or $8,000 in prizes. I didn’t have anybody there from Bass Pro Shops,” he said, but many of the prizes were products from or gift cards for Bass Pro Shop.
Martin confirmed the source of the prizes, saying “Either gifts were donated or money from other companies that donated [to] the fishing tournament [was used to] buy things when I see cool items that are on sale. I stretch those dollars to really get some cool prizes for the kids, adults, and teens.”
He described Saturday’s event as both wet and “really great. There are so many dedicated [anglers] out there, and kids that want to fish [so badly] that weather doesn’t hold them back. It’s part of being an outdoorsman. If you get a chance to go, you take advantage of it.”
Martin admitted there was a difference between toughing out a rainy day and endangering oneself by fishing in hazardous conditions. Some of those conditions threatened the fun on Saturday, but the awards ceremony began before any nasty weather rolled through.
“You never know when there’s a thunderstorm [that] comes up. In that situation, it’s pretty much ‘lines in’ and everybody seeks shelter, that sort of thing.”
Martin estimated the number of registrants at about “250 to 300 to come through” on the day of the contest. “I was expecting about 400 to 500,” indicating that the poor weather likely deterred many of those who registered to fish.
He explained the origins of his yearly fishing contest as a way to increase knowledge and awareness of the craft, with a focus on teaching youth the techniques of fishing.
“The town of Woodfin lets us have the park,” he said. “That’s their affiliation with it.
“The fishing tournament came to be because, when I worked at Bass Pro Shop, Dick’s Sporting Goods, places like that, so many kids would come in and want to go fishing, or parents would come in and go, ‘Hey, my kid wants to go fishing and I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know where to start, don’t know what to do.
“I started doing the tournament 11 years ago so kids could learn how to fish.”