They gathered Friday night at the Crystal River Yacht Club to talk trout. It was the captain's meeting of the 10th annual Rotary Club Trout Tournament and 200 or so of the area's finest anglers, some attracted by tradition, others by a $4,000 first prize, were in attendance.
Some drank beer, some had roast beef instead of turkey, while others opted for the silent auction and the chance to steal a deal on a load of Love's Lures. Anglers of all makes, from burly, bearded salts in camouflage hats to tall blondes in red dinner dresses paid their $65 entry fee ($10 extra for the biggest redfish contest) and sat in a crowded room listening to tournament chairman Roger Horn read the rules.
Ooops. Did anyone mention raffle? Before the rules, there would be door prizes.
Fists full of small blue and red tickets sat waiting for the call of numbers.
"Just read the last three numbers," yells out a man in a Treebark T-shirt.
These folks were serious about this raffle business. If their passion for trout fishing rivaled their enthusiasm for raffles, well, then local trout populations could be in trouble.
Anglers were soon smiling as they walked back to their seats with new anchor ropes, fishing plugs, American flags and $50 gift certificates to an area optical center.
And then came the rules. We learned the tournament was a "Guts Rodeo," meaning that come, hell, high water, or even an appearance by Elvis, there would be fishing. Only the U.S. Coast Guard had the authority to cancel this tournament.
We also learned the power of a democracy when an overwhelmingly vocal "nay" from the crowd forced organizers to rescind a new rule on the spot. Worried that someone would cheat and try to weigh fish caught outside tournament boundaries, the rule allowing landlubbers to weigh in fish was removed.
No blows were exchanged and after Horn finished the rules, more raffling took place, and soon, anglers were hitting the road to "go watch the Braves" and "get some sleep."
Then, search for trout
Saturday was a trout day.
One of those days when a thick blanket of clouds shrouded the sun and the wind billowed just enough to put a slight ripple on the water. Optimum conditions.
While landlubbers slept, more than 200 anglers were plying local waters in search of the $4,000 trout. Some were headed onto the gulf, where decent numbers of fish up to 3 pounds had been striking baits in 8 to 10 feet of water earlier in the week. Others were going to try working one of the many creek mouths that dot the map from the Withalacochee south to Chassahowitzka. By 4 p.m., all boats were to be back at the Crystal River Country Club to weigh in their catch.
There are no winners yet, but today, at 4 p.m., somebody will be a little better off, financially. The public is invited to attend the weigh-in at the country club. A fish fry will follow. And maybe, just maybe, there will be another raffle.